It’s music to our ears

Chicago schools data unveils unexpected connection between arts education and achievement gap

ChallengeAnalyze and quantify multivariate data to demonstrate beneficial effects of arts education on standardized test scores. Clearly communicate findings to funding organizations.
SolutionJMP® helps researchers discover and analyze trends faster and more accurately than other statistical software.
ResultsAnalyzing broad swaths of data helped the Center for Music and the Arts in Education uncover unexpected findings about the positive influence of arts education on standardized test scores, at-risk students.

What do you get when you integrate arts education into elementary school curriculums? Higher test scores, according to a four-year study powered by JMP software.

Measuring the impact of arts education on student test scores is not for the faint of heart. Not only do researchers in this field have to construct their own data collection methods, but they also have to manage millions of data points to identify findings. And sometimes, as Lawrence Scripp discovered, the data confirms a hypothesis that researchers weren’t even testing.

Scripp, who holds a doctorate in education from Harvard, is founder and principal investigator of the Center for Music and the Arts in Education (CMAIE), a research and consulting firm devoted to documenting the link between arts education and academic and social development. He is also a faculty member of the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he is chair of the Music-in-Education Department.

Making the case for arts education

In 2010, CMAIE obtained funding from the US Department of Education to work with the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education on a project designed to measure the correlation between arts education and scores on the grade-level Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). The test, given to students in grades three through eight, measures achievement in reading, math and science.

Scripp’s researchers identified two groups of six Chicago schools, all with similar standardized test score ranges. Schools in Cluster A paired teaching artists with classroom teachers in grades four, five and six to integrate arts education into their respective curriculums. Schools in Cluster B did not. Researchers analyzed four years’ worth of wide-ranging data, including ISAT scores, professional teacher development and end-of-year student and teacher evaluations, to try to discover a strong link between arts education and academic achievement. But JMP uncovered something Scripp hadn’t anticipated. Not only did arts education enhance test scores, it also helped schools in Cluster A close the achievement gap between high-achievers and at-risk students.

The team used JMP to analyze the data. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) in JMP plucked two sets of data out of the pack. The bubbles representing groups of high, average and low test scores had begun to move upward in both clusters.

But in Cluster A, where arts education was integrated into the curriculum, the bubbles were also moving closer together. Students who received arts education were not only doing better as a group than those in Cluster B, but low-achieving students were also catching up to their peers. With help, Scripp was able to conclude in his study that schools in Cluster A were more likely than those in Cluster B “to generally outperform or to close the achievement gap for the most at-risk learners by the third year of the project.”

That conclusion came as a wonderful surprise. “I did not intend to test that hypothesis,” Scripp says.

Showing results in JMP®

When he shared his findings with federal education officials, the interactive, visual paradigm of JMP simplified the presentation process and facilitated understanding. “I could show these charts to anybody and they would get it,” Scripp says of the JMP graphics. His audience didn’t even need to see the numbers to understand what CMAIE had found.

Because the graphs in JMP so clearly communicated the analysis results, Scripp did not need to spend valuable minutes explaining the data and interpreting the graph. Instead, he had time to discuss the broader implications of his findings.

“If the test scores are going up and the achievement gap is closing at the same time, you have evidence for equity and excellence,” he says. “This is what you want in public education. This is the American ethos.”

Scripp credits JMP with helping CMAIE make a compelling case for arts education to a wide audience at both the federal level and in Chicago, where the city’s media outlets and citizens’ organizations shared the study results. JMP graphs even inspired artists to create videos demonstrating the ANOVA graphs’ progressions. The publicity has given Scripp more opportunities to share his findings at national conferences, and it helped him connect with educators in Singapore, where he is now helping develop an arts education program for 26 new preschools.

“JMP allows me to frame issues, construct hypotheses, outline exploratory research and confirm research in ways that are being published in peer-reviewed journals,” Scripp says. When asked how it helps him compete for federal grants, Scripp is unequivocal: It has helped a lot.

CMAIE received the first grant ever awarded to an arts organization from the federal Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education – and then received three more grants in consecutive years.

Scripp has also used JMP analysis results in a successful application for a federal Arts in Education grant to study model development and dissemination. The granting board has invited Scripp to give a presentation for the past five years.

Fostering discovery

Since its founding in 1998, CMAIE has conducted multiyear studies in the United States and around the world. Scripp learned quickly that basic software wouldn’t meet the analytical needs of CMAIE researchers. “In social research and multivariate research, you really need fast applications, programs you can trust. You can’t analyze our studies in Excel. Literally. The math doesn’t hold up.”

CMAIE has used JMP software from SAS to sift through data and generate clear findings to inform decisions since 2006. JMP is “the cornerstone of our workflow,” says Fred Sienkiewicz, a CMAIE research consultant.

Scripp particularly appreciates the way JMP suggests appropriate graphical applications to explore different groupings of data. “JMP has been right along with me, helping me think,” he says. “If that’s not a competitive advantage, I don’t know what is.”

With JMP, Scripp has gained confidence in his ability to examine data points and investigate possible links between them. “I can do post-hoc analysis in a legitimate and careful way,” he says. The clarity and depth of analysis using JMP helps him discover new angles and draw fresh conclusions from data. He thinks of JMP not as a super-spreadsheet, but as a “creativity tool.”

That creative edge is what sets JMP apart, in Scripp’s experience. By fostering discovery, the software goes far beyond simply organizing cold data; it breathes life into data, too. It is for this reason that Scripp believes that JMP represents “a huge evolution of technology” – one that is changing the way organizations do research.

Jim Dailey headshot
JMP has been right along with me, helping me think.
Lawrence Scripp

Founder and Principal Investigator
CMAIE

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