Arts May Improve Students' Grades
by Carl Hartman, c. The Associated Press, 10/22/99
WASHINGTON (AP) - If your teenagers want to be in the
high school band or drama club, let them. It may improve
their grades.
High school students who take music lessons and join
theater groups do better in math, reading, history,
geography and citizenship, according to a study of
Education Department data to be published today.
"If young Americans are to succeed and to contribute to
what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan describes
as 'our economy of ideas,' they will need an education that
develops imaginative, flexible and tough-minded
thinking," Education Secretary Richard Riley said in a
message accompanying the study. "The arts powerfully
nurture the ability to think in this manner."
The study, which tracked more than 25,000 students for
more than 10 years, found that students who reported
consistently high levels of involvement with instrumental
music scored significantly higher on math tests by the 12th
This observation held true for students regardless of their
parents' income, occupations and levels of education, said
James S. Catterall, the lead author and an education
professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
While 38.6 percent of higher-income students who were
uninvolved in music scored high in math, 48 percent of
those highly involved in music received high marks.
"Kids who are more advantaged tend to be more involved
in the arts. Period. They have more opportunities and
you'd expect them to do better," Catterall said in an
But the influence of music was far more pronounced
among lower-income students.
Among the lower-income students without music
involvement, only 15.5 percent achieved high math scores.
But of the musically oriented group, more than twice as
many excelled in math.
"It's not a matter of economic advantage. It's a matter of
something happening with the arts for the kids," Catterall
The study also found that as students progress through
high school they are less likely to be involved in the arts.
"There's a clear trend," Catterall said. "Kids' participation
in the arts declines. It may be that high schools offer fewer
programs than middle schools or that kids are more
concerned with academics or admissions to college."
Fewer than 3 percent of seniors take out-of-school classes
in music, art or dance, compared with more than 11 percent
of sophomores.
More than half of the "high-involvement" seniors are
found in top levels on standardized tests, compared with
fewer than 43 percent of the "low-involvement" seniors.
The study also indicated arts study affected students' racial
"Students at grade 10 were asked if it was OK to make a
racist remark," the authors wrote. "About 40 percent of
'no-drama' students felt that making such a remark would
be OK, where only about 12 percent of high theater students
thought the same."
When the 12th graders involved in plays were compared
to their uninvolved counterparts, 20 percent more of
those active in drama had excellent reading skills.
Catterall noted that the work supports strong suggestions,
but is not definitive.
This study was one of seven included in "Champions of
Change - The Impact of the Arts on Learning," by
Edward B. Fiske, former education editor of The New
York Times. The project was sponsored by the GE (General
Electric) Fund and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Associated Press Writer David Ho contributed to this story.
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