STUDY: Hotter Classrooms Lead to Lower Test Scores

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Have your students ever told you, “It's too hot?” If you are like me, then you probably cracked a window and told them to get over it. Well, according to a new study, we should take the temperature complaints of students more seriously. A data analysis conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research has confirmed what students apparently already knew: It’s hard to learn in an overheated classroom.

The study compared student test scores with average temperatures using the PSAT data from 2001 to 2014 and weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What the study found is a significant correlation to hotter temperatures and lower test scores. Additionally, the effect was three times worse for black and Hispanic students which researchers attributed to their distribution in hotter climates and in poor schools which were less likely to have air conditioning.

The study implies that the effects of high heat on learning productivity can be successfully combated with air conditioning:

We provide the first evidence that cumulative heat exposure inhibits cognitive skill development and that school air conditioning can mitigate this effect. Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-takers show that hotter school days in the year prior to the test reduce learning, with extreme heat being particularly damaging and larger effects for low income and minority students. Weekend and summer heat has little impact and the effect is not explained by pollution or local economic shocks, suggesting heat directly reduces instructional time productivity. New data providing the first measures of school-level
air conditioning penetration across the US suggest such infrastructure almost entirely offsets these effects. Without air conditioning, each 1 ° F increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent.

In an era of high stakes testing, districts are seemingly willing to try anything to improve test scores. According to this latest research, they may need to invest in infrastructure for air-conditioning. As a matter of fact, some would venture to say that in a country as economically and technologically advanced as the United States, schools should simply have air-conditioning anyway, especially in the hotter climates of the south. In a political climate where data tends to matter more than anything else, maybe policy makers will be swayed to fund the infrastructure updates needed to ensure students are not inhibited by the effects of extreme heat.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.