Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
Arts for Learning /Miami asked Abt Associates to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the first two years of Early GET smART – a program that Arts for Learning/Miami had developed to introduce arts integration into a sample of preschool classrooms in Miami-Dade County. Findings from the evaluation suggest that this new program has had a strong beginning in its ability to engage teachers and children, which program developers can build on as they intensify, focus, and enrich their program in future years.
The Early GET smART program is designed to cultivate developmental and academic skills in young children of all abilities, through teacher training in arts and arts integration and a visiting artist program in the classrooms. To implement Early GET smART, Arts for Learning collaborated with the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, VSA arts, Miami-Dade Child Development Services, and community teaching artists. Abt Associates conducted an independent evaluation of the impacts of the arts program in 100 preschool classrooms in child care centers in Miami-Dade County, in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years. The evaluation was designed as a randomized cluster study with 50 classrooms assigned to be part of the arts curriculum and 50 assigned to the control group. Classrooms were observed before and after participation in the program, and children were assessed with a battery of standardized measures of school readiness.
Initial training workshops introduced teachers to the concept of arts integration and its value for children, and provided guidance in planning thematic units using integrated arts in their own classrooms. Artists-in-residence visited each classroom twice during the school year, bringing thematic art activities into the classrooms for a total of 12 hours over 12 weeks. The evaluation study found that by the end of the second year of the Early GET smART program, teachers appeared to have begun to change their behavior and their classroom environments as a result of participation in the program. The classrooms of teachers who were in their second year of Early GET smART had more materials for art and creative activities — specifically, more materials for painting and for making music. The teachers in their second year of the program also were observed to spend more time making children aware of sounds, through music and in their reading aloud. The children in the classrooms of teachers with two years of the training had significantly higher scores on their understanding of concepts of texture at the end of the school year.
These positive results did not emerge immediately: at the end of the first year of the study, compared with the control teachers the teachers in Early GET smART did not look different in the quantity or quality of their art-related activities or other classroom interactions. Nor were there statistically significant effects on the performance of the children exposed to the program after only one year. At the same time, teachers were enthusiastic about the training and about the artists-in-residence. The evaluators suggest that the time lag in seeing the effects of Early GET smART may result from a number of factors. One, in the first year of the program, the professional development model was only partially implemented: only 65 percent of teachers attended the teacher training workshop, and the scheduling of the artist residencies was not optimal. The evaluators suggest that these implementation gaps may have reduced the impacts of Early GET smART on teachers and on students. Two, the teachers tended to take the role of observers of the resident artists rather than initiating thematic arts activities on their own. In the second year of the study, some of the first-year implementation challenges were addressed, where possible. In the case of the workshops, this involved enhancing the guidance on lesson planning, with teachers actually developing integrated art lessons for their classrooms. In the case of the artist residencies, some of the scheduling problems were fixed, so that the artist component meshed more closely in time with the teacher training workshops.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.