New research: heat puts students at disadvantage

LHS student test performance may be at risk without AC

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New research: heat puts students at disadvantage

Julian Viviescas, Interim News Editor

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By Julien Viviescas

Interim Editor

Cambridge, MA- Students perform poorly in hot classroom climates compared to students in classrooms with air conditioning, according to a newly published research study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and as a result Lowell may be at a further competitive disadvantage.

In the research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May millions of PSAT-takers were considered.  The research indicates that low income and minority students from communities similar to Lowell Public Schools experienced a ‘larger effect’ due to ‘extreme heat being particularly damaging.’

As the hot humid weather of New England summer weather arrives, a hot LHS classroom environment leads to irritated students and potentially poor performance according to LHS students and faculty.

The research comes as temperatures are predicted to reach close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday with final exams planned for Tuesday through Friday of the week.

On Friday, June 15th, the Lowell Public Schools sent out phone correspondence to  families indicating that the Superintendent of Schools Salah Khelfaoui would consider canceling school should the temperature reach oppressive levels on Monday.

In the case of Lowell High School SAT tests, MCAS tests and other Spring assessments including the Accuplacer test may have already been negatively influenced by excessively hot classroom environments if the newly released research is an accurate indicator of testing performance.

On June 2nd, SATs once again took place for those students looking to enter college in 2019.

Attempting to obtain a decent score students had the challenge to stay cool at the recorded temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit during a June weekend.

SAT-takers reported sitting in excessively hot classrooms at LHS to take the exam.  The Accuplacer, an assessment to assist Middlesex Community College in placing new students, has been administered at LHS throughout the Spring semester.

The researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research linked poor academic performance with hot classrooms temperatures because it is hard to focus and pay attention when it’s really hot inside a classroom.

“Without air conditioning, each 1 degree [Fahrenheit] increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by 1 percent,” states the research.

And not only this but it also may affect the scores on important preparation tests for college entrance such as the PSAT, ACT and the SAT.

MCAS and SAT’s have been taking place at LHS all year round, but especially at this time of the year often students complain about uncomfortable temperatures associated with Spring and Summer.

In May the National Bureau of Economic Research  published the research which directly correlated testing performance with classroom temperatures.

“Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-takers show that hotter school days in the year prior to the test reduce learning,” concluded the researchers in the report titled, “Heat and Learning.”

Teachers and administrators agreed that temperature was an important factor in a student’s learning, some mentioned how difficult it was for them to learn, and to even have a desire to learn when the high classroom temperatures occurred.

“If it’s too hot they get distracted, just kind of feel tired and fatigued, and it drains their energy.” said LHS teacher Mrs. Julia Zemetres, who has been a teacher for 20 years.

As summer arrives, LHS begins to identify more and more problems with the aging structure of the school.

“You definitely get distracted, and can’t concentrate on the subject,” added Support Specialist Charles Pouliot about hot temperatures in schools without air conditioning.  Pouliot manages the state MCAS test for LHS.

According to student and faculty experience,  the vast majority of the school is lacking central air conditioning.  While some classrooms might not seem affected, many classrooms are full of irritated students who can’t focus as a result of summer heat.

Various students were asked their thoughts about the heating and a/c problems at LHS, as well as how they felt it was affecting their learning.

The majority of students surveyed by the LHS Review responded that it is very hard to focus when you feel uncomfortable.  Such climate takes away your desire to study while the only thing on which to focus is staying cool and hydrated.

Students also asked for the heating to be working when it’s very cold during the winter, and for the a/c to be constant around this time of the year when temperature rises significantly and your body has not yet adapted.

The new research report also indicates that wealthier communities, which have the resources to maintain their building infrastructure, may have a testing advantage over communities like Lowell, which has limited resources to fix an aging high school building.

It’s taken for granted that we live in the United States one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and that the focus is to encourage students to attend school,and learn to be more successful among society. Yet, we don’t give the students in urban schools the basic resources that are necessary to stay on task, according to ELL teacher Matthew Brennan.

Consistent building climate may also have a negative effect on faculty attendance and performance, added Brennan.

“Without a consistent central heating and cooling system we cannot provide equitable education to our high school students,” said Brennan, a teacher of 11 years in Lowell.  “Faculty and staff also deserve a comfortable environment to provide students with the best instruction.”

In third world tropical countries like Colombia, where this reporter was born, it’s understandable to find classrooms full of students wearing thick cotton shirts and jeans, all sweaty, and unfocused all day. Students experience such conditions there because of the lack of resources from the government. It has also affected testing there from personal experience and it may be reflected in the PISA test (Programme for International Student Assessment) where the rank is close to one of the lowest in the world.

If United States school districts want academically competitive students, working air conditioners directly support such performance, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research’s new data.

National Bureau of Economic Research is headquartered in Cambridge, MA.