STARKVILLE, Miss.--Effective classroom arts integration can reduce or eliminate educational achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged students, according to a Mississippi State University research report.
In other words, when teachers reinforce academic concepts with the arts, students learn more and score higher on standardized tests.
MSU's John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development generated the report, which evaluated the impacts of the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative. The program supports teachers' efforts to use the arts--composing, painting, drawing or sculpting; playing, singing or listening to music; and dancing and dramatic performance--to foster retention and learning.
Judith Philips, Stennis research associate, headed the development of "Arts Integration and the Mississippi Arts Commission's Whole Schools Initiative: A Stennis Institute Study for Decision-Makers." The report initially was presented at the Mississippi Arts Commission's 2013 Whole Schools Initiative Summer Institute.
Philips said the research verifies that effective arts integration reinforces classroom learning.
"Schools that effectively implement arts integration have either significantly reduced or completely eliminated the educational achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students," she said. "This research indicates that arts integration can achieve that objective in Mississippi public schools."
Currently, almost 5,500 Mississippi students in eight public and four private elementary schools are participating in WSI. The study compared results on language arts and mathematics Mississippi Curriculum Tests, fourth-grade writing assessments and fifth-grade science tests to scores of students not enrolled in arts integrated classrooms.
"The percentage of students scoring 'proficient or above' on standardized tests was significantly higher at schools participating in the Whole Schools Initiative that had effectively implemented the WSI arts integration model, when compared to student performance statewide and when compared to student performance for the school district within which the WSI school was located," Phillips told arts commission participants during her presentation.
Karen Brown, MSU instructor in curriculum, instruction and workforce development, teaches an arts integration course in MSU's College of Education. She said she's not surprised at the Stennis report's findings because students, especially young children, gravitate to learning that way.
"Not only is it repetition, but it's time spent whenever a child is learning something in a different way, that means they're learning it again," Brown said. "They're repeating it, and so the immersion in their learning is a different form--through the arts--but it's also more time spent on the content, so they start thinking critically and creatively."
Brown said all MSU elementary education majors are required to take the arts integration course. She also takes a student group to WSI's annual summer institute.
"Arts integration, from the perspective of a classroom teacher, is teaching both the content area and the arts together, and that takes some special training and special knowledge, but when you do that, it immerses the child in the content," Brown said.
Phillips said arts integration requires quality professional development and mentorships for teachers. Providing that training for teachers requires additional resources that many state school systems may not be able to provide, she acknowledged.
"Given our state's budget constraints, the Stennis Institute recognizes that additional resources to support these efforts will need to come from either federal grants or from philanthropic organizations," Phillips said. "To that end, we collaborated with the arts commission and wrote a grant for the commission to the U.S. Department of Education for an Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Program grant."
If awarded, the DOE grant should pay for a national workshop leader and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts teaching artist to visit Mississippi on a quarterly basis.
Phillips said the visiting expert would provide professional development, conduct student learning initiatives and train state teaching artists in implementing Moving through Math, a curriculum using movement, music, spatial reasoning, and interpersonal skills to teach mathematics, verbal and visual skills.
Brown said parents interested in having their children involved in arts integration should inquire with their respective school system administrators or inform other parents and teachers at parent-teacher organization meetings. Then, local advocates could request the school system apply for a WSI grant.
"I'd like to see increased involvement, funding and awareness from stakeholders, legislators, teachers, parents--everyone," Brown said. "We have data that arts integration is working and making a difference in Mississippi classrooms."
To read the Stennis Institute report's executive summary or entire content, visit www.mswholeschools.org/research/whole-schools-initiative-evaluation-and-research.