When achievement data meet drama and arts integration

Walker, E., Tabone, C. & Weltsek, G. (2011). When achievement data meet drama and arts integration. Language Arts, 88(5), 365-372.


The Education Arts Team (EAT), a non-profit, in New Jersey received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination grant program (AEMDD) to help teachers integrate drama strategies into language arts curriculum for sixth and seventh grade students and to evaluate the extent to which the drama-integrated language arts curriculum positively affected students’ English language arts (ELA) and mathematics performance and level of school engagement. The researchers developed an experimental research design and conducted a longitudinal sub-study to ascertain the extent to which students in the treatment group were able to sustain their gains in ELA and mathematics achievement in the following year. The findings suggest that participation in drama-based ELA curriculum results in gains in academic achievement, as measured through state standardized tests for ELA and mathematics, and increased student engagement, as measured through absentee rates. The findings further show that these effects are sustained for at least one year.

Key Findings:

  • Fifty-six percent of students in the treatment group achieved passing rates on the 2009 language arts assessment, compared to their counterparts in the control group who had a 47 percent passing rate.
  • Forty-three percent of students in the treatment group achieved passing rates on the 2009 mathematics assessment, compared to their counterparts in the control group who had a 39 percent passing rate. However, the difference in the mathematics achievement was not found to be statistically significant.
  • Participation in the arts-integrated treatment group increased the likelihood a student would pass the state test by 77 percent for language arts and 42 percent for mathematics.
  • In the year following the EAT program, 78 percent of the students in the treatment group passed the language arts test while only 69 percent of students in the control group passed. Specifically, students in the treatment group outperformed their control group counterparts on the persuasive and speculative writing portions of the eighth-grade language arts test. Though there was a slight gain in mathematics scores for the treatment group in eighth grade, the difference was not statistically significant when compared to the control group’s eighth-grade mathematics scores.
  • The researchers used absenteeism as a gauge for student engagement. Students in the treatment were absent fewer days than their counterparts in the control group. This trend continued into the eighth grade.

Significance of the Findings:

Using randomized control trial design, the study shows that drama-integrated language arts instruction not only increases language arts achievement, but math achievement as well. Since the New Jersey mathematics test places significant weight on a student’s ability to write about how he or she arrived at a particular answer, writing skills are useful for the mathematics test. Overall, the results imply that the EAT program would increase student achievement across all subjects that require writing skills.


Researchers used randomization to select and assign eight middle schools, four treatment and four control, within one low-income district. The researchers then randomly selected 28 language arts teachers from the eight schools and selected one class for each teacher as either a control or treatment class, depending on the school’s condition. This approach yielded 540 treatment and 480 control students for the study. Overall, treatment teachers administered 40 theater integrated language arts lesson plans. The control group followed the same district-required texts as the treatment group, but without the arts-integrated approach. The researchers followed 338 of the seventh graders, 215 who had participated in the treatment, into their eighth grade year to gauge the lasting impact of the program compared to the control group.

The researchers collected data for academic achievement from the 2009 New Jersey state math and language arts tests during the year of the EAT program, and the 2010 tests for the year following the program. Researchers collected additional data on school engagement through absenteeism records. Researchers analyzed and compared data using a number of analysis techniques and controlled for gender and socioeconomic status.

Limitations of the Research:

Passing rates for both grades were presented together. This can mask any variation there may have been by grade level. Also, it appears that regression analyses used data from both grades in the same model. Since it is likely the tests varied by grade level, this needed to be accounted for in the model by using grade level as an independent variable.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What effect would drama-integrated language arts curricula have on the achievement of elementary students? Is the impact more pronounced for English language learners? How would the results and gains in mathematics and English language arts achievement hold up over the course of a longer longitudinal study? Can a correlation be established between higher intensity and longer duration of drama-integrated language arts classes and achievement on mathematics and language arts state standardized tests?