Student Opportunity Act

ARTS-FOR-ALL-LOGO.pngStudent Opportunity Act –Why the Arts are Essential

A primary goal of the new MA Student Opportunity Act is to address “persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups” including low-income, special education (SPED), and English Language Learner (ELL) students. The Arts—dance, drama, media arts, music, visual art—are an invaluable resource for accomplishing this goal when incorporated into a well-rounded education for every child. 


When designing the required 3 year improvement plan, Arts For All recommends including arts education as part of the “evidence-based programs, supports and interventions that the school district will implement” to close achievement gaps. 

Here are three ways to incorporate arts education into these plans:

  1. Increase number of certified Arts educators
  2. Provide funding to create and implement an Arts curriculum based on the new Arts Curriculum Framework adopted by DESE in 2019.
  3. Invest in opportunities for Arts Integration across the curriculum through joint planning time and increased staffing

Be Sure to Share this Fact Sheet with Superintendents, School Committee Members and Community Leaders. 

Every school district is required to submit their improvement plan by April 1, 2020 to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 


How Do the Arts Impact Schools?

Developing Literacy Skills

  • Learning one or more arts literacies enhances and supports linguistic and numerical literacies. Research indicates the more literacies students acquire, the more fluent they become in all of them.
  • Artistic Literacy gives students the tools to interpret and evaluate contemporary complex media and digital messages constantly received.
  • Artistic Literacy unlocks centuries of wisdom and knowledge expressed by artists throughout history.

The Peabody Elementary School in Cambridge, MA, embarked on having a Kodály-based music program 30 minutes a day, four times weekly. This program focuses on developing musical literacy—the ability to read and write music and be able to decode sounds into standard music notation. After this program began, reading and math MCAS scores in the school dramatically increased compared to other comparable elementary schools in the district. The biggest gains have been with low-income, SpEd, and ELL students. The program has been so successful it is now being adopted throughout the Cambridge Public Schools.

The impact of the Arts on general education

Countless research studies have concluded that there is a positive correlation between strong Arts programs and improved educational outcomes. 

Schools with Arts-strong programs typically:

  • Have overall better student test scores in ELA and Math. This impact often is the strongest among students typically at risk academically (low-income, SPED, and ELL)
  • Have students who express a more positive attitude about school and learning
  • Have overall better student attendance and reduced tardiness
  • Have reduced disciplinary issues, fewer suspensions and expulsions
  • Have increased parental involvement and interest
  • Have teachers who express a higher level of job satisfaction

The Worcester Arts Magnet School, grades preK-6, was developed during the late 1980s. Each student receives an hour of instruction in music, art, drama, and dance weekly as well as other arts electives (taking significant time away from other “core” subjects). The school, which has always had a large percentage of students on free- and reduced-lunch, consistently rates as highly successful. In fact, several surrounding suburban towns have parents who elect to send their students to this inner-city, urban school. In January 2020, the Worcester Arts Magnet School was named a National ESEA Distinguished School.

Developing creativity, 21st-Century skills

  • Students engaged in the Arts exhibit curiosity, creativity, deeper focus and concentration, leadership, and ability to work cooperatively—21st-Century skills that corporations constantly list as essential for the modern workplace
  • The Arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution, and that questions can have more than one answer.

The Boston Arts Academy is a public high school for the arts. Founded in 1998, this school has received numerous awards for its programming and success. Part of the curriculum includes an innovative “STEAM” lab that integrates the arts across traditional Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields in order to develop creativity, curiosity, leadership, and cooperation.

Many of the BAA graduates go onto professional arts careers, but many go into other professions where their arts and interdisciplinary backgrounds give them a leg-up on success. The school consistently ranks amongst the highest performing in Boston, with over 90% graduating and continuing on to post-secondary education. 

Well-rounded learning

  • Social-Emotional Learning 
    • Arts provide a way to recognize and interpret our own emotions and understand ourselves better
    • The Arts help students to envision, express, and explore imaginary worlds
    • The Arts reveal pure visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and intellectual pleasure from the impact of color, shape, line, and other visual elements; melody, harmony, rhythm, tone color; beauty of the spoken word; and movement and respect for the human body
    • The Arts develop a lifelong love of creative arts, a sense of beauty, and a rich capacity for self-expression which enables and unlocks self-realization
  • Multi-cultural respect and awareness
    • The study of the Arts from various cultures helps students understand, respect, and value differences among races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, historical periods, and geographic areas
    • The Arts express personal, cultural, and/or national identity and values

A study by Alida Anderson, an associate education professor at American University in Washington, D.C., found that integrating dance and movement therapy into math lessons for students with learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), led to improvements in math as well as SEL skills, such as motivation, engagement, attention and self-regulation. The findings were significant because students with those special needs often show anxiety toward learning math, according to a summary of the study. 

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