By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune reporter
5:33 PM CST, February 28, 2012
Arts programming was a factor leading to improved standardized test scores at three schools in Chicago over three years, according to a report released today by the educational arts non-profit Changing Worlds and Loyola University.
The study is just the latest calling for more arts education in Chicago Public Schools. With the district moving to a longer school day next year, the Chicago Teachers Union and parent groups like Raise Your Hand have called for more time devoted to enrichment classes like music and art and less time devoted to test preparation.
Researchers at Loyola University’s Center for Urban Research and Learning tracked test scores of 95 children enrolled in Englewood’s Goodlow Elementary Magnet School, Pilsen’s Whittier Elementary and Rogers Park’s Boone Elementary. The students were all participating in Changing Worlds’ Literacy and Cultural Connections program.
Goodlow had a predominantly African-American student body, Whittier was largely Latino, and Boone had many ethnicities within the school building.
The study found that fourth graders who started with the program in 2009 saw an 11.5 percentage point gain in composite test scores meeting or exceeding state standards by the time they finished the arts program in sixth grade in 2011. They also scored on average more than 11 percentage points higher than fourth through sixth graders at the same school who did not take part in the program, according to the study.
“As it relates to the expanded school day, the need for the arts is critical,” said Mark Rodriguez, executive director of Changing Worlds. “It’s a fact that there’s still schools within the district where art is not a common experience for all young people. But if you look at the research we’ve done and others have done, engagement in the arts has a greater impact on student academic outcomes.”
As part of its program in a dozen CPS facilities, Changing Worlds provided a literacy specialist and art teacher to each school. The art program, which lasted up to 15 weeks per year, began with students exploring their own identity and culture, then interviewing community residents and relatives, and finally delving deeper into world cultures. Along with producing visual art, dance and drama from their findings, students also submitted written pieces.
CPS says 82 percent of schools have a dedicated arts teacher, but arts advocacy groups argue that many are not certified art teachers and the arts programs offered in some schools can be as little as a once-a-year field trip.
In adopting the longer school day, CPS officials have suggested that 140 minutes should be devoted to enrichment activities like the arts, physical education and intervention or acceleration programs for first and second graders. The district has not stipulated how much extra time needs to be devoted to art and music, however, CPS recommends that time be dropped to 90 minutes for third through fifth graders and then bumped up to 120 minutes for middle schoolers.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said schools will have the discretion to use the extra time in a way that best meets the needs of their student body, which is why those decisions are being left to school leaders.
CPS has offered $100,000 grants to schools that come up with innovative ways to fill the extra 90 minutes of instruction. Rodriguez said two schools have approached his group about using Changing Worlds to add and assess arts programs within the school.
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