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article imageAre American students receiving enough arts education?

By Nikki Weingartner     Jun 16, 2009 in World
In a national report card designed to assess specific areas of education, recent results in both music and visual arts reveal some interesting finds -- more than half of U.S. students don't enjoy a proper arts education.
In the first assessment since 1997, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has released an arts report card for 2008. Providing a detailed shot in regards to performance in the areas of music and the visual arts, the NAEP's 11-year gap in information reveals that "approximately half of American students don't get a credible arts education," according to a release on June 15.
On both report cards the average scale score was around 150.
Although the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 explicitly forbids the establishment of a national curriculum, the restructuring of the act now known as No Child Left Behind put in place as part of the requirements for certain funds received an arts in education.
The report assessed nearly 8,000 eighth grade students in both public and private schools within the United States in either visual arts or music based upon "benchmarks" used in the NCLB policy as well as input made by representatives across the board reflected in the National Standards for Arts Education. Despite dance and theater being part of the arts as a whole, they were not used in the assessment due to financial constraints and limited availability in some schools who do not have these programs (see how to interpret the scorecard here).
Although there is no statistical difference between the availability of music and visual arts instruction, the specific area of assessment provided unique results as well as some generalized disparities:
-Average responding scores were higher for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students than Black and Hispanic students. The pattern was the same for the visual arts creating task scores.
-Female students had a higher average responding score than male students. Female students had a higher average creating task score in visual arts.
-Students who were eligible for free/reduced price school lunch had a lower average responding score and a lower average creating task score in visual arts than those who were not eligible.
On average, private schools did better than public schools. Other factors affecting the scores were attributed to areas such as the type of school assessed, socioeconomic status, area where school is located, gender and ethnicity.
In the area of music, there was a decrease in the percentage of students who could correctly answer specific questions, according to the commissioner's summary results, this drop is "not a measure of what students know and can do in responding to music because it omits all the information from the constructed-response questions in the assessment." This is mainly due to the different questions compared between the two assessments. Therefore, an average was used based upon 21 questions found on both assessments, with the total number of correct responses dropping from 53 per cent to 51 per cent.
In the visual arts, there were 12 common questions found on both assessments and a comparison of those revealed an unchanged number of correct answers at 47 per cent. Other areas assessed were the ability to draw a self-portrait where a mere 4 per cent received a rating of sufficient and 57 per cent rated minimal.
As a whole, the commissioner's summary explained disparities within socioeconomic and ethnic groups' results in art and music consistent with other areas assessed. The summary also stressed that the 2008 assessment itself was different than the previous one.
In a press release yesterday, it was stated by the chairman of the governing board that:
“The 2008 arts assessment shows students do not seem to be missing out on
opportunities for, and access to, arts education, as many have argued in recent years,”
said Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which
oversees and sets policy for NAEP. “But we do face consistent and wide racial/ethnic,
gender, and socioeconomic gaps across the subject areas.”
The National Association for Music Education and the National Art Education Association both expressed that the "arts" should be an essential and "non-negotiable" part of the core curriculum across the nation.
In general, arts in education provide certain benefits rather than being just "fun" things to do. They are shown to help improve overall testing scores in other areas, foster critical skills such as teamwork and communication, and teach children to be more tolerant and open-minded.
See here for the NAEP Music Report Card and here for the NAEP Visual Arts Report Card.
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