Elementary Music Pull-Out Research
More and more string class teachers across
the country are being denied regular access to elementary students
by administrators and elementary classroom teachers because
of academic achievement concerns. Building principals are pressured
by superintendents, school boards, and even state legislators
with demands for ever-higher student standardized test scores.
are filled with articles and editorials about
the need to get back to “basics” in
the schools, basics that eliminate time for the
arts and strings. Correspondingly, elementary school principals
are increasingly reluctant to allow young students to be pulled
out of class for elective activities like strings.
Today, classroom elementary teachers are being
held accountable for the academic progress of their students.
are being based in part on how well their students
perform on standardized achievement tests. As a result, some
teachers are afraid to allow students to miss class for elective
activities for fear the students will perform poorly on tests.
addition, parents are becoming so concerned
about their children not doing well enough in classroom subjects
like math and reading that they are increasingly leery about
allowing them to sign up for string instruction. Fear of lowered
academic performance due to missing class often guides their
decision to refuse permission for their children to enroll for
This situation of denying access to string
programs to elementary school children because of academic concerns
is reaching the crisis stage for string teachers who are faced
with the need to remove students from the regular classroom
for string instruction. What can string teachers do? One of
the worst things they can do is to get angry and emotional.
said heatedly in confrontations sometimes feel
good but are often regretted later. In contrast, one of the
best ways to effectively deal with the crisis is to begin to
unemotionally and objectively lay out a strategy to solve the
problem with facts and figures.
Results of Classroom Pull-Out Research
Six studies in the last decades have been conducted to investigate
the academic effects of removing students from the regular elementary
classroom for string instruction. The studies involve both urban
and suburban school districts differing in size, socioeconomic
mix, and racial balance. All six studies show that student math
and reading achievement test scores are not affected by classroom
pull-out. Here are the facts and figures.
In a study by Groff in 1963, a comparison of the academic achievement
of elementary instrumental students to non-instrumental students
showed no significant difference between the two groups.
In 1979 and 1980, string class instruction
in the elementary schools of the Albuquerque
City Schools occurred during the regular school day and involved
students missing some academic classroom time for string study.
the leadership of Dale Kempter, curriculum
supervisor of fine arts for the Albuquerque Schools, a study
was conducted to investigate the relationship between elementary
student academic achievement and participation in the instrumental
music program. In the study, the standardized reading, language,
and math test scores of all fifth-grade students were compared
to those of string students after they had been pulled out of
their regular academic classroom for either one or two years
of string class study.
revealed that the string students scored 10 to
20 percentile points higher on all the tests
compared to the general fifth-grade population
after both one and two years of classroom pull-out. In fact,
the longer the students were enrolled in string classes (two
years versus one year of instruction), the greater the difference
between the academic achievement of string students and the
general student population.
In addition, selected schools of
differing racial mixes and schools whose student
test scores were well above to well below the national norms
were analyzed. No difference was found between the test scores
of string students and non-string students.
The entire investigation was replicated in
1986, and similar results were found once again. Complete descriptions
of the studies may be obtained from Dale Kempter
or from a summary of the research by Joseph Robitaille and Sandra
O’Neal (see Bibliography).
An investigation in 1983 under the authority
of David Circle, music supervisor for the Shawnee Mission Schools
District, was undertaken to determine the effects on mathematic
problem solving and reading comprehension test scores for students
removed from their elementary classrooms for instrumental instruction.
In the Shawnee Mission schools, a suburban school district of
Kansas City, string classes begin in the fourth grade and meet
twice a week for 30 minutes.
The Iowa Test of Basic Skills was
administered to all students at the third-grade
level (prior to eligibility for instrumental instruction) and
again at the sixth-grade level (following two years of string
instruction or one year of band instruction). Test scores of
the instrumental students were then compared to the test scores
of all students. Analysis revealed that the string students
scored higher in both mathematics problem solving and reading
comprehension. In other words, string students’ academic
achievement was higher than the general population
of students despite the string students being removed from their
regular classroom for two years of string study. The study was
repeated in 1989, and the same results were obtained.
In a landmark study that incorporated four
distinctly different school districts, excusing elementary students
from their regular classroom activities for instrumental study
was shown once again not to affect student academic achievement
adversely. In 1980, Edward Kvet analyzed the reading, language,
and mathematic achievement test scores of sixth- grade students
from four school districts in the Cincinnati area.
differed in size, location, socioeconomic level,
and racial balance. No significant difference was found in any
of the districts between the test scores of students pulled
out of class for instrumental study and students not studying
Effective Use of Research Results
The key to fighting the academic argument against removing
students from their classroom for string study is to effectively
use the research findings. Let’s begin by first discussing
what the research does tell us.
The results do not indicate that students perform
better academically because they study string instruments. That
is a separate issue and is not addressed by instrumental pull-out
We cannot argue that string students do better
academically because they are removed from their regular classroom
for string instruction. This is the old cause-and-effect issue
that often plagues interpretations of research.
Next, the research does not show the value of strings in the
schools, only that their study does not impair students’ academic
progress. The intrinsic value of experiencing strings and what
students uniquely get from string study is not implicit in the
results of pull-out research.
Further, it must be clearly understood that research does not
prove anything beyond a doubt. Research only reveals, supports,
indicates, shows, or points to something of which we can be
fairly certain. Do not argue that research proves students do
not suffer academically when they are pulled out of their regular
classroom for string study. Someone knowledgeable about research
will challenge you.
What can you say? You can state confidently that all instrumental
pull-out studies show clearly that string students do not do
more poorly than others academically because they miss class
for string study as measured by standardized tests in math and
reading. That statement can be easily supported by research.
How can you effectively use the results of pull-out research
for string study? See the list of suggestions on the following
page. Not all of them will work in your situation, but some
will. You’ll probably be able to think of more that would
be appropriate for your school district.
String classes in the public schools, beginning
with Albert Mitchell in the Boston Public Schools in 1911, have
been key to the development of instrumental music education
in America. If students need to leave their regular elementary
classroom for string study in your school district, then the
results of instrumental pull-out research are vitally important
to the success of string education in your district.
strategy to respond effectively when you hear
said her students can’t come to strings this week because
she is presenting something new in math.”
Remember to involve as many people in getting the word out
about the results of instrumental pull-out research. Educate
your professional peers and the parents of your elementary students
with the truth: missing class for string study really does not
affect elementary student academic achievement.
Circle, D. Cognitive Growth of Students in Music
as Measured by ITBS. Unpublished report. Shawnee Mission Public
Schools, Music Library and Fine Arts Center, 7200 Belinder
Road, Shawnee Mission, KS 66208, 1989.
Groff, F.H. “Effect on Academic Achievement of Excusing
Elementary School Pupils from Classes to Study Instrumental
Music.” Abstracts, 25, 5014-5015. (University Microfilms
No. 64-3536). 1963.
Kempter, D. Academic Achievement of Fifth Grade
Band and Orchestra Students. Unpublished report. Albuquerque
Public Schools, Curriculum Supervisor of Fine Arts, 725 University
Boulevard, SE, PO Box 25704, Albuquerque NM 87125. 1980, 1986.
Kvet, E.J. “Excusing Elementary School Students from Regular
Classroom Activities for the Study of Instrumental Music: the
Effect on Sixth-Grade Reading, Language, and Mathematics Achievement.” Journal
of Research in Music Education, 32, 1985:45-54.
Robitaille, J., & O’Neal, S. “Why Instrumental
Music in the Elementary Schools?” Phi Delta Kappan, 63,
Taking Action: Using Pull-Out Research
1.Obtain complete copies of the studies cited in this article
(see Bibliography).* Become well-versed in each study so you
can clearly explain the methods, results, and implications of
2.Write a one-page handout that clearly describes the type
of school district involved in the studies and the methods,
findings, and conclusions of each study. Include a bibliography
and end with a statement summarizing the findings of all of
the studies: no significant different was found between the
academic achievement of students who were allowed to leave class
for string study and those who did not, regardless of school
size and student population background.
3. Either you or a parent who is articulate
and clearly understands the studies should make a concise
presentation of the results to the school board. Parents
who are lawyers or doctors and have a child in the program are sometimes
more appropriate to give the presentation; their opinion
may carry more weight with some school board members because
of their position in the community. In addition, give each
member of the board a copy of your one-page handout describing
the results and implications of the studies. If necessary,
mail them a handout with a cover letter. You might include
a copy of your orchestra curriculum guide or course of study,
showing them the educational goals, sample teaching strategies,
and methods of evaluation for the elementary string classes.
End by inviting them to an upcoming concert.
4.You or a parent should present the handout and describe the results of
the studies to your building principals. Parents carry so much weight with
principals that the more you can use them in the process the better. Follow
up the presentation with a formal letter thanking the principals for their
time and interest in students. Include a summary statement describing in
a single sentence the results of the studies one more time.
5.Inform parents of prospective or current string students of the results
of the studies. Talk about the findings at elementary concerts and at recruitment
meetings. Give parents a copy of your handout if they want one. Informed
parents make informed decisions.
6.Discuss the results and the implications of the studies in your orchestra
newsletter. Be sure all administrators in your district get a copy. Some
school district-wide publications may be interested as well.
7.Work with parents if their children in strings are doing
poorly in their classroom subjects. The studies do not say that
every child will do well academically, only that string students
in general will. Assure parents that you are really willing
to help find the best solution for the academic needs of your
string students. Perhaps additional work or tutoring outside
of class will be effective in helping meet students’ needs.
In this way, parents will be more likely to allow their children
to sign up for strings or continue their elementary string study
even if their children experience academic problems.
8.Be part of the life of the elementary school as much as possible. Principals
and fellow classroom teachers are often more willing to negotiate student time
if they think you are truly interested in their students and school.
9.Be “kind but firm” when dealing with classroom
teachers on the volatile subject of removing students from their
classroom. You may need to educate them with the results of
the pull-out studies because most teachers are intensely concerned
about the academic progress of their students and as a consequence
feel they can’t allow students to miss class. Try to be
sensitive to the teachers in your conversations. Try to be their
friend and understand their position. Listen to their point
of view. Personally offending them only make matters much worse
in the end, with a cost that may be high. Approach them positively:
since missing class for string study does not harm students’ academic
achievement, let’s enrich their lives through string instruction--let’s
give them some hands-on music appreciation and performing skills
they can use for the rest of their lives. If a teacher is still
obstinate about allowing students to leave class, that does
not mean you have to lie down and roll over. The classroom teacher
does need to allow students out of class for string study. Be
judicious in all dealings with classroom teachers, though, and
allow the principal or parent to state the bottom line if necessary.
10.Consider approaching your music supervisor, fine arts supervisor, or curriculum
coordinator about conducting an investigation in your school district on the
effects of classroom pull-out on student academic performance. The results
of the investigation may help you. Someone on the music education faculty of
a local university may be interested in such a research project, too.
Robert Gillespie, associate professor and director of string
education at the Ohio State University, is responsible for one
of the largest and most extensive string teacher training programs
in the country. He is an active violinist, conductor, researcher,
and string clinician. Dr. Gillespie is founder and music director
of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Junior Strings Youth Orchestra.
He is director of the ASTA Media Resource Center and directs
the annual Ohio String Teachers Association Middle School Orchestra
Camp and the Midwest Summer String Teacher Conference. His articles
have appeared in numerous journals, and he is the author of
two training videos on violin.