Student Learning In and Through the Arts: Research Conducted in the Center for Arts Educations Partnerships for Arts Education Program

December 1, 2003

For three years (2000-2003), a team of researchers from Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology (EDC/CCT) worked with fourteen teams of teachers and teaching artists as they designed ways to assess their students' learning in the arts. Eight sites were originally chosen from among sites funded by the Center for Arts Education's (CAE) Partnership program, which was originally funded by the Annenberg Challenge Grant program. Over the course of the project, EDC/CCT researchers worked with a total of fourteen two-member teams of classroom teachers and teaching artists who were associated with the CAE Partnership program. The number of sites varied over the years from a low of eight to a high of fourteen. Each team worked with one classroom of students averaging thirty students each for a total of four hundred twenty students. The project was designed to get rich descriptions of arts integrated curricula and their effects on student learning. The primary criteria for selection of teachers and teaching artists included: (a) at least two years experience working together to design and implement arts integrated curricula; (b) principal signoff, indicating support of the research project and practice; (c) demonstrated quality of curriculum and assessment methods used to-date; and (d) at-risk student populations at their school. Other factors considered were the group's diversity of arts and non-arts disciplines, grade levels, and socio-cultural background of the teachers, teaching artists, and students. Participating teachers and teaching artists were paid $1,000 annually to take part in this project.

The realities of urban education in America reshaped the project in 2001-2002 as New York City faced a fiscal crisis and funding for arts education related work was cut from public budgets resulting in shifts of personnel and the closing of some of the project's partnerships. In addition, CAE ended its first cycle of Annenberg supported programming and moved to a new phase that did not initially include support for new partnerships. As teachers and teaching artists moved to new schools or new classrooms, the Student Learning In and Through the Arts project attempted to follow the original teams or members of those teams wherever they moved. The researchers followed team members as they formed new partnerships in new schools and continued their investigations, working to answer still unresolved questions. This required working with new student populations, but the instructional approaches and the assessment methods developed during the first year were transferred to the new classes and unfinished design work proceeded toward completion. The new efforts were treated as replications of the original designs and as tests of the designers' concepts.

The work described in this report was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Center for Arts Education (CAE) in New York City. The work addressed several issues and practical problems that were identified in recent research on arts in education projects that featured diverse models of arts-integrated curriculum and emphasized embedded student assessment. In these projects, past research pointed out that neither teachers nor teaching artists had the time to thoroughly think through the student learning aspects of their curriculum or to fully embed ways to assess how students were learning, either in the arts or in the related subject areas. Neither the teachers nor the teaching artists were skilled at conducting or making use of arts education assessment, partly a consequence of the generally inadequate development of assessment practice in this field. As school systems around the country increasingly focus on student outcomes and are unlikely to continue supporting arts learning experiences for students that do not show direct links to student learning as defined by the State Learning Standards or local curriculum frameworks, it becomes imperative that research and design of arts education programs add to our understanding of and repertoire of strategies for addressing these issues.

The teaching artists and teachers who participated in this project were first provided with opportunities to meet together to plan, develop, test-out, refine, and assess fully integrated arts curricula. Second, they were partnered with researcher/coaches who worked along with them on the design and monitored the implementation of their designs, providing timely feedback to the participants and writing the case reports for use by the larger field included in this report. Third, the provision of researcher/coaches helped provide a professional development opportunity for the participants to boost their knowledge of assessment and gather some needed assessment skills.

As EDC/CCT analyzed the results of the project several topics and issues emerged that have implications for future research activity: Commonalities, Practitioners' Capacity and Preparation, Context and Site Specificity, Research and Evaluation Design, and Validity and Reliability. These are described in detail in the report.


Rob Horowitz
Terry Baker