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Research suggests that the arts have distinct educational benefits.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what improves learning, grades, and scores.

James Catterall education professor at the University of California/Los Angeles, found that students who were highly involved in the arts had higher grades and standardized test scores. Looking at a national survey of 25,000 students he found improvement stretches across income levels. Low income students involved in the arts had better grades and test scores than low income students who had little or no arts experience.

The SATs (a college admission test) seem to show a similar pattern. The more arts experience students have, the higher their scores. This may be a result of other factors, such as school district or family wealth. But through 1999, the 8 percent of test-takers who studied arts and music for four or more years had an average score of 538 verbal, 537 math. The 18 percent who had no arts courses or experiences had average scores of 477 verbal, 492 math.

Devising assessment tools is essential. Research is badly needed, especially on how arts education affects scores. The trick is to spend enough to finance rigorous analyses.

Teachers need more professional development on putting the curriculum framework into practice and more opportunities to share their experiences regionally.

Parents need to be staunch advocates.

Dance needs more attention. Locally and nationally, it tends to be the least studied of arts education.