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Today's Students Like Music, But Are Less Tolerant of Art

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Most American students today have positive feelings about music, but many teenagers consider art less important than did their counterparts five years ago, and students overall are far less tolerant of "unusual" art, according to two recently released reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (naep).

The two reports are based on surveys of student responses to art and music conducted in 1978-79. The surveys involved approximately 95,000 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds from all regions of the country. The results were compared with two earlier naep surveys--1970-71 for the music assessment and 1974-75 for the art survey.

Encouraging and Troubling

Entitled "Art and Young Americans, 1974-79" and "Music 1971-79," the two new assessments offer both "encouraging" and "troubling" results about young Americans' knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of music and art, according to the researchers who worked on the surveys.

On the bright side, they write, 75 percent of the students surveyed in all age groups can make simple judgments about music, appear to have positive attitudes toward music, and recognize the importance of its role in the social life of the country.

The art survey found that more 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds reported visiting art museums than did the 1974-75 group of the same ages. And significantly more 17-year-olds succeeded in putting "expressive content" into their drawings of "angry people" in the latest assessment, the results showed.

Among 17-year-olds, black and Hispanic students overall scored below the national average--but their scores in 1978-79 were not lower than their 1974-75 scores. Nine-year-olds as a group also maintained about the same scores in the 1974-75 and 1978-79 art assessments, according to the report.

Some of the surveys' findings, however, were less encouraging:

The scores of 13-year-olds dropped by 2.2 percent in the latest art assessment. The areas in which their scores declined the most from 1975 levels were knowledge of art and the extent to which they valued art.

Overall Decline Seen

The scores of 17-year-olds showed an overall decline of 1.4 percent between the 1974-75 and 1978-79 art assessments. This age group dropped the most in the area of "valuing" art.

Students of all ages demonstrated a marked decline in tolerance for unconventional art forms; several experts who analyzed the art-assessment data characterized the students as "artistic literalists."

In music, both 9-year-olds and 17-year-olds were less knowledgeable about the elements of music than were their 1970-71 counterparts.

The surveys, according to naep director Roy H. Forbes, demonstrate "a strong contradiction in our nation." Although Americans claim to value music and art, students receive only limited opportunities for formal instruction in either area, Mr. Forbes noted.

Most students--90 percent--have the opportunity to take art, according to the report. But only 28 states require that art be taught in elementary schools, and only 19 require it in junior high or middle schools, according to Laura Chapman, a University of Cincinnati art educator who analyzed and commented on the data.

Ronald H. Silverman, an art educator from California State University at Los Angeles and one of the experts who analyzed the art assessment data for the naep, also observed a contradiction: "The significant decline in valuing art is paradoxical," he said. "At a time when art is receiving greater support than ever from government and the corporate sector, and when the general public wants more art to be taught in our schools, American youth appears to be less favorably inclined toward art." One probable cause for this, Mr. Silverman said, is the increasing emphasis upon the value of "practical subjects," often at the expense of less pragmatic arts courses.

A panel of music experts agreed that it is "encouraging" to find that a high percentage of students of all ages value music. At the same time, the panelists expressed concern that 17-year-olds performed no better than 13-year-olds on questions about the elements of music.

'Relatively Little Impact'

Noted one panelist, Richard M. Graham of the University of Georgia, ''It appears that schools are having relatively little impact on the adolescent's interests and abilities as these relate to notating, arranging, and composing music. We may be observing the effect of practically no music theory being taught in secondary schools." All the panelists for the music assessment, however, noted that such courses are frequently the first areas to be cut when funds become scarce in school budgets.

"If we are serious about art and music being goals of our educational system," Mr. Forbes said, "then we must create more opportunities for students to learn about them."

The music assessment revealed similar patterns: Students who reported that neither parent had graduated from high school performed below the national average, while those who had at least one parent with some post-high-school education performed above the national average. Both findings held true for all age groups.

Considerable Diversity

Results from both the music and art assessments were characterized by considerable regional, socioeconomic, and ethnic diversity. In music, for example, male, black, and Hispanic students performed below the national average at all ages. Females and white students, in contrast, performed above the national average as groups.

The art assessment found that 9-year-olds living in small towns and in the Western United States showed improvement--2 percent and 2.4 percent respectively.

Socioeconomic factors also seemed to influ-ence students' performance in art. "Those students whose parents have been educated beyond high school; those whose homes contain books, magazines, newspapers, and encyclopedias; those who attend schools in "advantaged-urban" areas; those who visit art museums often, engage in many art and craft activities, or take an above average number of art classes--all perform better than the national population," according to the art assessment.

Regional Differences

Regional differences were also apparent in those results. Although the scores of 13-year-olds declined overall by 2.2 percent in the art assessment, the scores of those who lived in the Central states declined by 4.4 percent; for those living in "disadvantaged-urban" areas, the decline was 4.1 percent; and for those living in "advantaged-urban'' areas, scores dropped by 4.3 percent, according to the report.

In music, students living in the Northeast and West performed near the national average, while those who lived in the Southeast performed below the national norm in all age groups.

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