A+ Research & Results
Upon launching the A+ Schools Program in 1995,the Kenan Institute for the Arts made a commitment to evaluating the Program over a four-year period. After a national search for an evaluation team, the Program selected a team of researchers headed by Dr. George Noblit at UNC-Chapel Hill, Drs. Bruce Wilson and Dick Corbit, independent researchers. The results of the initial four-year evaluation of the A+ Schools Program and the follow-up evaluation at eight years funded by the Ford Foundation, attributed the sustainability of the Program to three primary factors:
- the use of the arts and school reform
- the high quality, practitioner model of the professional development
- the maintenance of a strong network to support teachers and administrators
The initial intensive 4-year, evaluation of the Program, The Arts and Education Reform: Lessons from a Four-Year Evaluation of the A+ Schools Program, 1995-1999, "Overview of Key Findings," showed significant effects on schools, communities, administrators, teachers and students that included the following:
- Schools increased their organizational capacity and leadership to sustain the innovation
- Schools developed a more focused identity and increased channels of communication among staff and with parents
- Schools developed new community partnerships
- Parents increased and deepened their affiliation with the school
- Teachers changed their instructional strategies, resulting in more engaging and experiential learning for all students
- Teachers developed richer, more substantive and authentic classroom assessments
- School staff and parents found the A+ approach to teaching equally beneficial to all groups of students, regardless of cognitive development, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status
- Teachers designed enriched academic environments-more ways for students to understand and demonstrate understanding and mastery of the curriculum with improved assessment results
- Students were more engaged in the curriculum and improved their attitudes, attendance and behavior
- Students achieved assessment gains without teachers "narrowing" the curriculum
A second, follow-up study of A+ Schools after eight years, Creating and Sustaining Arts-Based School Reform: The A+ Schools Program (2003) and now a book by the same title (2009) demonstrate the sustainability and resilience of the Program as a school reform. The researchers attribute these unusual results to the Program's high quality, ongoing professional development and the creation of a Network of schools with increased communication and collaborative planning within and among schools.
- The Arts and School Reform
The Arts and School Reform
According to the most recent A+ Program evaluation, "There is much that the arts can teach us about school reform, and the A+ Schools Program provides a powerful example on which to base these lessons."
The evaluators stated that A+ is a successful comprehensive education reform because it begins with a vision of arts-integrated instruction creating enhanced learning opportunities for all students, but "other changes in school practice, in areas ranging from assessment to scheduling to parent involvement, radiate out as necessary to achieve that central vision."
The report goes on to say that the A+ approach to school reform used lessons from the arts and focused on the "process" (learning) not the product (test scores), thus the "product" emerged as both student achievement and sustainable school reform that supports learning for all students. The arts were key to the sustained changes in teaching approach and in the organizational structure of the schools.
Formal quantitative and qualitative evaluation results, summarized in the "Overview of Key Findings" from the Executive Summary of the four-year evaluation, as well as anecdotal reports from the past ten years of the program's implementation indicate that significant school characteristics related to learning have been positively influenced by the program's implementation.
Program evaluations over the first eight years of the Program's history (since 1995) have identified the whole school, residential Five-Day A+ Institute (link to professional development) as the primary change agent leading to high implementation levels for the arts integration approach to school reform.
Value Added: Beyond Test Scores
A+ Schools Program evaluators and developers have chosen to identify, in addition to the usual measures of student achievement and school success (expected gains in test scores, student and teacher attendance, student discipline, parent involvement), the unique contributions that the arts in education make to an individual's intellectual, social, and emotional growth.
While this "value-added" case for the inclusion of the arts in a school's curriculum proved to be a strong justification for A+ and schools were able to achieve growth on North Carolina's accountability tests comparable to that of other schools statewide without "narrowing" the curriculum (eliminating non-tested subjects such as science, history and the arts) during the four-year pilot period and since.
However, the greater challenge for schools is how to infuse and sustain the arts into the curriculum, instruction, assessment and supporting infrastructure so thoroughly that the arts are not "lost" in the day-to-day operation of the school.
The arts must be seen as fundamental to the school's educational mission within the context and culture of individual schools, complementing and supporting rather than competing with it for scarce resources. The A+ Schools Program enabled schools to use the arts to "re-form" their approach to "doing the business of schools"—educating children.
The evaluators found that A+ Schools were able to respond to accountability standards in both effective and creative ways, meeting standards in North Carolina's high-stakes testing program and to develop a school identity around the arts by integrating the arts into the curriculum.