Due to the current mandated curriculum, a major dilemma students face in today’s schools is a greatly reduced art integrated academic curriculum.
Budget cuts have also contributed to the reduction of integrated curriculum. Brain scientists have documented that when a teacher combines the arts with the academics, he/she not only stimulates greater learning potential and intelligence, but also supports the psychological development of confidence and self esteem, both of which lead to deeper emotional commitment to learning (Gazzaniga, M.S.,1998).
In addition, a study by Fiske, 1999, demonstrated that students in arts-based youth organizations achieved higher scores when compared to the standard school population on questions dealing with self-worth, personal satisfaction and overall student achievement.
Also, well-designed and executed art programs weaved into the academic curriculum has proved to increase academic performance (Fiske, 1999). In addition, research on successful art integrated curriculums has demonstrated that access to and participation in the arts helps decrease negative behavior by at-risk youth (NSBA, 2009).
The study of art increases performance in expressive and cognitive abilities for the student. Artistic expression develops essential thinking tools: pattern recognition and development; mental representation of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical, and metaphorical representations; detailed observation of the world; and the ability to move from abstraction to complex expression (Rabkin & Redmond, 2004; Sousa, 2006).
A study of high school student achievement illustrated those students who were enrolled in art classes demonstrated higher math, verbal and/or composite S.A.T. scores than students who did not take art classes. The greatest improvement with S.A.T. scores occurred with students who had taken four or more years of art classes (College Board, 2001).
Further, S.A.T. scores increased consistently with the addition of more years of art classes. That is, the higher the number of years of art studies, the higher the S.A.T. scores. The strongest relationship with S.A.T. scores was found with students who took four or more years of art and music classes, scoring 102 points higher on their S.A.T.’s than students who took one-half year or less of art and music classes (scores 1075 vs. 973) respectively — College Board, 2010).
Another study identified students who took acting classes had the strongest correlation with verbal S.A.T. scores. Also, acting classes and music history, theory or appreciation had the strongest positive correlation with high math S.A.T. scores. And all classifications of art classes were found to have a significant relationship with both verbal and math S.A.T. scores. Finally, students with one year or more of art and music classes averaged 528 on the writing portion of the test — 40 points higher than students with one-half year or less of arts/music classes (466), (College Board Profile of S.A.T. and Achievement Test Takers for 2001).
With decreased school budgets, school administrators need to step back and reexamine the ultimate role of our schools and student learning. Instead of concentrating on mandated test scores and curriculum that disregard the role of art in academic achievement, we need to be more observant and connect to the revealing statistics of these studies of art-integrated curriculum. Just ask the students. Or, merely observe their performance, socially and academically.
David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher. Email him at davidsortino @comastcast.net or contact him through his blog on pressdemocrat.com.