Officials say arts education may raise test scores
West Virginia high school students who take more than the required amount of arts classes scored better on math and reading portions of the Westest than students who did not, according to a study scheduled for release today.
"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 states.
Conducted by the Office of Research within the state Department of Education, the study includes information from 14,653 public high school students between 2007 and 2010. Researchers considered any music, visual or performance arts courses for the study.
The study also found students with more arts credits performed better on the ACT PLAN exam, a preparatory test before students take the actual ACT.
Researchers couldn't say why the correlation exists. State education officials, however, are confident the arts are linked with better academic performance.
"The WVDE believes that a broad curriculum that is arts-rich (as well as having foreign language, movement, etc.), does lead directly to higher student achievement, as indicated by measures such as the Westest2," Superintendent Jorea Marple said in an emailed statement.
The department is releasing the study as Marple visits several arts programs across the state. She is scheduled to be at an art class at Magnolia High School in New Martinsville today. More stops in Wetzel, Marshall and Ohio counties are scheduled for the week.
The study focuses on high school students, but officials believe the same results would be found at any age.
"The research data indicate that arts participation is positively associated with academic outcomes, meaning as participation increases, so does achievement," Marple said in the statement.
"We do not contend that participation in arts causes those outcomes, but we know they are related in a positive way and that the relationship is statistically significant."
West Virginia high school students are required to take one arts credit to graduate. Elementary school students must take music and general art classes every year. Both chorus and band must be offered starting in sixth grade, and middle school students must take a cumulative of 18 weeks of music and art classes before going to high school.
The study looked at high school students who took two or more credits, and examined Westest and demographic differences.
For reading, the relationship between arts and higher test scores was consistent across all study groups, researchers found. The trend held true in math only for students not from low-income families and without disabilities or students only from low-income families. Overall though, the study states any student's odds of scoring "above mastery" or "distinguished" on the Westest go up somewhat if they earn additional arts credits.
All studies have limitations: Researchers measured arts credits for the student group into the 12th grade, although the Westest is not taken beyond 11th grade. There's a similar limitation for the ACT PLAN test, which is given in 10th grade.
The study also assumed a correlation between arts and improved test scores exists. Several national studies are also referenced, but researchers noted most focus on slightly different aspects.