Assessing School Environment and Student Performance
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Could that humming HVAC system in the classroom be harming kids’ ability to learn? What about fluorescent lighting or lingering formaldehyde in furnishings?
An interdisciplinary UNL team aims to find out. It’s one of seven research groups chosen nationally to receive $1 million each as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Healthy Schools initiative.
“Look at the hours that students spend in school; we all want healthy buildings for them. Can we get some hard evidence-based data that show that indoor environments impact health and achievement?” asked project leader Lily Wang, a professor in the Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction at the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha.
Wang studies the effects of acoustics. She’s joined by Durham colleagues Clarence Waters, a lighting expert, and Josephine Lau, an indoor air quality expert.
The trio will gather detailed environmental measurements from more than 200 Nebraska classrooms over time. Then, educational psychologist Jim Bovaird will use sophisticated statistical tools to correlate each condition as well as the complex interplay of conditions with student performance on standardized tests.
Bovaird directs the Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics within UNL’s Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.
The team also is using these statistical methods to analyze California public schools. California maintains databases on the conditions of many schools and on student achievement. Correlating the datasets will provide insights into how the buildings’ environmental conditions affect achievement.
After analyzing the Nebraska schools’ data, the team will oversee renovations of several schools to see what, if any, changes improve academic performance.
Researchers will share the results with schools to help officials prioritize future upgrades. And they will work with a school design company to help ensure that results are incorporated into plans.
“This initiative could be a game changer in five years,” said Wang.