Research on the relationship of music and other academic areas
There is a growing body of evidence that arts instruction can
significantly strengthen students’ academic performance.
The latest research, involving first and second graders at two
Pawtucket RI public elementary schools, produced strong evidence
that sequential, skill building instruction in arts and music,
integrated with the rest of the curriculum, can greatly improve
children’s performance in reading and math. The study
was a collaborative effort of The Music School (in Providence
RI), arts specialists in the Pawtucket school system, and the
Kodaly Center of America.
In its first year, the study included ninety-six students,
ages 5-7 in eight first-grade classrooms. Four “test arts” classrooms
(two each in two schools) participated in a music and visual
art program that emphasized sequential skill development and
that integrated music and visual art with the rest of the curriculum.
Students in the “test arts” classrooms received
one hour of music and one hour of visual art per week. Four
control classrooms (two in each school) received the school
system’s standard visual arts and musical training (one
hour of visual arts and forty-five minutes of music in alternating
After seven months, all students were given standardized first-grade
Metropolitan Achievement Tests. Martin Gardiner, research director
at The Music School, compared the results with kindergarten
achievement test scores for the 83% of students for whom kindergarten
scores were available. He found that, although students in the
test arts classes had started behind the control students in
percentage of students at or above the national average kindergarten
Metropolitan Achievement Test scores, they had caught up to
statistical equality in reading, and had pulled ahead in mathematics.
77% of those in the “test arts” classes were now
at grade level or above in mathematics, as compared to 55% of
those in the control groups.
The study was continued the following year in four “test
arts” and five control classrooms in second grade at the
same schools. Achievement tests were again given after seven
months. As in the first year, test and control groups were equal
on reading, and “test arts” pupils were ahead on
math. The percentage of students at or above grade level in
second-grade math was highest in those with two years of the “test
arts” program, lower in those with one year, and lowest
in those who no “test arts” participation.
Gardiner, a biophysicist, and colleagues theorize that “learning
arts skills forces mental ‘stretching’ useful to
other areas of learning: the maths learning advantage [found
in this study] could, for example, reflect the development of
mental skills such as ordering, and other elements of thinking
on which mathematical learning at this age also depends.”
The “test arts” program (called the “Start
With Arts Program”), developed by music teacher Donna
Jeffreys and colleagues, was designed to integrate
the areas of art and music with classroom subjects
such as reading and math, while maintaining the integrity of
the arts curricula. The collaborative team believes that the
keys to the improvements in math and reading are the sequential
skill-building arts curricula and the integration with the rest
of the curriculum.