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Published on Friday, April 14, 2023

NAEP Data Training Workshop Participant Kenneth Elpus on Using NAEP Data to Explore the Arts

NAEP Data Training Workshop Participant Kenneth Elpus on Using NAEP Data to Explore the Arts

This month, the NAEP R&D team had a chance to catch up with 2019 NAEP Data Training Workshop participant Kenneth Elpus to learn about his research in music education using NAEP data. Elpus spoke with us about his 2022 paper in the Journal of Research in Music Education, “Middle School Music Uptake and Achievement: Evidence From the 2016 Arts National Assessment of Educational Progress,” as well as his experience in the NAEP Data Training Workshop and how it informed and aided his research.

Elpus is a professor of music education, associate director of the University of Maryland School of Music, and principal investigator for the Music & Arts Education Data Lab, the National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab at the University of Maryland. MADLab uses data to ask and answer questions about important issues facing music and arts education.

Elpus shared what brought him to the NAEP Data Training Workshop; he knew from coursework on education statistics in graduate school that there was a wealth of arts-relevant data available from NAEP, but he wanted to refresh his memory and expand his knowledge on data analysis tools and concepts like plausible values. He said that “going through the actual training was great; it was really interesting to meet some of the people from NCES who were working on the data and meet some people from AIR who had been developing the EdSurvey package.” He felt the experience was really valuable, exposing him to new tools like EdSurvey, reviewing the design of NAEP, and bringing in speakers from related surveys useful to his research, like the High School Transcript Study (HSTS).

Elpus’s paper used data from the 2016 NAEP to examine music achievement among eighth-grade students, estimating enrollment rates in music classes and comparing NAEP music scores across demographic and individual characteristics. Among the challenges he encountered in his research were discrepancies in standard error calculations on plausible value estimates between statistical software packages. Thanks to his experience working with the developers of EdSurvey at the NAEP Data Training Workshop, he was able to tweak the default settings and navigate the software to ensure all his estimates were reliable.

Elpus’s research found that eighth-grade students were more likely to enroll in general music rather than ensemble (e.g., band, choir, orchestra) classes, but that students in those general music classes performed statistically indistinguishably from students who took no music classes at all, while ensemble students significantly outscored them. He feels that this prompts a lot of interesting questions about music education in the United States that could be investigated through NAEP data: “It’s a question of what is the assessment framework for NAEP and how closely is that tied specifically to performance music education versus what is going on in general music classes or who is in general music classes.” Elpus feels that his work with NAEP data and MADLab provides a nationally focused counterbalance to a lot of music education research that tends to be more locally focused. This provides a broader view of important policy questions in music education, such as determining the grade level at which music education should shift from compulsory to elective or identifying where across the nation these policies are unsupported or ignored. He’s also interested in using national data to explore questions about the relationship between music and arts education and mental health, absenteeism, and engagement among students.

Elpus felt that the NAEP Data Training Workshop was a valuable resource, and he recommends it for anyone with a basic level of statistical understanding who is looking to learn about more specialized tools. In his experience with music education, he finds that people often come to the research side of things after a longer career in K–12 teaching and that the workshop can be a great resource for them to refresh and expand their statistical knowledge and get started on exploring all the questions they’ve built up in their time working as an educator.  Please check out the link to Elpus’s publication to read more about his work. 

If you’re interested in the NAEP Data Training Workshop, you can learn more here. If you’re interested in High School Transcript data, applications are now being accepted for the 2023 NAEP HSTS Data Training Workshop. Apply today here!  

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