Time in the arts and physical education and school achievement

Wilkins, J.L.M., Graham, G., Parker, S., Westfall, S., Fraser, R.G., & Tembo, M. (2003). Time in the arts and physical education and school achievement. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(6): 721-734.


Researchers distributed surveys to elementary school principals inquiring about the amount of time specialists spend teaching art, music, and physical education in their schools. Five hundred forty-seven elementary school principals across Virginia completed the survey. The researchers used the school-level passing rates on the core subjects of Virginia’s standardized test, Standards of Learning (SOL)—mathematics, reading, science, and history/social studies—to measure school achievement and used the averages as measures for school success.

After controlling for variance in schools’ capital resources (i.e. financial, human, cultural, and geographic capital) the researchers found that there was no significant correlation between the time children spent in art, music or/and physical education classes and their core subject or composite SOL scores. This finding disproves the notion that schools should spend more time on tested subjects in order to increase standardized test scores, and suggests that schools should not reduce their art, music, and physical education opportunities with specialists for K-5 grades in response to pressure to perform well on statewide standardized tests.

Key Findings:

After comparing time spent in art, music, and physical education, and controlling for variance in capital resources, researchers uncovered a positive trend suggesting that students in schools who have art, music, and physical education taught by specialists may do better on state standardized tests.

The researchers did not find an inverse relationship between allotting time for art, music and physical education and achievement on state standardized test scores, disproving the notion that schools should direct time away from untested subjects to increase student scores.

Results from the principal time allocation survey revealed that at least 80% of the study’s children received some time in art, music, and/or physical education, but that only 10% got more than an hour of specialist-led art and/or music instruction per week.

Significance of the Findings:

This large-scale correlational study demonstrates that there is no justification for reducing art, music, and physical education opportunities in K-5 grades in an effort to increase time spent in core subjects for the purpose of raising standardized test scores. The findings are highly significant because they refute a number of previous studies that suggest increased achievement in core subjects in relation to increased classroom time.


Researchers sent 1167 surveys to elementary school principals across Virginia, of which 547 were returned and usable, for a 47 percent return rate. The survey asked principals to indicate the minutes per week allocated for specialists to teach art, music, and physical education. The survey response was proportionally representative of the state’s regions. The researchers obtained school-level test results on core subjects from the Virginia state SOL website, and controlled for variability in schools’ resources in relation to financial, geographic, and socio-cultural capital. The researchers compared the time spent on art, music, and physical education to the SOL scores to determine the correlation between standardized test scores and the time spent in the non-tested subjects.

Limitations of the Research:

This is a well-designed, well-supported study. The only potential limitation, which was acknowledged by the researchers, was that the results could have been skewed because principals with a concern for art, music, and physical education opportunities may have been more likely to complete and return the survey.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Given the efficient design of the study, it should be replicated in other states.

The study should also be replicated with data from curriculum records at schools as opposed to survey questions directed at principals who have a vested interest in presenting their school a certain way, possibly leading to biased responses.