The Nation's Report Card: Arts 2008

Institute of Education Sciences
June 2009

Has NCLB sacrificed art, history, and science on the altar of math
and reading? Some say yes, others no, but actual data have been elusive.
At least in the case of the music and visual arts, this NAEP report
suggests some concrete (but complex) answers. NAEP has not gathered data
in this area since 1997 (perhaps an indication of how NCLB has
deflected our focus from these subjects) so, though not a causal study
of NCLB's impact, this report does shed light on how the study of the
arts has changed over the past eleven years. The assessment was
administered to a national sample of nearly 8,000 eighth graders in both
public and private schools; half were assessed in music, half in the
visual arts. Student performance can at best be described as middling.
Measured on a scale of 0-300, music scores range from 105 for the
lowest-performing students to 194 for the high-flyers. Visual arts
scores were very similar. (Unlike other NAEP tests, this one included a
variety of assessment items, even asking students to create an original
work of art. Thus results are not reported in terms of the familiar NAEP
achievement levels.) And while comparisons can only be made between
1997 and 2008 on certain items, we see a significant decrease in music
performance since 1997 while performance in the visual arts remained
steady. Achievement gaps also persist: White and Asian scores were 22 to
32 points higher on both tests than those of black and Hispanic
students. But while some scores dropped, availability of music and art
classes seems not to have diminished. Fifty-seven percent of eighth
graders attend schools where, according to their principals, music
instruction is offered at least three times a week and 47 percent attend
schools where visual arts is offered at least as often; these figures
haven't changed appreciably since 1997. Some might cite this as evidence
that the arts haven't been crowded out by NCLB, but note that the data
cover eighth grade only; lower grades may have been more vulnerable to a
reading-math squeeze. Note, too, that NAEP data don't tell us how many
students in schools actually participate in the arts, or whether these
offerings are any good for the youngsters who choose to take them.
Hence, we don't yet really have as many answers as we might wish. You
can find it here.

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