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Arts May Improve Students' Grade

By CARL HARTMAN Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- If your teen-agers want to be in the high school band or drama club, let them. It may improve their grades.

High school students who take music lessons and join theater groups do better in math, reading, history, geography and citizenship, according to a study of Education Department data to be published today.

"If young Americans are to succeed and to contribute to what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan describes as our 'economy of ideas,' they will need an education that develops imaginative, flexible and tough-minded thinking," Education Secretary Richard Riley said in a message accompanying the study. "The arts powerfully nurture the ability to think in this manner."

The study, which tracked more than 25,000 students for more than 10 years, found that students who reported consistently high levels of involvement with instrumental music scored significantly higher on math tests by the 12th grade.

This observation held true for students regardless of their parents' income, occupations and levels of education, said James S. Catterall, the lead author and an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

While 38.6 percent of higher-income students who were uninvolved in music scored high in math, 48 percent of those highly interested in music received the high marks.

"Kids who are more advantaged tend to be more involved in the arts. Period. They have more opportunities and you'd expect them to do better," Catterall said in an interview.

But the influence of music was far more pronounced among lower-income students.

Among the lower-income students without music involvement, only 15.5 percent achieved high math scores. But of the musically oriented group, more than twice as many excelled in math.

"It's not a matter of economic advantage. It's a matter of something happening with the arts for the kids," Catterall said.

The study also found that as students progress through high school they are less likely to be involved in the arts.

"There's a clear trend," Catterall said. "Kids participation in the arts declines. It may be that high schools offer fewer programs than middle schools or that kids are more concerned with academics or admissions to college."

Fewer than 3 percent of seniors take out-of-school classes in music, art or dance, compared with more than 11 percent of sophomores.

More than half of the "high-involvement" seniors are found in top levels on standardized tests, compared with fewer than 43 percent of the "low-involvement" seniors.

The study also indicated arts study affected students' racial attitudes.

"Students at grade 10 were asked if it was OK to make a racist remark," the authors wrote. "About 40 percent 'no-drama' students felt that making such a remark would be OK, where only about 12 percent of high theater students thought the same."

When the 12th graders involved in plays were compared to their uninvolved counterparts, 20 percent more of those active in drama had excellent reading skills.

Catterall noted that the work supports strong suggestions, but is not definitive.

This study was one of seven included in "Champions of Change -- The Impact of the Arts on Learning," by Edward B. Fiske, former education editor of The New York Times. The project was sponsored by the GE (General Electric) Fund and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and the Arts Education Partnership, 1999. View as HTML

For a copy of the report, please contact
Associated Press Writer David Ho contributed to this story.
Copyright © Associated Press


The Arts Change the Learning Experience in Special Ways

- The arts reach students who are not otherwise being reached.
- The arts reach students in ways that they are not otherwise being reached.
- The arts connect students to themselves and each other.
- The arts transform the environment for learning.
- The arts provide learning opportunities for the adults in the lives of young people.
- The arts provide new challenges for those students already considered successful.
- The arts connect learning experiences to the world of real work.
- The arts enable young people to have direct involvement with the arts and artists.
- The arts support extended engagement in the artistic process.
- The arts encourage self-directed learning.
- The arts engage community leaders and resources.

An analysis that focused on instrumental music and mathematics was also quite revealing. Dr. Catterall and his associates discovered that music students were far more likely to achieve the highest levels of proficiency in math tests than non-music students.

Again, low SES students also benefited. In fact they not only scored higher in math than low SES students who were not involved in music but also better than the average of all students. The positive effects of instrumental music instruction also increased from the 8th to the 10th grades. For example, 21% of eighth grade music students from low SES households scored high in math compared to 11% of non-music low SES students. By grade 12, these figures were 33% and 16%, respectively.

Do these findings definitely show that consistent involvement in arts education, particularly in instrumental music education, causes the high levels of general academic and math performance? Dr. Catterall and his colleagues are quite aware of the challenges that must be met to be able to draw a causal connection. However, they point out that there is good reason to suspect that arts education helps cause the findings because other studies have reported " that children are more engaged and cognitively involved in school when the arts are part of, or integrated into, the curriculum." Nonetheless, it might be argued that better students select arts involvement. However, the authors also emphasize that improvements are greater within the same students over time, from the 8th to the 12 grades. This is difficult to explain if the higher performance levels were not caused by continued involvement in the arts. Source