Review of Evidence: Arts Education Research Through the Lens of the Every Student Succeeds Act

Meredith Ludwig, and Andrea Boyle

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a wide variety of ways for educators to support student success—including programs and funding streams that can be used to support arts education. To access the funding, education agencies must show evidence for how their proposed program can support or improve student outcomes. It can be difficult for these agencies to decide on the right evidence-based arts education intervention for their students—and obtain the funding to implement it.

In partnership with, and funded by, the Wallace Foundation, AIR undertook a research review, examining hundreds of reports to identify arts education interventions that meet the ESSA evidence-based standards. This report provides an overview of ESSA evidence standards and a range of arts education interventions—88 in total—eligible under these standards. 


Findings from the research review include:

  • ESSA addresses arts education in several ways: The law provides funding to help ensure that students have access to a “well-rounded education,” which can include “the arts” and “music,” in addition to other subjects.
  • ESSA includes more than 10 different funding opportunities that state and local education agencies and schools can use to implement arts education interventions for students from prekindergarten through twelfth grade.
  • Evidence of the effects of arts education interventions on student outcomes exists at three ESSA evidence tiers, but most often by Tier IV evidence, the lowest evidence tier, only.
  • The two types of art with the largest numbers of studies in all the evidence tiers are music and visual arts.


Recommendations for practitioners and policymakers include:

  • Be thoughtful in selecting which ESSA funding program(s) to pursue to support a proposed arts education intervention. Consider factors such as the types of activities required and allowable, the amount and duration of funding, and the level of evidence required.
  • Critically assess the theoretical and empirical support behind a proposed arts education intervention. Using a conservative interpretation of the ESSA evidence-based criteria might help ensure interventions with a stronger likelihood of success are selected.
  • Before undertaking a search for arts education interventions that improve student outcomes, start with an improvement goal related to a particular art type and choose the intervention most likely to help reach that goal.

The report also provides recommendations for future research and next steps.