Building Condition and Student Achievement
For more than two decades, professional organizations and governmental agencies have been reporting on the condition of the nation’s schools (AASA, 1983; Council of Great City Schools, 1987; Educational Writers’ Association, 1989; GAO, 1995a,b; NEA, 2000).7 These reports have consistently found that a substantial portion of the school-age population was being educated in substandard buildings. And schools with the highest concentrations of students from low-income households were more likely to be in substandard condition.
In School Facilities: Condition of America’s Schools, the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that approximately 14 million students (30 percent of all students) attended schools that needed extensive repairs or replacement (one-third of the school inventory) (GAO, 1995a). Approximately 28 million students attended schools that needed extensive repairs on one or more major building systems. The building components or features most often identified as needing attention in substandard schools were proper thermal control (temperature and humidity), ventilation, plumbing, roofs, exterior walls, finishes, windows, doors, electrical power, electrical lighting, life safety (fire suppression), and interior finishes and trims. The cost to make necessary repairs was estimated at more than $100 billion (1995 dollars). The state of Massachusetts was included in this survey, and the condition of the school buildings in that state reflected the condition of schools nationwide.
A second GAO report, School Facilities: America’s Schools Not Designed or Equipped for 21st Century, found that approximately 40 percent of the schools surveyed could not meet the functional requirements of laboratory science or large-group instruction (GAO, 1995b). About two-thirds of the schools reported that they could not support educational reform measures such as a private space for counseling and testing, parental support activities, social/health care, day care, and before- and after-school care.
In 2000 the U.S. National Center for Educational Statistics reported that at least 29 percent of the nation’s schools had problems with heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning; 25 percent had plumbing problems; 24 percent reported problems with exterior walls, finishes, windows, and doors; and about 20 percent had less than adequate conditions for life safety, roofs, and electrical power. About 11 million students attended school in the school districts reporting buildings with less than adequate condition. Of these students, approximately 3.5 million students attended schools in which the condition was rated as poor, replacement was needed, or significant substandard performance was apparent (NCES, 2000).
The National Education Association (NEA) has estimated it would cost $322 billion to repair, modernize, retrofit for new technology, and make major improvements to existing school buildings (NEA, 2000). This figure also included new construction and additions to
Note: The studies referred to in this chapter use building condition as a qualitative and quantitative measure of a variety of systems and components. In some cases, these conditions included problems related to moisture in buildings, acoustics, lighting, and so forth. Thus, building condition is not necessarily separate from the issues discussed in Chapters 2 through 5.
existing buildings, which explains the disparity with earlier estimates. For the state of Massachusetts, the cost to improve all existing buildings is estimated to range from $8.9 billion to $9.9 billion.
Implicit in these reports is the underlying assumption that school condition and functionality can influence student learning, either positively or negatively. Although most school buildings start out meeting current codes, standards, and functional design, over time physical conditions deteriorate if building components and systems are not properly operated and maintained or repaired in a timely manner.
SCHOOL BUILDING CONDITION AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
The committee identified seven studies that investigated the relationship between the condition of school buildings and at least two student variables. The one consistent variable was student achievement as measured by some form of standardized or normed test or examination administered to all students in the schools. Four of the seven studies focused on high school students, one focused on third and fifth graders, and two included students at elementary, middle, and high school levels. A description of each of the studies, the methodology used, the reported findings, and the committee’s conclusions follow.
Edwards (1992) investigated the relationship between parental involvement, school building condition, and student achievement in the schools of Washington, D.C. She hypothesized that the condition of public school buildings is affected by parental involvement and that the condition of the school building further affects student achievement. She analyzed these relationships by evaluating the condition of school buildings, determining the extent of parental involvement and the amount of funds parents raised for the local school, and compared the results with student achievement scores, as measured using average test scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS).
Edwards found that building condition did have an effect on student achievement scores. The analysis indicated that as a school moves up from one condition category to another (e.g., from poor to fair), the achievement scores can be expected to increase by 5 percent. If the school moves up two categories, such as from poor to excellent, the average achievement scores can be expected to increase by 11 percent.
In a similar study, Cash (1993) investigated the relationship between certain school building conditions, student achievement, and student behavior in rural high schools in Virginia. Basically, the same hypothesis that Edwards employed was used in conducting this study. The condition of the building in this study, however, was the independent variable, and student achievement and behavior served as dependent variables.
The condition of the school building was determined through evaluation by local school system personnel. Cash developed a building evaluation instrument, the Commonwealth Assessment of Physical Environment (CAPE), to be used by local school personnel to determine the classification of the building. The CAPE was derived from previous studies that showed a positive relationship between a particular building condition and student achievement and behavior, including air-conditioning, classroom illumination, temperature control, classroom color, graffiti, science equipment and utilities, paint schedules, roof adequacy, classroom windows, floor type, building age, supporting facilities, condition of school grounds, and furniture condition. The presence or absence of these
factors determined the overall condition of the building: substandard, standard, and above standard.
Student achievement was measured by use of scaled scores of students taking the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP), which was administered to all 11th grade students in Virginia. The ratio of students receiving free and reduced lunches was used to control for socioeconomic status of the school attendance area, and the Virginia Composite Index was used as a measure of local fiscal capacity, to control for the wealth of the school jurisdiction.
The data analysis was done by comparing achievement score means of building condition ratings using analysis of covariance to adjust the means. The percentage of students who did not qualify for free or reduced lunch was the covariant. The adjusted mean scale scores in achievement and the behavior ratios for each building were compared across the three levels of building condition and between the three levels of overall, cosmetic, and structural categories. Cash found significant differences between the achievement scores of students in poor buildings and those in above-standard buildings when the overall condition of the building was used as a measure. She also found a larger number of differences in scores of students when the cosmetic features of a building were used as a measure of comparison. She observed that apparently students were more aware of the cosmetic than the structural condition of a building. The difference between test scores of students in poor and above-standard buildings ranged from 2 to 5 percentile points, depending on the subtest.
Earthman et al. (1996) used a similar methodology to conduct a study in North Dakota that included all 199 high school buildings in the state. North Dakota was selected for the study because traditionally students as a whole score among the highest in the nation on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. North Dakota students also scored third highest in the International Comparison of 8th Grade Math scores in 1992, behind only Asia and Japan (Leadership News, 1994). The state has a relatively homogeneous, mostly rural population.
Although the differences in the composite score were exactly the same as for the Cash study, there are some notable differences. The CTBS has additional subtests that the TAP does not have, such as reading, vocabulary, mathematics concepts, and spelling. The differences in reading, vocabulary, and spelling are rather high, considering the differences in other subtests. The North Dakota study does support the findings of both the Edwards and the Cash studies. Both of these researchers found at least a 5 percent difference in composite achievement scores in their population. The North Dakota study found a similar difference in percentile rankings in student achievement scores.
Hines (1996) used the same methodology and data-gathering instrument as Cash to study large urban high schools in Virginia. His results in comparing building condition and student achievement were basically the same. The range of differences between substandard and above-standard buildings, however, was greater than what was found in the study of rural high schools and in the North Dakota high schools study. In the Hines study, differences in test scores for students in above-standard schools ranged from 9 points higher for writing and science, to 15 points higher for reading, and 17 points higher for mathematics compared with the test scores of students in substandard buildings. This compares favorably with the results Edwards obtained in her comparison between the worst and best school buildings. Edwards stated that the difference in mean achievement scores for her study population was as much as 10.9 percent between school buildings in the substandard and above-standard categories (p. 24).
Lanham (1999) completed a study of the relationship between classroom conditions and student achievement in the elementary schools of Virginia that housed both third- and fifth-grade students. The researcher used the same general approach to investigating this relationship as Cash (1993) did on the high school level. From a total of 989 elementary schools, a random sample of 299 schools was drawn. Responses were received from 197 schools, representing a 66 participation rate. Lanham concluded that although certain school building and cosmetic components and features have a part in explaining the variance in student achievement scores, the socioeconomic status of the student as represented by participation in the free and reduced lunch program accounts for the most variance.
Schneider (2002) investigated the relationship between the condition of school buildings and student achievement scores in two large urban school districts, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Illinois. In testing for the relationship between student achievement and building condition, the researcher used the results of the reading and on math scores on the Stanford Achievement Test in Washington, D.C., and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in Chicago.
In Washington the difference in achievement scores was reported as the percent of students performing above the basic level of achievement for the grade. In Chicago the difference was reported as the percent of students performing at grade level. After controlling for factors such as poverty, ethnicity, and school size, the researcher was able to report a difference in both cities of between 3 to 4 percentage points in performance between students in poor buildings and those in good buildings. In other words, the students in schools with good conditions were performing from 3 to 4 percentage points better than students in buildings with poor conditions. In Washington, the difference was 3 percent in both reading and math between students in good and poor buildings. In Chicago, the difference was 3 percent for reading and 4 percent for math scores. These differences are well within the range of differences reported by other researchers.
Lewis (2000) conducted a study in the Milwaukee public schools comparing building condition with student achievement scores. The school system had approximately 139 elementary, middle, and high school buildings. All buildings were evaluated for both condition and adequacy. The Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) was used to measure student achievement. The WSAS consisted of three sets of standardized tests administered in the fourth, eighth, and tenth grades. Students were assessed in reading, mathematics, language arts and writing, science, and social studies. Scores on these examinations were reported as a percentage of students in each school building who were achieving at or above the level defined as proficient in the subject. These percentages were converted to standardized scores with a mean of 100 for analysis purposes. WSAS scores for 1996, 1997, and 1998 were used. Data were also gathered on student demographics, race, attendance, truancy, suspensions, mobility, and participation in school lunch programs. Multiple regression analyses were conducted. The overall hypothesis of the study was that as the condition of the school building increased, student test scores would also increase.
The study demonstrated several significant relationships, yet the findings were not consistent. Based on these results, Lewis (2000) concluded that the “significant relationships for facility measurements typically explain about 10 to 15 percent of the differences in scores across schools when the influences of the other variables were statistically controlled” (p. 11). When comparing student demographic indicators such as mobility rates, eligibility for free/reduced lunches, attendance, and suspensions, only 9 estimates out of 48 were found to
be significant. Thus those indicators that were significant explained between 8 and 28 percent of the difference between test scores when other variables were controlled.
SCHOOL BUILDING FUNCTIONALITY AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
Eleven studies were identified that investigated the relationship between school building functionality and student achievement. In each study, the age of the school building was used as a surrogate for functionality. The age of a building may not in and of itself be a direct negative factor in student achievement, but what qualities the building does not have might provide a direct relationship to student achievement. Building age might also serve as a surrogate for a number of specific variables such as condition of the building, thermal control, proper lighting, acoustical control, support facilities, condition of laboratories, aesthetic condition, among others.
Under the variable of school building age, McGuffey (1982) reviewed seven studies (Thomas, 1962; Burkhead et al., 1967; Michelson, 1970; Guthrie et al., 1971; McGuffey and Brown, 1978; Plumley, 1978; and Chan, 1979). In all cases, increasing building age was significant as a factor detrimental to student achievement and behavior; i.e., as building age increased, student achievement decreased.
McGuffey and Brown (1978) studied 188 school districts in Georgia to explore the relationship between building age and student achievement. They used the scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for the fourth and eighth grade students and the Test of Academic Progress for eleventh grade students. In comparing student test scores with the age of the building, the statistical analyses indicated that building age could account for 0.5 percent to 2.6 percent of the variance among fourth grade students, 0 percent to 2.6 percent of the variance among eighth grade students, and 1.4 percent to 3.3 percent of the variance among eleventh graders.
In addition to the studies above, Garrett (1981), Chan (1982), Bowers and Burkett (1989), and Phillips (1997) conducted similar studies using age of the building as an independent variable and student achievement test scores as dependent variables. Their findings substantiated those of previous studies.
Students in the new school building significantly outperformed the students in the older building in reading, listening, language, and arithmetic. Further, faculty in the new building reported fewer disciplinary incidents and health problems than did faculty in the old building. Attendance likewise was better for students in the new building than for students in the old school. Researchers conducting these studies concluded that a relationship did exist between the physical environment and student achievement, health, attendance, and behavior.
In all of the studies cited above, the range of difference between the test scores of students in substandard and standard school buildings was between 1 and 17 percentile points. In almost all cases there was a positive difference for students in the better buildings. These findings are of particular importance because of the large number of school buildings across the United States that are in substandard condition.
All of these studies raise the important question, If students are housed in poor buildings for a number of years, will the negative effect on achievement be multiplied the longer a student is in these buildings? The research cited here is simply a snapshot of conditions and relationships at one period of time, not over successive periods of time. There
is a reasonable basis to believe, however, that the harmful effect of poor school buildings on student test scores may be cumulative and may continue to worsen the longer the student is in school.
The condition of existing buildings results from the amount of attention to maintenance that the buildings have had over the years. Assuming the original building is constructed of quality materials with good workmanship applied, the normal life of a well-built school is at least 30 years. During this period of time proper maintenance is required to keep the building in as good a condition as when it was initially constructed. Lack of attention to maintaining the building in good condition results in deterioration of the structure and all of its systems, and the life expectancy of the building is reduced.
LIMITATIONS OF THE CURRENT STUDIES
One factor that can have an influence on the results of a research study devoted to the investigation of the relationship between school building condition and student achievement is the method used to evaluate the condition of a building. There is no statistical evidence to indicate that using one kind of building assessment method or instrument is better than using another. Nevertheless, the studies that have used instruments designed to gauge maintenance and its effects have not been as successful in finding relationships as those studies that have used instruments designed to study the performance of occupants. This leads one to believe that a focus on assessment of a building does limit the results of some studies.
The studies that used the age of a building or the condition of a school building as an independent variable in comparing student achievement test scores have the same limitations as cited above. As in almost all studies using student achievement scores, there is the limitation of not being able to control all of the variables associated with student learning. Variables such as the quality of the teaching staff, the curriculum, the viability of the student test measures, and, most important, the background of the student are all virtually impossible to completely control. For this reason the evidence found in these studies concerning the relationship between school building age and student achievement must be considered as a suggestive association.
FINDING AND RECOMMENDATION
Finding 6: In regard to building condition and student achievement, the committee found the following:
The body of available research is suggestive of an association between the condition of a school building and student achievement. All of the studies analyzed by the committee found that student test scores improved as the physical condition of school buildings improved. The degree of improvement of students’ test scores varied across the studies, but in all cases students in buildings in better condition scored higher than students in buildings in poor condition.