School accountability and equal access to arts education for ELLs
By Beth Crumpler

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In many U.S. school districts, ELLs who have not met proficiency on accountability benchmarks in reading and math on state standardized assessments for AYP are being denied access to arts education. ELLs are being denied equal access because their reading and math have been given priority on school accountability measures while arts education has not.


Does you school district integrate reading and math with the arts?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Arts education is viewed as a fun, optional elective, while reading and math are considered core academic subjects for AYP. Since these ELL students struggle to meet grade-level expectations, reading and math remediation is often scheduled in lieu of arts education. Although this effort to raise student reading and math scores sounds good in theory, the practice is denying Equal Access to Education to these ELLs. Under federal laws such as the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, Section 1703(f), ELLs have a right to receive equal access to all educational programs, including the arts.

Lower-performing ELLs may benefit from the rich, creative environment that arts education can provide. Denial of the arts for these students is not a solution. Instead, use art as a tool for ELLs.

Providing equal access to arts education
  1. Teachers of the arts can be trained in ESL teaching techniques. These teachers can learn how to foster reading and math growth for ELLs within their arts classrooms. Use inclusive measures within the content area instead of flexible grouping.

  2. Teachers of the arts, ESL teachers and core-subject teachers can collaborate on lesson planning and projects across content areas so that ELLs receive math and reading intervention within all subjects they take.

  3. Use arts education as a creative outlet for ELLs. Change perspective on arts education from being viewed as a fun, optional elective to an essential part of the core student learning and development. Denying access causes less motivation and backfires. Giving access to arts education gives a fun learning outlet for creativity that can spark learning curiosity and motivation. Use arts education as a motivational tool. This is especially important for disadvantaged students from low income and/or rural communities where students do not have many outlets in their homes or communities.
Ways to integrate reading in the arts
  1. Read books about visual artists, musicians or performing artists.

  2. Incorporate development of phonics, vocabulary or other aspects or reading development within arts lessons using arts-themed and lesson-focused books.

  3. Create artistic projects that utilize books and reading development.

  4. Teach reading comprehension while reading arts-themed and lesson-themed books. Integrate art projects that foster growth in these areas. Reading comprehension activities can include making predictions, identifying the main idea, identifying supporting details, making inferences and using context clues for vocabulary. Arts projects then can be developed off these reading skills.

  5. Discuss plot, characters and other aspects of arts-themed books. Integrate these into lesson planning and projects.
Ways to integrate math in the arts
  1. Math development can be fostered through incorporation of story problems within the Arts. Teachers of the Arts can collaborate with math teachers to learn which math facts and problems students are learning in math classrooms. They can develop math problems that incorporate these facts.

  2. Arts projects can be developed off of math facts and numbers. For example, in music there is a modern composition method that utilizes numbers, and addition and subtraction in song composition. The notes that are used in a song are determined by a system of numbers that the composer chooses. The entire composition is written through math.

  3. Math vocabulary can also be integrated within Arts lessons and assignments. Through collaboration with math teachers, teachers of the Arts can learn which vocabulary to integrate.
Meeting school accountability measures while fostering arts enrichment

Creativity of reading and math integration within the arts promotes the learning of the whole student and encourages creative thinking. ELLs still learn the essential reading and math requirements they need to learn to meet AYP, but they do it through fun ways that encourage.

Denial of arts education for remediation purposes for AYP under school accountability measures prohibits ELLs from receiving the equal access to all educational programs that they are supposed to receive under federal law. Reading and math yearly progress growth is important for school accountability.

Instead of taking away the right to arts education because of fear that ELLs won't make AYP, encourage core content learning within the arts. Train, collaborate and integrate with teachers of the arts. Let them become ESL teachers within their content areas. ELLs will receive equal access to all educational programs and will benefit from the creativity and motivation that arts education provides. Arts education has key learning benefits other core content areas do not and cannot provide.

Beth Crumpler is an ESL Instructor for ELS (English Language Services), a freelance curriculum writer and an e-learning course developer in various areas of TESOL. Beth has written content for CTY-Online Johns Hopkins University and Pearson. She is a certified teacher of ESL and music. Beth enjoys studying technology for teaching ESL, and in her spare time studies Spanish.