According to a growing body of research, art class may be a boon to top performance on standardized tests, rather than an expendable “extra.” With arts education, student performance in such core academic subjects as mathematics and science has risen, with students from lower socio-economic backgrounds often making the biggest gains.
And EDC’s SmART Schools is proving the point.
The program brings an art-centered model to struggling schools—and gets results. Currently in 16 New England schools, SmART Schools has just moved west, working with four elementary schools in California. The expansion into the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is part of a four-year school improvement project funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
In SmART Schools, arts education is part of every classroom, every day, incorporating theater, music, dance, and visual arts. A math-music curriculum, for example, engages students in the application of the line graph—a mathematical concept—to melodic contour and instrument classification. Students develop math skills in such areas as charting, sorting, and classifying while also practicing musical skills, such as composing, instrument family recognition, and performing.
After eight years, the program has a strong record of turning around low-performing schools. Oakland Beach Elementary in Rhode Island, for instance, was among the 14 lowest-performing schools in the state when administrators adopted SmART Schools. In just three years, the school went from “low performing” to “high performing,” based on statewide standards-based testing. That school’s visual arts teacher, Cathy Davis Hayes, a key early supporter of SmART Schools, was recently named the 2007 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.
As the program expands to new areas, EDC’s Eileen Mackin expects to continue the pattern of improvement: “We’ve had great success at the regional level, and we’re ready to become a national model.”
Originally published on January 1, 2007