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The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth

Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies

October 15, 201215 October 2012

Arts education

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Based on four longitudinal datasets, this American report examines the association between in-depth arts engagement and academic or civic outcomes for at-risk youth. Most of the comparisons in the report are between children with either low or no arts involvement (“low arts”) and those with very high levels of arts engagement (“high arts”). Almost all of the results focus on children from households with lower socio-economic status (i.e., family income, parental education level, and parental job status).

Although different activities were captured in the four datasets, arts engagement generally included arts activities (whether in-school or extracurricular), recurring arts exposure, “service in an arts leadership position”, or “advanced placement coursework in the arts”.

The report notes that high-arts students fare at least as well as low-arts students on almost all indicators of academic achievement and civic engagement, and significantly better than low-arts students on a number of indicators.

Among academic outcomes, the researchers found that, compared with students with little or no arts exposure, high-arts students achieved:

  • Higher secondary school graduation rates.
  • Higher overall grade-point averages.
  • Slightly higher grade-point averages in math.
  • Higher test scores in science and writing.
  • Greater college aspirations.
  • Higher college enrolment rates and higher rates of enrolment in professionally-oriented programs.
  • Higher bachelor degree graduation rates and better grades in university.

Among civic outcomes, again compared with students with little or no arts exposure, high-arts students were more likely to:

  • Read books and visit libraries.
  • Read newspapers.
  • Participate in school government and school service clubs.
  • Volunteer.
  • Vote.
  • Participate in a political campaign.

Based on these results, the researchers concluded that “deep arts involvement may help to narrow the gap in achievement levels among youth of high versus low” socio-economic status.

The researchers caution that “the data in this report do not permit an analysis of causal links that might exist between deep arts involvement and academic and civic behavioral outcomes. All of the findings attest only to statistical correlations.” The researchers argue that more conclusive evidence should include research controls for factors such as the “disparate influences of home, school, family, and neighborhood; of gender, race, and ethnicity; of health and disability status, and a host of psychosocial factors”. In addition, the varying quality of arts instruction or exposure should also be taken into account.

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