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Study Finds Classroom Temperature Affects Test Scores

Researchers have long known that environment has a significant effect on student achievement; but a new study focuses on a factor that has, until now, received little or no attention in this context. Most studies concentrate on a specific factor from the home environment such as diet, work/play balance, or sleep deprivation. However, new research suggests that classroom temperatures can also play a part in student performance, especially if it concerns overheated classrooms.

Higher Temperatures Can Result in Lower Scores

According to a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, higher classroom temperatures can directly result in lower test scores. In particular, the study showed that after an especially hot year when classroom temperatures were higher, the nation’s high school students performed significantly worse on their PSAT (pre-SAT) tests.

The paper’s researchers wrote that, on average, a temperature that’s as little as one degree hotter (measured in Fahrenheit) could have an adverse effect. In essence, the study said that there’s a decrease of learning during the hotter days of the school year, with extreme heat being particularly damaging.

The study involved PSAT data from 10 million students, taken from high school classes during 2001–2014. According to the research, starting from a certain average temperature, each degree of increase leads to a reduced learning rate. Likewise, days with extreme temperatures in the 90s or more caused scores to further drop.

Does Air Conditioning Help?

According to the study, the harmful consequences of high temperatures generally don’t exist in schools that have adequate air conditioning. Interestingly, the study also showed that overheated classrooms seem to be less of a problem in hotter regions of the country—particularly southern states. Researchers say that this is probably because air conditioning is typically more prevalent in these areas, where it’s considered an absolute necessity. Specifically, most of the school systems that don’t have air conditioning are in New England, the Midwest, and the Northwest.

The lack of air conditioning, however, is surprisingly widespread. According to recent surveys taken from 45 of the biggest school districts in the U.S., only 34 districts reported that they had air conditioning. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever lived with an air conditioning unit can attest, just because the unit is there doesn’t mean that it works. According to a 2014 government survey, 30 percent of school air conditioning units were cited by staff members as being inadequate, with ratings from fair to poor.

In the nation’s largest school district, New York City (which serves 1.1 million students), more than a quarter of the classrooms (11,500) don’t have air conditioning. Toward this end, in 2017, city officials announced that every classroom in the district would have an air conditioning unit by 2022. Likewise, in Hawaii, where only 40 percent of classrooms have air conditioning (despite the state’s close proximity to the equator), initiatives are underway to add 1,000 more air conditioning units to classrooms.

How Parents Can Help

In addition to high temperatures, other factors that can significantly affect test scores and student performance include diet, the amount of sleep, and the play/work balance. Unlike classroom temperatures, however, these factors can be controlled at home. That’s why it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s diet and exercise and make sure they get enough time for recreation, relaxation, and sleep.

If you are worried about the temperature at your children’s school and how it might affect them, ask them whether the heat has ever made them feel unwell; and dress them in cool, lightweight clothing during hotter months. If classroom overheating seems to be a chronic problem, parents could band together and talk to school officials about the problem—not just at the school level but at the district level as well.

One advantage of learning at home via an online school is that parents can control the classroom environment. Students learn from the comfort of their own homes, so they can adapt their school environment to their own individual needs. If you think your child might benefit from online learning, visit K12.com to find a virtual school in your area.

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