New Data: Who Is Taking Art Classes?


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News that the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the arts would fall victim to budget constraints raised a collective groan from the nation’s arts advocates earlier this year. Many wondered where else they could find national information on U.S. students’ engagement and performance in music and visual arts. A partial answer to that question just came from an unexpected place: NAEP’s 2019 math assessment.

The math assessment can’t tell us much about how students performed in the arts, but it did ask students the following question: Are you taking an art course this school year (for example, drawing, painting, or studio art)? We crunched the numbers and published the results in the interactive dashboard below.

Of course, this one question about a single arts discipline — visual arts — can’t cover nearly as much ground as the NAEP arts assessment used to. (Another question introduced into the math NAEP in 2017 addresses how many students play instruments outside of school. We analyzed those results, too.)

In one respect, though, the math assessment does the arts assessment one better: Where NAEP arts offered only national results, the mathematics assessment provides data broken out by state.

Here are the big takeaways from our analysis:

  • Thirty-seven percent of eighth graders say they were taking an art course in 2019.
  • There are stark differences among states, where art course-taking ranges from a low of 16% to a high of 68%.
  • There are also disparities by students’ race, ethnicity, family income and school location.

The 2019 results largely confirm results from the 2016 NAEP arts assessment: In 2016, 43% of eighth graders said they had taken an art course that year; and results varied by race, ethnicity, gender, family income and school location. (The questionnaire accompanying the 2016 assessment phrased the question somewhat differently, making it impossible to draw firm conclusions about apparent changes over the past three years.)

Most states require middle schools to provide access to arts courses. As the results below suggest, access alone will not inspire students to take them. We hope this information can help you address gaps in your state.

Scroll down for interactive visualizations of the data. Use the tabs at the top of the dashboard to navigate among maps and charts.

Author profile
Principal at Education Commission of the States |

Claus oversees efforts to improve statewide longitudinal data systems and provide state-by-state data on STEM education. He has held senior positions in education policy and research for more than 17 years and has spent much of that time helping diverse stakeholders find consensus on important education issues. Claus is dedicated to ensuring that state leaders have the information and guidance they need to make the best possible decisions affecting young people.

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