The data is in: The arts boost student learning, particularly for English Language Learners

Posted by Marna Stalcup, , Sep 10, 2014 1 comment

Arts instruction has long been used as a tool for reaching English Language Learners. In fact, the origins of the children’s theatre genre lie in the Settlement Houses of Chicago in the early Twentieth Century, where Jane Addams utilized theatre and poetry to help students learn English (this tradition can be seen today in the plethora of children’s books adapted for the stage.)

There is a wealth of information available today about the usefulness of the arts for reaching multiple learning styles but there are few studies that directly link arts integration with student test scores (particularly long-term, richly collaborative integration models).

It is fitting that the week before National Arts in Education Week (September 15 – 19), The Right Brain Initiative is releasing new data that demonstrates the impact of rich classroom arts-integrated instruction on student test scores.

Right Brain is a K-8 arts integration program in Portland, Oregon, the first effort to systemically grow arts education throughout the Portland metro area. Right Brain teacher/artist collaborations and robust professional development arm principals and classroom teachers with strategies to seamlessly blend creative thinking throughout their ongoing teaching practice. The program entered classrooms in 2009, and since that time has been committed to demonstrating how this approach to arts education can truly help students learn.

Engaged learning and creative choice making: A child creates a 3D sculpture from geometric shapes, fully integrating design and math concepts, with The Right Brain Initiative. Photo by Emily Stone. Engaged learning and creative choice making: A child creates a 3D sculpture from geometric shapes, fully integrating design and math concepts, with The Right Brain Initiative. Photo by Emily Stone.

The research firm WolfBrown, with support from the Portland State University Center for Student Success, has reviewed standardized test scores for all 18,711 unique students who attended Right Brain partner schools between the 2007-08 (the year before we entered classrooms) and 2012-13 school years (a year where 44 schools partnered with the program), with compelling results:

  • After students began working with Right Brain, their scores more than doubled in reading and math.
  • English language proficiency scores increased at least ten times as much after students participated in the program.
  • In all cases, the increase in scores continued to rise over time. That is especially true for English Language Learners.

This data looks at the change in scores after students began working with Right Brain. If the average increase in student test scores before joining the Initiative was two points, we can infer that the additional growth (4.8 points for reading the first year after joining and 5.5 points the next), is related to Right Brain’s work. Of particular interest is the additional impact on English Language Learners. English language proficiency scores increased more than 10 times as much as they did before schools joined the Initiative.

RB_TestScores

Right Brain uses the arts to help students learn dynamically, combining visual art and science, music and social studies, and much more. Learning through multiple disciplines gets students up and moving, analyzing information, making creative choices and taking ownership of their own learning process. It’s no wonder that this kind of education helps kids be engaged as creative and critical thinkers, which in turn translates to the exact outcome schools desire: successful students.

This study doesn't close the book on arts education. Proving causation is nearly nearly impossible in education because the variables can’t be isolated. But because this data sample is so high, the correlation is extremely promising. The next step for Right Brain is to look at similar data and contrast it with a control sample of students who did not participate in the program. Our hope is that we can continue to demonstrate the impact of arts integration and related, rigorous teacher professional development.

What research have you conducted in your arts education program? How have you collected student data? What other areas of correlation should arts programs be investigating?

When done right, arts-integrated classroom learning moves way beyond enrichment. In the best case scenario, arts education is genuine, inquiry-based learning that requires students to think as well as make/do/create. Armed with clear-cut data, educators and arts advocates have ample opportunities to engage diverse stakeholders in approaches to more deeply engage students.

Read more about this new data, as well as other stories about the program's impact in schools, in The Right Brain Initiative 2014 Progress Report. If you have other questions, or want us to share this information in greater depth with your association, please get in touch!

1 responses for The data is in: The arts boost student learning, particularly for English Language Learners

Comments

David Shookhoff says
October 12, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Your summary of the WolfBrown study of Right Brain’s impact is inaccurate. What the study in fact shows is that the annual rate of increase in test scores doubled in the first year, and indeed increased by significant multiples thereafter. That’s not insignificant, but completely different from your assertion that the scores themselves doubled. Please be more careful when reporting data. Thanks.

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