A growing body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of strong arts education and/or arts integration programs, supported by community arts resources, to school improvement and capacity-building efforts. Published in May 2018 by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, “Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnerships Programs: 2016 and 2017 School Years Cross-Case Evaluation” reports on two arts integration programs implemented over a two year period in three Arizona schools with funding support from the Arts Commission’s Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnerships (SSTAP) grant program.

According to the report, prepared by an independent program evaluation firm, both programs delivered “an enhancement in teacher efficacy, a change in teaching practice, and an increase in student engagement.”

Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnerships Programs: 2016 and 2017

Findings of the cross-case evaluation of the programs funded in the 2016 and 2017 school years can be found in the full evaluation report, while highlights are featured in the evaluation summary.


“SSTAP is based on evidence that strong arts education programs and integrating arts in classroom instruction can have a significant positive impact on student performance, extend the depth of content being taught, and engage more students in the learning process,” said Elisa Radcliffe, the Arts Commission’s Arts Learning Manager.

The report also shows a boost to teacher efficacy.

“Shifting common teaching practices to incorporate physical movement was a strong component in each program,” the report notes. “Once the teachers were comfortable with the program they reported that they thrived on the student engagement and critical thinking that resulted.”

A Tale of Two Programs

Funding and evaluation support for two years of programming were awarded to a pair of partnerships between a local nonprofit arts organization and a school. Both schools were in lower socioeconomic areas and were low performing schools. One partnership focused on grades 4, 5, 6 and 8 while the other partnership targeted students in Structured English Immersion (SEI) classrooms:

Tucson’s Gallego Intermediate School partnered with Arts Integration Solutions (AIS), a local nonprofit organization, to offer intensive training to a core group of classroom teachers. Working with AIS teach-ing artists the teachers learned and implemented an active engagement technique called Embody Learning. Rooted in the pioneering work of Viola Spolin and Nellie McCaslin, Embody Learning utilizes drama-based techniques to engage students’ bodies and creative imaginations in active explorations of classroom curriculum.

Isaac School District in Phoenix partnered with Childsplay to provide professional development to teachers in SEI classrooms at Moya Elementary and Alta E. Butler Elementary Schools.The drama-integrated strategies used in Drama Frames build upon best practices for language acquisition identified through recent research, including storytelling and retelling, interactive approaches embodying both content and language, and opportunities to engage with language in motivating and meaningful contexts.

Common Themes

Three common themes became apparent when reviewing the two SSTAP programs:

Enhanced Teacher Efficacy

Shifting common teaching practices to incorporate physical movement was a strong component in each program. Once the teachers were comfortable with the program they reported that they thrived on the student engagement and critical thinking that resulted.

Changes in Teaching Practices

Both programs included targeted professional development for teachers. This was to help teachers understand the concepts and techniques. In addition, teaching artists co-taught with teachers, observed classes and provided constructive feedback. Teachers commented on the affect these changes had on their teaching practices and the resulting differences it made in their classrooms.

Increased Student Engagement

Teachers reported that students were participating and contributing more to classroom lessons. Students made the techniques their own. They requested the program and certain techniques even during other class time.

Building the Case

The new report joins earlier reporting on the inaugural SSTAP cohort. Findings from a cross-case evaluation of SSTAP programs implemented during the 2014 and 2015 school years and published in 2016 offered confirmation that integrating arts programs with school improvement plans or capacity building efforts can have a positive impact on academic achievement, student engagement, and student self-efficacy regardless of school type, grade level, or arts discipline.

Looking Ahead

The Arizona Commission on the Arts is currently accepting applications for a third round of SSTAP grants, which expands eligibility to all Arizona Title I schools. You can learn more at https://azarts.gov/grant/strengthening-schools-through-arts-partnerships/

Applications may focus on any number of effective models, but must utilize the proposed arts education and/or arts integration programming to address desired goals and outcomes aligned with at least one of the six principles in the school’s Comprehensive Needs Assessment, as developed by the Arizona Department of Education:

  • Effective Leadership
  • Effective Teachers and Instruction
  • Effective Organization of Time
  • Effective Curriculum
  • Conditions, Climate, and Culture
  • Family and Community Engagement

As such, outcomes could be related to several efforts, including student learning, teacher professional development, classroom instruction, parent engagement, student support strategies, and more.

Online Information Session

To help potential applicants prepare successful applications, we are presenting an online information session. This session will walk potential applicants through the grant application guidelines, including eligibility requirements, funding restrictions, and application process.

A recording of this presentation will be made available for viewing on May 14.

Online Information Session

Thursday, May 10, 2018
3:30 pm