Measuring Arts Education, Part III

March 18, 2010
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Recently I explained how we in the Education Department measure the impact of our LACMA On-Site program through various activities in the classroom, at libraries, and here at the museum. Today I’m going to share some recent statistics from the thorough evaluation of that program.

After an eleven-month evaluation of the program, we learned that art and artists are a part of students’ daily use of what they know and their expanded viewpoints of the world. In addition to being engaged in thinking, talking about, and making art, schoolchildren have been positively impacted in ways that have fundamentally changed how they use language to talk about art and the artistic process. Through this program children and adults have found personal and meaningful connections with works of art. Parents, classroom teachers, school administrators, and librarians value the program and recognize the importance of the arts in children’s lives.

Here are six key findings:

The program makes a positive impact in language development for participants. Students are using art vocabulary and noting details in their language, and are able to express themselves using descriptive language. In LAUSD’s diverse population, the program also supports language development for English Language Learners. And teachers report that students’ use of descriptive language continues beyond the art workshops. One of the most significant benefits of the evaluation was identifying ways more students could have a chance to voice their ideas in short instructional settings by providing opportunities for students to work in small groups and pairs during instruction.(1)

Participants are using and exploring a range of new art materials not readily available to them, including collage, watercolor painting, oil pastel, and clay. Students and families are learning and applying specific skills and techniques related to these art media, which expands their understandings of those techniques and materials. (2)

Program participants overwhelmingly find personal and meaningful connections between their own lives and LACMA’s permanent collection as seen in their artwork. In particular, teens engage in library workshops because the content is relevant to their lives and families and librarians relate to concepts that resonate with their communities. (3)

The program content resonates with participants and administrators. In the schools, students and teachers relate that they are using LACMA arts curriculum for further development of critical thinking skills and other core academic areas. For example, the program fosters the development of students' analytical skills through the process of expressing and supporting their opinions when talking about art. Teachers integrate the curriculum for varying purposes, connecting vocabulary words, art concepts, and workshop themes with their ongoing instruction. (4)

Classroom teachers, school administrators, librarians, and parents place a high value on the program and desire to continue the experience. Teachers recommend it to their colleagues, librarians value the program’s emphasis on family learning, and principals value the quality of LACMA’s staff, teaching artists, resources, and support. Both teachers and librarians note specific reasons to continue the collaboration with LACMA and see it as an integral component of the school curricula or library community programming.

In addition to achieving its short-term goals, the program has made strides in achieving longer-term goals, including increasing levels of action around art education by school administrators and sustaining arts engagement in the LAUSD elementary and middle schools.

The evaluation also documents a well-known, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of arts education: arts learning provides English Language Learners, students falling behind in traditional classroom settings, and students with special needs with opportunities to excel and often exceed their teacher’s expectations.

What does it take to provide meaningful, effective, large-scale programming in an urban and widespread area such as Los Angeles? These evaluation findings help to identify a programming model that can be transferred to other areas of the country, using shared outcomes and teaching strategies. Formal documents that share the evaluation findings, both in print and on LACMA’s website, will be available this summer.

(1)Across all grade levels, specific and descriptive language expanded. In the libraries, children used descriptive words to talk about art.

(2)Of particular significance, over 90 percent of all participating K-5 students applied skills in using art materials and over 80 percent of middle school students applied skills in using art materials. 92 percent of children participating in the library program applied an art skill or technique as well. Typically reticent in these situations, 51 percent of adults are applying arts skills or techniques for the first time.

(3)Across all programs, over 90 percent of participants are including personal content in their own artwork.

(4)At the elementary and middle school levels, 93 percent of teachers saw connections with other subjects.

Elizabeth Gerber, Manager, School & Teacher Programs