Art Department Challenge

Feedback from art department chairs consistently rates enrollment as a top concern for secondary art programs. If you have an elective art program and you are serious about increasing enrollment, I have a challenge for you…

Mishler Theatre Seating Arrangements by Sharlene Abraham, art teacher
Mishler Theatre Seating Arrangements by Sharlene Abraham, art teacher

Last week, I had a brief opportunity to speak with principals of Advanced Placement high schools about art as a path to rigor. I proposed that the unique nature of AP Studio Art courses provides an opportunity to access rigorous, AP-level curriculum for students who do not test well, or for other reasons do not perform well in traditionally academic courses. This idea included the suggestion that schools could analyze the information they had about students to identify those who could benefit from this path.

This presentation got me thinking more broadly about art enrollment and what art departments can do about it. In today’s data rich (and data-driven) school environment, why couldn’t art departments take a similar approach (looking at the data) to identify trends in enrollment and find ways to increase the number of students in art?

Below are a number of approaches to enrollment trend data analysis for art departments. A number of examples are given from a high school perspective, but the same idea can be applied to a middle school elective art program. These are provided in a simple to complex order. If your department has never engaged in this type of work before, consider starting with the first step. If you feel capable, try pushing it further.

For any of these approaches, I recommend these actions:

  • Look at the data to find inconsistencies and trends.
  • Look for upward and downward trends.
  • Celebrate any upward trends.
  • Consider ways to address bothersome downward trends.
  • Maintain data year-over-year and review it annually.

The simplest approach, and a starting point for departments who have never really looked at the data, is to track overall art enrollment. Your administrator or school counseling office should be able to help you pull the numbers you need.

  • How many students are enrolled in art classes?
  • Collect data for multiple years and compare it to total school membership to get a percentage of students who are taking art.
  • You can make this a little more complex (and meaningful) by looking at this information by art course (Art 1, Art 2, Photography, Computer Graphics, etc.)

Get a little more specific about your enrollment population by looking at the numbers by grade level, including the grade level when individual students take their first art class.

  • How many students in each grade level are enrolled in an art course?
  • How many students at each grade level are in your entry level art courses?
  • How many students enroll in an art class in their first year at your school?
  • What trends can you identify from this data?
  • Celebrate any upward trends.
  • Consider ways to address bothersome downward trends.
  • Maintain data year-over-year and review it annually.

Looking at grade levels is a starting point to looking at various student groups you are reaching. Looking at these student demographic groups may connect to addressing achievement gaps.

  • Look at any of the enrollment data above according to gender, economic (free & reduced lunch program), and racial data
  • Compare these numbers with statistics from total school enrollment to see if you are seeing higher or lower percentages of these student groups relative to the whole school.

Go a little deeper by looking at specific data on retention, and promotion of individual students. No more looking at general numbers. This is about looking at Billy and Suzie.

  • What students have stayed with the art program?
  • What is their path in the art program? Are they working through a sequence or trying different courses?
  • Haw many of the students who took art in middle school go on to take art in high school? How many did not?
  • How many (and what percentage) of Art 1 (or Photo 1, or CG 1) students are continuing on to take level 2?
  • How many (and what percentage) of level 2 students are continuing to level 3?
  • How many students are taking a 4 year sequence?
  • How many 4th year students select the standard course versus an advanced academics course like AP or IB?
  • At what point does your department need to address retention and promotion?
  • How do these rates look when demographic information is added?

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