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Arts and Smarts: The Correlation Between the Arts and Grades

When Lew Davis founded the da Vinci Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., he made sure that the mission statement for the K-5 facility was clear: “…to successfully educate and enrich all learners through the integration of arts and sciences…”

Davis was on to something. He knew that by infusing visual arts, dance, drama, and vocal and instrumental music throughout the curriculum, the quality of learning would be greatly enhanced. And within its first year, the Academy’s students proved him right, scoring more than 30 percent higher than the state average in some grades and subjects.

“Children at the da Vinci Academy, the Academy District Twenty School for Arts and Ideas, learn that there is a time for originality, a time for replication, a time to be a star, and a time to be a productive member of a team,” explains Davis. “Through a ‘brain-based curriculum’ students are able to absorb and assimilate knowledge about all that is going on around them and react and respond to it through expression.”

And the survey says…

Studies seem to support such theories. One Stanford University professor shared her findings from a 10-year national study based on 30,000 young people participating in non-school programs from all over the United States. Most of the children were from urban areas and were more likely than average to be on welfare or from a divorced family. The results were astounding. Those who participated in the arts after school were:

  • Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair
  • Three times more likely to win a school attendance award
  • Four times more likely to win an academic award (such as being named to the honor roll)
  • Eight times more likely to receive a community service award

The same seems to hold true for teens. A study of SAT college admission test scores showed that students who had studied the arts for more than four years scored an average of 44 points higher in math and 59 points higher on the verbal section.

“There are so many opportunities for the arts to inspire and improve learning in other subject areas,” says Anita Miller, the mother of three da Vinci Academy students. “For example, when my daughter’s class was studying the American Revolution, they developed a musical about the revolution, chock-full of facts that I’m sure those kids will remember forever.”

Miller also believes the opportunities to perform in front of an audience is an asset to her children. “My children are very comfortable on stage and in front of groups. That helped my oldest child recently, when she competed in the regional spelling bee. Most children had to deal with their nerves in addition to having to spell the words correctly. My daughter was so comfortable, she was able to focus all of her attention on the words.” Miller’s daughter won the fifth and sixth grade division of the bee.

“I would guess that each of you have seen the life of at least one child changed by the power of a brush stroke, the discipline of a dance step, the expressive opportunities of music and the searing courage and vitality of the theatre,” says Davis. “These experiences for children stimulate thinking and provide outlets for self-expression.”

How it works

“There’s actually a very scientific method for the correlation,” explains Dr. Ken Gibson, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside; Applying New Brain Science to Wake up the Smart in Your Child ( “Many of the skills used to draw, play guitar, read music, or memorize lines in a play are the same skills used to succeed in academic subjects. These cognitive skills—like memory, auditory and visual processing, comprehension, and reasoning—are being honed in classes that kids enjoy. What better way to learn?”

In Critical Links, a summary of arts education research, the authors found evidence to support positive relationships between arts and academics, including:

  • Drama develops higher-order language and literacy skills.
  • Music enhances language learning.
  • Music enhances spatial reasoning.
  • Art experiences develop writing skills.
  • Art experiences develop literacy and math/numbers skills.

“If you think about what it takes to learn to play the piano, it makes perfect sense,” says Tanya Mitchell, Director of Research & Development for LearningRx (, a national brain training franchise with 80 centers across the United States. “Timing, attention, multitasking, memorization, physical and mental integration, processing speed – the list goes on and on. It’s similar in sports. You need to memorize the coach’s plays, time your jump shot, or try to reason your opponent’s next move. Playing instruments, participating in sports, acting in theatre – these things don’t just work kids’ bodies, they work their minds.”

For those who still doubt the benefits of the arts on academics, the burden of proof lies with them to disprove the theories. Until then, most learning experts agree that, at the very least, getting children involved in some form of the arts can improve their self-esteem, help them make friends, and most of all…allow them to have fun!