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The middle school years are critical in determining children’s long-term trajectories in music because 6th-8th grade is the first time students can take full arts-related elective courses with limited skills (McNeal, 1998). There is empirical evidence documenting positive cognitive and socioemotional outcomes of music engagement (Brown & Sax, 2013; Southgate & Roscigno, 2009) and the increased benefits of long-term exposure to musical experiences (Schellenberg, 2006). However, not all students who begin musical experiences remain engaged over time. Prior research has identified pre-exiting factors that predict initial participation in music electives (Alegrado, & Winsler, 2018; Foster & Jenkins, 2017; Kinney, 2010). However, there is a lack of research using longitudinal data that identifies factors that influence student persistence in taking music elective courses in middle school. In order to improve students’ long-term engagement in musical experiences, we must identify factors that influence their decision to either quit or to persist in music elective courses. Music teachers equipped with this knowledge will be better able to identity and provide additional support to students who are likely to quit music classes.
Our data come from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP), a large-scale longitudinal university-community project involving low-income, ethnically diverse children who received childcare subsidies or attended public school pre-K programs at age four in Miami, Florida and later attended public schools. Here, we examined a large (n = 2,398), low income (75% free/reduced lunch), and ethnically diverse (23% Black, 66% Hispanic, 9% White/Other, 1% Asian) sample of students who took a music elective course (band, chorus, guitar, orchestra, or other) in 6th grade during the 2009-2013 academic years to see which students did and did not continue to take a music elective course in 7th grade. In addition to bivariate descriptions of who persists and who does not, we also run multiple logistic regression analyses predicting persistence in music in 7th grade given that they participated in 6th grade.
Predictor variables included gender, ethnicity, poverty, special education, ELL status, 5th grade English proficiency, prior academic performance (5th grade GPA, standardized math and reading test scores) and initial school readiness skills (social, behavioral, cognitive, language, and motor skills) at age four. Of the 2,227 students who took a music elective course in 6th grade, 47% (n = 1,119) quit by 7th grade, and another 17% (n = 410) quit taking music by 8th grade. Only 7% (n = 171) returned to music enrollment in 8th grade after quitting in 7th grade. Orchestra showed the smallest quit rate (54%) and guitar the highest (83%). Gender and 5th grade GPA showed greater influence on continued enrollment compared to SES and disability status. Being male and having a higher 5th grade GPA were negatively related to quitting music enrollment between 6th and 7th grade. Teachers may need to provide additional support to girls and academically lower performing students in order to encourage their persistence in music electives.