Main authors: Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D., David Keyes, Ph.D., and Amlan Banerjee, Ph.D.
The Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD) Summer Arts and Learning Academy is a five-week program for students at risk of summer learning loss. Through an arts integration approach that teaches reading, writing, and math through the arts, the summer academy served approximately 1100 students from Baltimore City Schools in 2017.
Summer Learning Loss and Arts Integration Education
Summer learning loss is a significant issue, particularly for students of color and those of limited economic means. Students whose families do not have the financial resources to pay for summer camps and other learning opportunities often lose the learning that they gain during the school year. A significant part of the persistent achievement gap in education can be attributed to this unequal access to summer programming. While those with resources keep the learning obtained during the school year, those without them too often lose the knowledge and skills they have gained.
Across the country, summer programs geared toward helping students to avoid summer learning loss have sprouted up. The city of Baltimore is one place with many students at risk of high levels of summer learning loss. Eighty-one percent of students in Baltimore City schools are Black and nine percent are Latino. Eighty-three percent of Baltimore City students receive Title 1 services. These are precisely the type of students for whom free programs that aim to reduce summer learning loss are intended.
2017 Summer Arts and Learning Academy
For the last three years, Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD), the state affiliate of the national Young Audiences organization, has provided a free summer program to students in grades K-5 who attend Title 1 Baltimore City schools. In 2017, the program took place at four sites across the city: Gardenville Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle, Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle, and James Mosher Elementary).
In 2017, the YAMD Summer Arts and Learning Academy took place from July 10 to August 11. During these five weeks, about 1100 students participate in a range of learning opportunities that incorporate poetry, hip hop music, acting, drumming, pottery-making, and more into lessons that teach literacy and math. The program employs highly skilled professional teaching artists, who are trained to engage students in reading, writing, and math through the arts. This arts integration approach has been demonstrated to be correlated with increased learning outcomes in literacy and math.
In a meta-analysis of studies of arts integration, the Wallace Foundation and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found over 40 studies that demonstrate an increase in reading and math outcomes for students involved in arts integration programs. These include programs similar to YAMD’s in which teaching artists provide instruction to students, programs that offer professional development to teachers to use arts integration strategies, and more. In all, there is at least some evidence that participation in these programs is positively associated with increased student academic outcomes.
The full report offers a detailed analysis of the success of the YAMD Summer Arts and Learning Academy. The Summer Arts and Learning Academy has multiple goals in three main areas – attendance, learning, and student and parent satisfaction – that it is intended to achieve.
Some of these goals were achieved while others were not. While the goals in the area of attendance were mostly met, the story for learning as well as student and parent satisfaction goals is more mixed, with some goals achieved while others are not.
While attendance is a prerequisite to the success of the YAMD Summer Arts and Learning Academy, the ultimate goals of the program are to arrest the summer slide that negatively impacts so many students. To this end, the five weeks of the academy includes intensive instruction in literacy (both reading and writing) and math. Both of these subjects are taught through the medium of art, using an arts integration approach. This section answers the question: to what degree does the instruction offered as part of the Summer Arts and Learning Academy help students to halt the summer slide?
Another way to gauge the impact of the YAMD Summer Arts and Learning Academy on learning is by looking at the percentage of students who show growth from the pre- to post-assessments. Table 5 below shows just this, broken down by the various components of the DIBELS assessment. As we can see, the results are below the 80 percent goal in all components. However, the highest rates of growth – 90 percent and 94 percent – are seen in the phoneme segmentation fluency for kindergartners and first graders, respectively.
In addition to the DIBELS, we have results from the writing assessment. Table 6 shows the median scores from the pre- to post-test on the structural writing component. In addition to looking at the median, when we calculate the mean growth, it is at 0.72, above the goal of 0.7. The story is similar on the content component of the writing assessment. In addition to the median scores seen in Table 7 below, the mean growth was 0.78, above the 0.75 goal.
There was clearly growth at the aggregate level. What percentage of students experienced this growth? As we can see below, 64 percent of students who attended 75 percent or more sessions improved their percentile rank on the EngageNY math assessments. The goal was partially achieved as seen for K scores. Interestingly, a higher rate (70 percent) of those who attended less than 75 percent of sessions improved their percentile rank. So, it seems that the threshold of 75% attendance may not have a direct bearing on math scores and may need revisiting.
Student and Parent Satisfaction
One key way to gauge students’ satisfaction with the summer academy is through asking whether they would recommend it to a friend. In 2017, 65 percent said they would. While this is below the goal of 70 percent, it is up from 2016, when only 58 percent said they would recommend the academy to a friend. On the other hand, only 7 percent said they would not recommend it, below the 10 percent goal. The remaining 29 percent said they would maybe recommend the academy.
Starting with students, one way to assess satisfaction is by looking at how they assess themselves in various areas before and after participating in the academy. As can be seen in Figure 2, students generally believed that they gained skills in all areas except math, where their pre and post self-rating remained identical. The largest gains were seen on using art to express themselves (a 0.15 increase) and whether they enjoy art (0.09 jump).
Parents were overall very satisfied with the YAMD Summer Arts and Learning Academy as well. Ninety-six percent said they would recommend the program, 88 percent said it helped them to be more prepared for school, and 87 percent said it helped their child to find something new they enjoyed. Asked what skills their children had gained through their participation in the academy, over 80 percent of parents said they had become slightly or much better in a wide range of areas including ability to express ideas, self-confidence, eagerness to learn, attitude toward school and learning, math skills, and reading skills.
As it moves into its fourth year, the YAMD’s Summer Arts and Learning Academy has become an important part of the summer experiences for many students in Baltimore City Schools. The more than 1000 students who participated in it this past year received instruction from professional artists in dance, ceramics, music, painting, drawing, and more. And while they were learning art, the students were also learning reading, writing, and math skills.
The program is clearly well loved by students. Attendance rates are high, meeting nearly all of YAMD’s goals in this area. And the in-depth comments from students and their families speak to a program that they enjoy being part of. The educational outcomes were mostly positive. The goals were achieved in writing and math and partially achieved in reading.
A few recommendations are made moving forward. These are: 1) establish more attainable academic goals that are incremental in nature and based on previous years’ benchmarks or baseline scores. This would enable completing more realistic and measurable analyses, 2) enable more frequent modes of communication about the program to parents to allow for smoother planning and logistics, 3) look for ways to increase the programming duration, and 4) increase the number of field trips, if feasible. The last two recommendations are based on suggestions made by parents in the survey. Overall, these recommendations require careful planning on part of the program staff and an increase in funding to facilitate these for all students in SALA.
In spite of some of the minor issues, the YAMD’s Summer Arts and Learning Academy continues to be a very popular program for students in Baltimore City Schools. With three years of experience providing summer arts integration programming to youth in need of high-quality summer options, YAMD offers a valuable service to many students in Baltimore.