Arts education and academic achievement

Studies measuring creative thinking, critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning all find these functions increase and improve when arts education is added to the educational mix. (10) Dancers tested better on memory and motion processing than non-dancers and musicians demonstrated better auditory-visual discrimination and aural recognition than non-musicians. (11) Another study has found that through visual art studio classes, students develop habits of mind for sustained focus, imagination, close observation and articulation of their decision-making process. (12)

Correlative studies also show a strong relationship between arts education and:

  • positive emotional development that leads to stronger abilities to self-regulate
  • deep engagement in learning
  • motivation to learn for understanding
  • a decrease in disciplinary issues in schools
  • self-awareness, self-concept and self-expression
  • self-efficacy and self-confidence (13)

Research on students involved in arts education shows that they learn how to communicate effectively, practice constructive criticism and listen better. In a large-scale study, arts programming helped to prepare youth to apply their skills directly to employment opportunities. Another study showed that students who participate in arts education as youth stay in their local communities as adults and contribute to economic and civic growth. (14)

ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, said in a report that “studies also show that participating in the arts can actually boost student achievement in other academic areas. Therefore, arts groups are partnering with schools to provide professional development for teachers interested in integrating arts instruction across content areas.” (15)

For citation notes, click here.

Academic Achievement
Literacy and language development

Arts learning in music, drama, media arts and spoken word relates to high achievement in reading and writing and high verbal SAT scores. (1) Music training relates to stronger performances in learning a second language with greater improvement in expressive fluency and competency. (2)

Mathematics achievement

Studies find a relationship between music and high mathematics SAT scores. Relationships also exist between dance and media arts learning in high school and high achievement in math. (3)

Overall academic achievement

Research suggests a significant positive relationship between arts study and high school students’ overall academic achievement as measured by standardized tests and student grades. (4)

Research finds that students who experience arts integrated curricula meet or significantly exceed state and district standardized test averages, even in schools with high populations of at-risk students. In addition, a notable study finds that arts integration programs do not lower test scores, suggesting there is no negative impact on academic achievement in core subjects from an arts-integrated curriculum. (5)

Correlations in Minnesota

Perpich’s study confirms this trend. Two correlations between student achievement and arts education were identified in Minnesota. First, a positive relationship exists between a school’s Focus Rating (part of the Minnesota’s Multiple Measurement Rating or MMR) and higher levels of arts education (as measured by the arts education index).


Second, there is a positive relationship between a school’s scores for the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma (GRAD) reading assessment and higher levels of arts education. These positive correlations still hold when controlling for other “confounding” variables such as income, minority status or geography. Higher levels of arts education coincide with higher Focus Ratings (MMR) and GRAD reading scores.

Underserved populations

There is a strong body of research that demonstrates ways in which the arts contribute to academic success for high school students from low socio-economic backgrounds, English-language learners and students with special needs. These populations demonstrate the greatest relative improvement in academic achievement when participating in the arts. (6)


Other research provides evidence pointing to a relationship between arts participation in high school and increased attendance and reduced dropout rates. (7) Students from low socio-economic backgrounds, who participate in the arts, also have an increased chance of attending college and completing a postsecondary degree. (8) English-language learners are significantly more likely to pursue a college degree if they attend an arts-rich high school. (9)

"Building a Legacy"

In 2012, Perpich Center for Arts Education published the first statewide assessment of K-12 arts education in Minnesota. This report, “Building a Legacy,” has an excellent section listing almost two dozen links to various reports, studies, articles, and books that look at the connections between arts education and academic achievement. Read it here.

Want to learn more about arts education?

Download our full report or summary on arts education research.

“Arts learning experiences play a vital role in developing students’ capacities for critical thinking, creativity, imagination and innovation. These capacities are increasing recognized as core skills and competencies all students need as part of a high-quality and complete 21st-century education. And, as a matter of social justice, we must be concerned when students are denied access to a high-quality education—one that includes learning in and through the arts—simply because of where they live or go to school.”
— Sandra S. Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership

Beyond education

The creative sector has a demonstrated effect on the state of Minnesota's economy. To learn more about how creative jobs benefit the state, check out:

Artists Count: The Economic Impact of Minnesota’s Individual Artists (2007)

The Minneapolis Creative Index 2013

The Arts: Driving Force in St. Paul's Economy (2008)