Teenagers often grumble at early morning wake times, snoozing their way through breakfast and stumbling off to school. Any parent who has pushed their child to a day filled with strenuous learning might wonder if their kids can learn anything during those first morning classes when kids haven’t had time to fully arouse from slumber.

But a new study shows that kids achieve higher scores in subjects like math when taught in the morning rather than the afternoon. The differential is significant enough to consider opting for morning classes for specific subjects in hopes of earning better grades and retaining skills, which would help students with long-term academic success.

Higher Grades and Stronger Skills

In a study published in the March 2016 issue of The Review of Economics and Statistics, researchers looked at the standardized test scores and grades of nearly two million Los Angeles-area students in grades 6 through 11. Those with morning math classes got better grades and did five points better, on average, on standardized tests than those who learned math in the last two periods of the day.

Students who took English classes in the morning also earned better grades, although their test scores on the California Standards Test was not significantly different from those in afternoon classes. The study author, Nolan G. Pope, recommended moving up subjects of greater importance to earlier in the day in order to take advantage of the apparent benefit. Pope suggests that the higher grades during morning classes could be due to enhanced student learning ability, a change in the teachers’ teaching quality throughout the day, or even differences in the class attendance.

Back in 2011, a study out of New York’s St. Lawrence University found that college students also performed better in early classes. Having the early morning commitment was an inducement for students to go to bed earlier and refrain from engaging in social activities that would otherwise impact their performance and ability to pay attention in class.

Scheduling Around the Student

Of course, the link between class schedules and student achievement does vary between individuals. A critic of the 2011 study told USA Today that some students are more engaged with study during the day and others at night. And time management, stress management, good sleep habits, and exercise all contribute to academic performance as well.

Recently, there has been a broader movement in schools to start later in the day to give students more time to sleep. This is based on the argument that kids don’t learn well when they are still groggy first thing in the morning. While good results from those initiatives may show differences in averaged learning outcomes, it does not account for changes in teaching and learning between different times of day, according to Pope.

Parents Creating Optimal Learning Environments

As these studies show, learning schedules do seem to make a difference for many students and can contribute to student success. Ideally, students should choose their optimum time for learning their most challenging subjects. But that’s often not possible at many elementary and high schools.

If you think your child could benefit from a more flexible school schedule you may want to consider the online schools that are available. If you’re not familiar with what an online school day is like for students, take a look at a day in the life of an online student. Many online schools offer options for scheduling lessons and assignments, so students can study math or other difficult subjects during the times that work best for their learning needs. Visit k12.com for more information on online learning.

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