Want Your Kids to Excel in Math and Reading? Teach Them to Paint

Study says: Art classes can help boost student test scores.
A new study shows that kids who take classes in the arts fare better in math, reading, and writing than their peers. (Photo: Grafissimo)
Oct 23, 2012
is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, who writes about economic crises and political snafus.

We all know that classes in art, music, drama and dance are great ways to blow off a little steam and spark creativity, but a new study proves that these classes are what many in the arts have said for years: Arts education is imperative to all-around learning.

The West Virginia Department of Education has just released a study in which high school students who took more than the one credit of art classes needed for graduation fared better than their one-credit peers in their statewide reading and writing tests. "Students who earn 2 or more arts credits during high school were about 1.3 to 1.6 times more likely to score at proficient levels for mathematics and reading/language arts," the study claims. Students who earned two or more credits were approximately 1.5 times more likely to meet or score above the ACT Plan national average composite score.

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Approximately 14,500 students who remained at grade level participated in the study from 2007 to 2010. Any visual, musical or performance arts classes were considered arts for this study’s purposes.

“The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) has always believed that an arts education gives students a leg up but now we have research which supports the assertion,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple in a statement Monday. “The Cohort Study of Arts Participation and Academic Performance research shows that an education that includes the arts is closely linked to almost everything that we as a state and nation say we want for our children and demand for our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement and equitable opportunity.”

Although art education in public schools across the United States has been in a steady decline since at least the early 1980s, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, in recent years budget cuts have made it almost obsolete in some schools. In the 2011 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, more than one third of teachers nationwide reported reductions or eliminations of arts or music programs in the course of that year. These reductions or eliminations were more heavily reported in urban areas. Minority children are the most unlikely population to receive any arts education.

The West Virginia study shows that an arts education is important for children of all backgrounds. Of the total participants in the study, 37 percent were economically disadvantaged and 11 percent were students with disabilities. The results of the study for these subgroups are astounding:

The odds of scoring at proficient levels in reading/language arts among students with disabilities and students with both disabilities and low family income indicated that while few of these students reach proficiency they were up to twice as likely to do so if they exceeded the minimum number of arts credits required for graduation.

...Students were about 1.3 times more likely to reach [math] proficiency when earning 3 arts credits and 1.6 times more likely when earning 4 or more. The odds were better for reading/language arts. There was a slight advantage in proficiency for students earning 2 credits, but the advantage rose to 1.6 and 2.2 times when students earned 3, or 4 or more arts credits, respectively.

“The arts are core academic subjects so we need to ensure that every West Virginia student receives an arts-rich education,” Marple said. The West Virginia education department has continued to support the arts over the years in initiatives such as providing more than half a million dollars to piloting dance at the elementary school level and offering professional development opportunities to arts teachers.

“The WVDE believes that a comprehensive arts education plays a key role in meeting the needs of the whole student and provides ways to personalize learning as well.”

This is a sentiment that certainly should not be limited to any one state.

Do you feel arts education needs to be more of a priority in our schools? Share your thoughts in COMMENTS.

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