Hardiman, Mariale, Luke Rinne, and Julia Yarmolinskaya. “The Effects of Arts Integration on Long-Term Retention of Academic Content.” International Mind, Brain, and Education Society 8, no. 3 (2014): 144-148.


This study reports the results of a small, preliminary classroom-based experiment that tested effects of arts integration on long-term retention of content. The researchers designed matched arts-integrated (AI) and conventional science units in astronomy and ecology. Four randomized groups of fifth graders in one school completed one unit in the treatment (AI) condition and the other in the control (conventional) condition. To control for teacher effects, four teachers taught the same subject to different groups in each condition. The researchers administered curriculum-based assessments before, immediately after and two months after each unit to measure initial learning and retention. Results showed no differences in initial learning, but significantly better retention in the AI condition. Increases in retention were greatest for students who scored at the lowest levels of reading proficiency.

Key Findings:

The researchers found no significant effect of arts integration curricula on initial learning but found that it had a significant effect on retention. While there was no difference in the amount of science content that participants learned no matter how the lessons were taught, scores on a delayed posttest showed that students retained what they learned better when taught through arts integrated instruction. The researchers also found that the biggest gains in retention were seen in students at the basic level of proficiency in reading achievement.

Significance of the Findings:

This study provides preliminary support for the theory that arts integration naturally leads students to interact with academic content in ways that promote long-term retention, particularly those who struggle with achieving success in conventional or non-arts integrated teaching approaches. For educators, the study’s findings could inform pedagogy for students, especially those who have low levels of reading achievement. The study’s findings could provide useful approaches to improving content retention and achievement.


For data collection, the researchers developed multiple-choice curriculum-based assessments to measure the student’s learning and retention of content. These assessments were made up of 25 multiple-choice questions as well as one brief constructed response item. Pretests were administered the day before a unit began, posttests were administered at the end of a unit, and delayed posttests were administered approximately eight weeks after the posttest. For data analysis, the researchers measured initial learning (difference between pretest and posttest) and measured retention (delayed posttest score as a proportion of the posttest score). Outlying retention scores were winsorized, and the researchers conducted repeated measures of analysis variances (repeated-measures ANOVAs) of initial learning and retention.

Limitations of the Research:

The sample size of this study was small and consisted of students in the same grade and from the same school, which may hinder the generalizability of the findings. It is also possible the teachers in this study may have a preference for teaching in an arts-based manner which could possibly skew the results. However, the authors did create plans in the study design to avoid this interference, such as by not sharing their hypothesis with the teachers involved. The study also did not do a factor analysis to determine which types of arts-integrated teaching were most successful in leading to content retention.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Future research could attempt to replicate the results with a larger sample size using randomized experimental study designs. It might also be beneficial to study which specific types of arts-integrated teaching led to the greater retention of learning, as well as whether specific content areas resulted in greater learning over others. This study focused only on science content. Future studies could also explore the effectiveness of arts-integration at different ages. The results could possibly inform educational practice and policy in ways that could increase student retention of content in more areas and particularly for students/youths who are not reading at grade level.