Arts Impact in Rochester, NY (2007-2009)


I want to give the public access to a brief summary of our first study in Rochester, NY on the impact of the arts on student learning. The three year grant (2007-2009) was a quasi-experimental design, 10 schools in the treatment group and 10 schools in control group, to learn the impact of arts integration on student achievement. Our firm was the evaluator for this grant.

Purpose of AEMDD

The purpose of the AEMDD Federal grant is to support the enhancement, expansion, documentation, evaluation, and dissemination of innovative, cohesive models that are based on research and have demonstrated that they effectively: (1) integrate standards-based arts education into the core elementary and middle school curricula; (2) strengthen standards-based arts instruction in these grades; and (3) improve students’ academic performance in ELA and Math, social studies and science, including their skills in creating, performing, and responding to the arts.

RCSD Arts Integration Model

The RCSD Arts Integration Model included integrating the arts into the K-6 elementary school core curricula by strengthening the use of high-quality arts in academic instruction, strengthening the place of arts as a core academic subject in school curricula and strengthening arts instruction. Instructional improvement included grade-level teams participating in professional development activities with local teaching artists to learn strategies and techniques to integrate art forms into classroom subjects. Students also had additional arts experiences that enriched content and connected students to cultural arts institutions. The goal for the outcome of arts integration was improving student skills in creating, performing, and responding to the arts and an increase in student achievement on New York State standardized tests.


Overview of the Study

This Federally-funded (AEMDD) three-year evaluation of the Rochester City School District Arts Impact Study employed an experimental design evaluation where 10 schools were randomly chosen to receive the arts impact treatment consisting of professional development around art forms integrated with classroom subjects at each grade level K-6, 10 schools were randomly chosen as a matched pair control group from a total population of 40 K-6 schools which were used for comparison analysis.


Ten schools received the arts impact treatment consisting of professional development of every teacher to strengthen their ability to integrate the arts into their classrooms, enhance the quality of arts instruction and provide more connections for students to arts culture. Another ten schools served as a control group and continued whatever arts programming was already in place, but was left un-enhanced. The entire population from which the treatment schools and the control schools were chosen from consists of 40 schools in grades K-6. The demographics of the sample look like this:

  • 30,000 students in the research database.
  • 40 schools in grades K-6
  • Treatment was for 4000 students in ten schools
  • Federally designated Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community
  • Ranked 11th in the nation per capita for child poverty
  • 86.2% of RCSD’s 34,000 students, preK-12, are eligible for free or reduced lunch
  • 65% African American
  • 13% Caucasian
  • 20% Hispanic
  • 2% other


The randomization of choosing ten (10) schools for the arts impact treatment and ten (10) schools for the control group, out of the 40 Rochester elementary schools was conducted by the Rochester City School District’s Department of Management Information Services (MIS), at the request of the Office of Accountability, formerly Research, Evaluation and Testing. It was a true randomization with a series of alternate schools as back-ups in the appropriate descending order. Some schools who were chosen in the beginning dropped out. For example, Reading First school, dropped out because it was determined to be so staff development-intensive that the teachers did not believe they could provide the Arts Impact Study treatment with the necessary attention. An alternate school from the randomized list was chosen instead. During the run of the study, we realized only a ten percent (10%) attrition rate – one school – for the entire three-year run.


Quantitative Analysis

In all 30,000 student records were analyzed and significance was established for grades K, 1 and 2. Our analysis is showing clear evidence of the Arts Impact Study benefit in grades K, 1 and 2 and to all students in this very large study but especially importantly to three groups of students at academic risk due to familial poverty (which qualifies them for free or reduced lunch payment), or due to limitations in English proficiency, or due to diagnosed learning disability. In many findings for K, 1 & 2, students at risk started behind comparison school students in the first year of the study, pulled even in the second year of the study and moved ahead significantly in the third year of the study.

The general finding of significance at the lower grades leads to theorizing that the impact of arts integration is more robustly felt by younger students who are busy integrating much of their lives and is less impactful at higher grades with students who are busy distinguishing between subjects and content.

Qualitative Analysis

Two surveys, countless interviews and individual comments found a great deal of arts integrated activity reported by teachers. In the two most formal surveys, 121 teachers in Year 1 and 236 in Year 2 (Total = 357 teachers) reported 605 instances of arts integration in Year 1 and 1,058 instances of arts integration in Year 2. The teachers in this survey talked about, sketched and developed some very sophisticated thinking around arts integration in their classrooms.

1.    Teachers consistently reported unusually high levels of teacher enthusiasm, as evidenced in the survey and interviews.  While this obviously cannot guarantee success, it is almost always a prerequisite for a successful intervention.  Conversely, programs with minimal teacher enthusiasm rarely succeed, as noted regarding School 46.

2.    This arts integration model is especially useful for English Language Learners, as evidently it brings students “out of their shells” and inspires them to try their English and improve on it.

3.    This arts integration model is evidently helpful for children in crisis.  Like most high-poverty inner-city schools, we have a large portion of students for whom this is true.  “They get the chance to forget their circumstances” as one teacher observed.

4.    This arts integration model appears to compliment and strengthen the federal Reading First program, especially in areas where RF is weak:  reading fluency and reading comprehension. This definitely merits further exploration.

One example of a Multi-Modal Arts Integration Model

Over the years of the arts integration model implementation, the analysis points to a broadening of integration topics within each art form, and a trend toward more even distribution and greater specificity of academic area being taught through the art form (with reductions in the areas of ELA and General Topic Reinforcement from Year 1 and gains in SS, Science and Math.) The only exception is Theatre – which remains biased away from the Math and Sciences. Sometimes a response appears that indicates a high level of integration – multi-modal — and in the case below, also indicates the integration of community arts resources, as this reply from a veteran K teacher from School 44 indicates,

“This year, we developed a fully integrated unit of study called “A Rainbow All Around Us”. We integrated the arts disciplines of song, dance, visual arts, poetry, and creative expression into our ELA, Science, and Math academic curriculum. We used community resources such as the Memorial Art Gallery. Nazareth Arts Center, Wolf Trap of Rochester, Young Audiences of Rochester and the RCSD Visual Arts grant program.”

A list of this teacher’s most successful arts integration experiences show some interesting multi-modal examples:

“Songs/Movement/Drama – to introduce and review letter sounds, phonics, rhyming, positional concepts, opposites, etc. Response to literature, retelling of stories, role-playing, books that are songs/songs that are books, i.e. “Wonderful World”. Using Visual Arts – to supplement the understanding of science, math concepts and drawing pictures in response to literature. Science – the study of light and color; Math – Great Graph Contest; ELA – original poetry, speaking, listening and performing skills – in culminating musical performance “A Rainbow All Around Us”.

Quality and Accountability

This qualitative and quantitative quasi-experimental design evaluation shows that the RCSD Arts Impact Study has improved the quality and accountability for delivering high quality educational programming. RCSD has:

  1. Faithfully integrated the arts into core curriculums K-6
  2. Found that the use of the arts has a significant impact on student achievement in grades K, 1 & 2.
  3. Showed that this significant impact of the arts on student achievement was accomplished with students who are at risk for poverty, language and disability.
  4. Showed that Rochester CSD has enacted a program that levels the playing field for students at risk.
  5. Shows that their model of integration encourages employing more than one art with more than one content area, a leveling of student success and a broadening of integration resulting in a greater student demonstration of not just art integration but more general learning integration across content, subjects and standardized tests.

Funding Replication

Given the evidence presented in this report, the literature discussion of 20 years of research on arts in education and the push to understand how arts affect student achievement in core academic subjects, it is important to:

  1. Replicate this study
  2. Fund the extension of this study in order to capitalize upon the four-year 30,000 student record database established for this study.
  3. Fund the arts at the beginning of student’s lives
  4. Fund rigorous studies that accurately measure large-scale arts impact
  5. Accurately map the relationship of the arts to at-risk students.
  6. Integrate the arts early in student lives to prepare marginalized students for creative and productive lives.
  7. Integrate the arts into every student’s thinking early on in their lives to create plasticity in their brains that will serve them well later on in all learning endeavors.
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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