University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

No time for field trips?

In The View from the OEP on March 13, 2019 at 11:38 am

Photo source:  Crystal Bridges Museum of Art

As Arkansas schools enter the final month before state testing, teachers may be focusing instructional time on test prep, foregoing other ‘non-tested’ subjects and activities, but new research finds that students who attended art-related field trips demonstrated increased engagement in school, higher levels of social-emotional skills, and, unexpectedly, higher scores on standardized tests!

The study is a longitudinal, randomized controlled trial, the gold standard for research.    Conducted by Jay Greene, distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Education Reform in the College of Education and Health Professions,  and members of the University of Arkansas National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab that he directs, the study randomly assigned fourth and fifth grade public school students in Atlanta, Georgia to attend three field trips throughout a school year. Students went to an art museum, a live theater production, and a symphony performance at the Woodruff Arts Center. A control group of students within the same schools did not attend the field trips.

You might not think that attending three field trips would lead to measurable, positive outcomes for students, but it did! You can read the working paper on the social emotional effects by lead author Angela Watson here, and the paper by lead author Heidi Holmes Erickson that addresses students’ engagement and academic outcomes here,  but here’s the highlights:

  • Students who were randomly selected to attend the field trips showed significantly higher levels of social-perspective taking through survey items like, “How often do you attempt to understand your friends better by trying to figure out what they
    are thinking?” and “When you are angry at someone, how often do you try to ‘put yourself in his or her shoes?”.  (Effects reflect the limited sample of students with higher academic performance who were more likely to be able to read and interpret the questions)
  • Students who were randomly selected to attend the field trips showed significantly higher levels of tolerance through the survey item, “I think people can have different opinions about the same thing.”
  • Students who were randomly selected to attend field trips reported more positive school engagement. They were less likely to agree that ‘school is boring’, and they had fewer disciplinary infractions in middle school than their control group peers.
  • Female students who were randomly selected to attend field trips were less careless in their survey answering, a measure of conscientiousness.  Female students in the second year of field trips demonstrate even greater levels of conscientiousness, while female students who are not included in a second year of field trips exhibit the same level of conscientiousness as female students who never attended one of the field trips.

Researchers also examined academic outcomes, hypothesizing that there would be no differences in standardized test scores between the students who attended the field trips and those who did not, as three days away from traditional classroom instruction was unlikely to affect students’ academic performance on math or reading exams one way or the other.

  • BUT- students who were randomly selected to attend field trips performed significantly better on their end of year standardized tests in math and English Language Arts than students in the control group.

Greene and his research team are continuing the research with another group of students, and will learn more about the students’ long-term outcomes as they observe them through middle school, high school, and beyond.

In the meantime, here at OEP we think that schools should consider the importance of field trips and arts experiences in a well-rounded education.

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