Moving Student’s Creativity, Mindsets, Engagement, and Achievement: Some of Our Learning To Date

By Ross Anderson, Project Director & Principal Investigator

After three years of development, ArtCore appears to be maturing into a viable and effective approach. Through shared leadership distributed across this complex project, the 2016–2017 school year marked some important milestones and provided big lessons to carry forward.

Lane Arts Council and the rest of the ArtCore team hosted a community-wide arts integration Saturday conference. Betsy Wolfston and muralist Bayne Gardner launched several student-driven murals to express Oaklea Middle School’s identity. Other ArtCore middle schools followed that lead with their own murals this year. Jess Land and Nate Beard led the ArtCore team to immerse more than 50 middle school teachers in five days of intensive arts integration training using theater, hip hop, sculpture, costume design, and dance to explore critical issues of equity and creativity. Mari Livie and Network Charter School received $50,000 to renovate a building into a music studio classroom and solidify the integrative music program that ArtCore has established. Michele Haney refined documentation of more than 20 high quality arts integration module examples that bridge almost every art discipline with school subject areas. Working with Media Arts Institute, the team has created a 3-part Math Anxiety Monster video-based training series.

Alongside those project milestones, the collaborative ArtCore research and evaluation team has been busy posing research questions, collecting and analyzing all types of data, and reporting those insights for internal project improvement and external dissemination. Our research has focused on the teacher experience and schoolwide integration of the work as well as the student experience and the potential effects of arts integration on motivation, engagement, and achievement. We have been testing specific aspects of our driving hypothesis for student learning:

Through rigorous and creative arts integration, middle school students will develop their creative resources for learning, gain a deeper sense of agency in their education, adopt a growth mindset, increase their engagement in school, and perform at higher levels academically and creatively. 

Each school has supported longitudinal survey data collection and dedicated substantial time and energy. That effort will allow us to test this theory fully at the end of this school year. Hopefully, the evidence will help shape the national conversation about what matters in middle school.

Below are some specific indicators that we have detected to support some aspects of the hypothesis posited above.

  • On average, students received at least 50 hours of arts integrated learning as 7th graders
  • During their 6th grade year, ArtCore students doubled the number of novel ideas they produced in divergent thinking tasks
  • Compared to their responses at the beginning of 6th grade, 7th grade ArtCore students reported a 25% improvement in their growth mindset.
  • Compared to their responses at the beginning of 6th grade, 7th grade ArtCore students reported a 28% improvement in their engagement in school. That is notable because past research indicates an expected decline in engagement during middle school years.
  • Students’ observed creative engagement in ArtCore classes rates consistently high.
  • Since the first year of implementation, the percent of 7th grade ArtCore cohort students reaching proficiency rose 14% in English language arts and 25% in math, bigger improvements than seen at comparison schools.
  • In their own words, students describe the experience of arts integration with their teacher and an ArtCore Weaver as “. . . the sun coming out on a cloudy day.”

Those findings are initial and require substantially more analyses that the research team will complete in the next year. Those results demonstrate some early promise for the approach that ArtCore and participating teachers have collaborated to create. Creative engagement that integrates quality arts learning into other subject areas with a focus on the creative process can shape students’ motivation, mindsets, and achievement in school. 

Beyond student learning and outcomes, we have been studying the effect of ArtCore on the culture and identity of the school. Our evaluation of the first full year of implementation was just published in the book, Arts Evaluation and Assessment: Measuring the Impact in Schools. If you would like a copy of the chapter, please email Ross Anderson at Our findings reinforce the power of developing a strong identity and culture for arts integration in your school and the fact that it is never too late to get started on that ever-important work.