A major dilemma students face in today's schools is a greatly reduced focus on art in classrooms, due to budget cuts and mandated curriculum changes.
Brain scientists have documented that when a teacher combines the arts with academics, he or 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.
In addition, brain science studies have demonstrated that students in arts-based youth organizations achieve 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 have proved to increase academic performance. In addition, research on successful art-integrated curricula has demonstrated that access to and participation in the arts helps decrease negative behavior by at-risk youth.
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.
A study of high school student achievement showed that those students who were enrolled in art classes demonstrated higher math, verbal and/or composite SAT scores than students who did not take art classes. The greatest improvement with SAT scores occurred with students who had taken four or more years of art classes.
Further, SAT 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 SAT scores.
The strongest relationship with SAT scores was found with students who took four or more years of art and music classes, scoring 102 points higher on their SATs on average than students who took one-half year or less of art and music classes.
Another study said students who took acting classes had the strongest correlation with verbal SAT scores. Also, acting classes and music history, theory or appreciation had the strongest positive correlation with high math SAT 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).
With decreased school budgets, school administrators need to step back and re-examine the ultimate role of our schools and student learning. Instead of concentrating on mandated test scores and curricula 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 curricula.
Just ask the students.
<i>David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him through his blog "Awakening every child's genius," on pressdemocrat.com.</i>