Students learn less in hotter classrooms, says study
Students learn less in hotter classrooms, says studyCollege Board Communications
A new study using 10 million PSAT/NMSQT-takers shows that hotter school days in the year prior to the test lowers scores, and the damage is worse for low income and minority students. The study, “Heat and Learning” (Joshua Goodman- Harvard University; Michael Hurwitz- College Board; Jisung Park- UCLA; Jonathan Smith- Georgia State University), shows that in schools without air conditioning, each 1°F increase in temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent. That translates to a 0.5 point drop in PSAT/NMSQT scores.
The researchers posit that students learn less on sweltering days because they and their teachers are distracted and uncomfortable in sweat-box classrooms. The researchers found that weekend and holiday temperatures have no effect on student scores, suggesting that heat disrupts learning during the school day.
The effects were found throughout the country and were three times worse for Black and Hispanic students. Heat accounts for up to 13 percent of the U.S. racial achievement gap, both because Black and Hispanic students live in hotter regions of the country than white students and because heat damages the scores of those students more than it hurts the scores of white kids. The impact of heat on students in the lowest income zip codes is between two and three times the impact on those from the highest income zip codes.
The study shows that there is at least one solution to this problem: install air conditioning. Students in fully air-conditioned schools suffered no drop in scores, regardless of how many scorching days they had during the school year. The researchers point out that the larger impact of heat on low income and minority students is driven partly by the fact that their schools are less likely to have air-conditioning.
The study sample includes nearly 10 million students from 2001 through 2014 who took the PSAT/NMSQT twice during their sophomore and junior years. Cold days appear to have little impact on test scores.