Study: Hot classrooms cause lower test scores

New research shows students are less likely to do well in school when their classrooms are too hot.

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research compared the test scores of students whose classrooms get too hot to those who attend schools with comfortable temperatures.

The results show heat prevents students from learning as well as they would in comfortable temperatures, and that has a lasting impact on a student’s future success. It also found that those impacts have a direct negative result on local economies.

The study’s authors reported, “Our findings suggest that, even in highly industrialized economies, heat exposure can reduce the rate of learning and skill formation, thus potentially reducing the rate of economic growth.”

The study looked at test scores of 10 million high school students who took the Preliminary SAT several times between 2001 and 2014. The study compared school days in which temperatures were in the 60s to those in the 90s. The results showed math and reading achievement was reduced by one-sixth of one percent of a year’s worth of learning. The effect of a day with temperatures over 100 was 50 percent larger.

The study found that the effect was three times more damaging to low-income and black and Hispanic students. Researchers said white students in more affluent homes are less likely to experience gaps in learning. They argued that heat effects account for up to 13 percent of the U.S. racial achievement gap because both black and Hispanic students typically live in hotter places than white students. They said white students are more likely to live in cooler climates and attend schools with air conditioning.

Researchers said climate change could cause that gap to grow. But, they said investment in school air conditioning would offset future lost earnings by $25,000 per classroom per year. They concluded the benefits substantially outweigh the costs of installing and operating air conditioning. The study said the findings also have important implications over the benefits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.