Ask Dr. Nandi: Hotter years 'mean lower exam results'

Posted at 3:39 PM, May 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 08:57:57-04

It’s no surprise to Michiganders that we experience both extreme high’s and lows when it comes to weather. And when it’s hot, we can all become a little lethargic. But it may be particularly rough on our students - new research shows that when the heat is on, it can have detrimental effects on learning.   

Question: What kind of temperatures are we talking about - how hot is too hot?

It’s temperatures that we’re all very familiar with here in Metro Detroit. The researchers from Harvard, UCLA and Georgia State University looked at 13 years of PSAT test scores from 10 million high school students. They calculated that for every 1-degree increase in average temperature above 60 degrees during the school year, this resulted in a 1-percent drop in learning. That’s pretty significant. And test scores dropped even more when temperatures were over 90 or 100 degrees. I’m not surprised because when you’re hot, you’re not very comfortable. And that makes it’s harder to focus and concentrate.   

Question: It seems like the answer to this problem is to turn up the air-conditioning so students are cooler.

Yes, the research did find that air conditioning has a huge impact. In fact, air-conditioned classrooms can lower the impact by roughly 78 percent. Unfortunately, the study found schools with no air conditioning are more likely to be located in low-income communities, affecting many low-income families and ethnic minorities. Now we know just yesterday that Detroit Public Schools sent students home early because of high temperatures and lack of air conditioning. Upgrading school infrastructure is not cheap, but according to this research, it would certainly be beneficial in the long-run to students and our community that we live in. I’d recommend if your student is struggling with their grades and attends a school with no cool air, you might want to find ways to intervene like having them study in air-conditioned homes or libraries where they’re more comfortable and able to focus.