CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia and Kanawha County educators are celebrating the results of a study released Monday that ties participation in arts courses to higher test scores.West Virginia high school students who earned two or more arts credits from 2007 to 2010 were between about 1.3 and 1.6 times more likely to score at proficient levels in math and reading/language arts on the WESTEST, according to a study conducted by the state Department of Education's Office of Research.Students taking more arts classes were also about 1.5 times more likely to score at or above the national average composite score for the ACT PLAN preparatory test, while special-needs students were twice as likely to reach proficiency in reading/language arts.The Department of Education is committing more than half a million dollars to dance programs in elementary schools across the state and extending professional development, or staff training, for teachers of the arts.For the first time, arts classes are also being offered in institutional educational programs for adjudicated youths."The WVDE has always believed that an arts education gives students a leg up, but now we have research which supports the assertion," said state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple, who is traveling around the state to spread the news."The research shows that an education that includes the arts is closely linked to almost everything that we as a state and nation say we want for our children and demand for our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement and equitable opportunity," Marple said.Barrie Kaufman, an art teacher at Mountaineer Montessori School in Charleston, has taught art lessons to children for more than 30 years and has seen firsthand the impact it can have on a student's education."Visual arts develop pathways in the brain and help you think of different kinds of solutions. In art, there is no right or wrong; it's about choosing an option and developing it," she said. "Kids who have attention problems do very well in the arts. I have students with attention deficit disorder who can sit through a 50-minute art class. I have really seen evidence of how creativity can be helpful in brain function."
Kaufman said schools need to include more arts courses in the curriculum. In West Virginia, only one arts credit is required for graduation."The arts shouldn't just be an adjunct in school, but a vital part. Parents would support more classes if they were offered," she said. "I feel that's evidenced by the fact that in many schools, parents get together and pay for art programs themselves."Kay Goodwin, Cabinet secretary for the Department of Education and the Arts, said that while the state strives to support child arts programs -- pointing to programs like the Governor's School for the Arts -- options are limited."We would certainly love to see more art courses offered. Who wouldn't? But there are a lot of required courses and only a certain amount of hours in the school day," Goodwin said. "The governor is very supportive of arts in education. Art classes can even prevent dropouts, and that's an important issue as well."Mark Davis, fine arts curriculum specialist for Kanawha County Schools, said that while the area has struggled in the past to sustain arts programs, schools are incorporating music, drama and other programs more than ever.In the early 2000s, elementary art teachers in Kanawha County were pushed out because of funding problems. But teachers have since reclaimed their positions, and string instrument music programs have doubled as well as development training for music teachers.
"We've expanded our programs because we realize that the arts allow kids to explore on their own and be creative. That is so important," he said. "If we can teach our kids to be creative, I think we've done something."The state Department of Education study was based on information from about 14,600 public high school students, including seniors, in West Virginia.Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.