Results That Matter: Assessment and the Arts

Using arts processes to teach academic subjects results not only in improved understanding of content but in greatly improved self-regulatory behavior, a forthcoming three-year study sponsored by the United States Department of Education demonstrates. Barry Oreck of ArtsConnection and Susan Baum from the College of New Rochelle observed integrated arts lessons in all major subject areas in fourteen New York City elementary and secondary public school classrooms. Student behavior improved strikingly in such areas as taking risks, cooperating, solving problems, taking initiative for learning, and being prepared, Oreck says; and content-related achievement also rose.

“This answers our key question: whether skills from the arts transfer to other areas,” Oreck says. “But we also found that this transfer cannot occur unless teachers change their classroom’s structure??their use of time, grouping, instructional strategies, active and participatory learning for all kids??to allow those skills and abilities to come out and be used.”

For students who struggle in schools with curricula based primarily on verbal proficiency, the study found, using arts processes proved extremely powerful. “We saw huge changes for those with more kinesthetic, musical, and artistic tendencies,” Oreck notes. His continuing research deals with developing arts assessments to evaluate learning in non-arts areas??using dance, for instance, to assess students’ understanding of molecular bonding. “We have found that if you learn something through a theater game, you can still answer a straight test question,” he says. “Does it work the other way around?”

For a summary of research findings on the arts in education, see Schools, Communities, and the Arts: A Research Compendium, by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University (June 1995); tel.:   602-965-4525    602-965-4525 .