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Building Better Outcomes: The Impact of School Infrastructure on Student Outcomes and Behaviour. Schooling Issues Digest

Authors:
  • University of Melbourne & Flinders University of South Australia

Abstract

This digest reviews a range of research studies that examine the possible causal linkages between school buildings and student outcomes and behavior, and it presents findings in support of the theory that facilities make a difference and also presents findings in areas where research to date is relatively inconclusive. The report also examines studies concerning the relationship between student outcomes and behavior based on the overall building condition as well as the influence of individual building elements. Also discussed are design factors that can influence learning outcomes and behavior. A list of Web sites for additional information is included. (Contains 31 endnotes.) (GR)
The Impact of School Infrastructure on Student Outcomes and Behaviour
Building Better Outcomes:
SCHOOLING ISSUES DIGEST
Introduction
The Commonwealth Department of
Education, Training and Youth Affairs
(DETYA) is publishing a series of brief
reports titled ‘Schooling Issues Digests’
which summarise existing research
material on selected topics relevant to
schooling in Australia. The purpose of
these Digests is to provide status reports
on the results of recent international and
national research on selected topics, in a
non-technical, easy to read format, which
brings together and demystifies
complicated research and statistical data.
Contact Irene Kaspar on (02) 6240 5444 or
email address irene.kaspar@detya.gov.au
for more information on this series. For
further information on this particular
Digest, contact Jason Coutts on
(02) 6240 7962 or email address
jason.coutts@detya.gov.au
The author of this Digest is Mr Kenn
Fisher. Mr Fisher is currently Director of
Rubida Research and was Head of the
OECD Programme on Educational
Building (PEB) in 1997–8.
Overview of this Digest
This Digest reviews a range of research studies which
examine the possible causal linkages between building
design and student outcomes. It sets out those findings
that are agreed and those areas where research to date is
relatively inconclusive.
Considerable rigorous and academically sound empirical
quantitative research work has been carried out in the
United States. However, the sample sizes vary between
studies as do the levels of correlation between achievement
and building conditions which suggests that more studies
need to be carried out in this field to fully validate the
findings. Conversely, in Europe, the findings appear to be
based more on qualitative studies derived from social
science methodology. In these cases direct causality is more
difficult to establish, although newer narrative and
ethnographic research approaches are being increasingly
pursued. These qualitative studies have provided a deeper
analysis and understanding of the more classical
scientifically based quantitative findings.
Taking the above factors into account, the research indicates
that
student academic achievement improves with
improved building condition;
individual factors, such as lighting levels, air quality
and temperature and
acoustics, have an effect on
student behaviour and
outcomes, although there is
limited quantitative evidence
available on some of these
factors; and
new and emerging trends in
school building planning
and design and their impact
on student outcomes and
behaviour have yet to be
evaluated using a rigorous
research methodology.
Measuring Building Condition, Student
Outcomes and Student Behaviour
Criteria for Assessing Building Condition
and Design
Studies carried out on the impact of the age of school
buildings generally identify three categories
representative of school building age: non-modernised,
modernised, and new. In addition, over the past 20 years
it has consistently been shown that there are 27 critical
building elements whose design features, condition
and levels of maintenance all influence learning
outcomes and student behaviour.1For the purposes of
conducting controlled studies, these 27 elements have
been aggregated into two categories: structural and
cosmetic factors (see table below). Of the 27 items, seven
were found to have a major impact and are examined
in more detail in this Digest.
To ensure comparability between the condition of
schools, the Commonwealth Assessment of Physical
Environment (CAPE)2was developed in the United
States. Teachers self-assess the condition of the
elements, scoring them as substandard, standard or
above standard. A similar approach, the School
Environment Assessment Method (SEAM), is used in
the United Kingdom.
Measuring Student Outcomes
Many of the research studies use standardised
assessment for literacy and numeracy measurement.
United States building condition and student
performance studies are based on a range of student
assessment methods, including the Test of Academic
Proficiency, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, the
New Stanford Achievement Test and the more broadly
used Iowa Tests. These assessments are similar in style
to those used in Australia and are considered
appropriate measures of student educational outcomes
within the constraints normally understood for these
types of academic achievement assessment
programmes.
Measuring Student Behaviour
Many of the studies consider student behavioural aspects although
this is not easily measured quantitatively. Studies draw on a range of
statistical data on behaviour such as vandalism, early school leaving,
absenteeism, suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary incidents such
as being ‘out-of-bounds’, violence, disruption in class, lateness, racial
incidents and smoking. Flinders University is currently extending the
knowledge base on these issues through a number of qualitative
research studies in collaboration with selected South Australian
schools. The projects seek to provide a deeper understanding of
student behaviour through in-depth interviews with individual school
students. They provide rich sources of data that may help to explain
the precise causes behind the statistical findings on student behaviour.
Overall Building Condition (including Age of
the Facilities) and the Relationship to Student
Outcomes and Behaviour
Many of the research studies concentrate on evaluating whether a
causal link exists between student achievement and behaviour on the
one hand, and the overall condition of school buildings on the other.
For example, in a study of all of the primary schools in Georgia in the
United States, fourth grade students in non-modernised buildings
recorded poorer results in basic skills assessment than those in
modernised or new buildings.3Similarly eighth grade students scored
consistently higher (7–8% higher scores) in mathematics, ‘composite’
and vocabulary assessment if accommodated in new or modernised
buildings.4This was repeated in a study of 30 elementary schools
where teacher attitudes to school buildings were significantly
improved in new and modernised buildings. A further study
demonstrated an improvement in student achievement scores in
newer facilities especially in sixth grade mathematics.5
Structural factors
Building age
Windows
Flooring
Heating
Air-conditioning
Roof leaks
Adjacent facilities
Locker conditions
Ceiling material
Science laboratory equipment
Science laboratory age
Lighting
Colour
Noise
Student density (m2/ student)
Site acreage
Cosmetic factors
Interior painting
Exterior painting
Interior painting cycle
Exterior painting cycle
Floors swept
Floors mopped
Graffiti
Graffiti removal
Furniture
School grounds
Landscaping
Structural and Cosmetic Factors Which Influence Learning
Seven studies demonstrated that building age is a
significant contributor to student achievement and
behaviour.6In an examination of 280 fourth and sixth
grade students in two separate facilities (old and
new), those in the newer buildings performed much
better than the students in the older buildings,
achieving scores over 7% higher. The students in the
modern buildings also had a better record in the
areas of health, attendance and discipline. The study
concluded that approximately 3% of the variance in
achievement scores can be explained by the age of
the facility after taking into account socio-economic
differences in the student populations.7
However, there is not total agreement on all of these
findings. For example, in one study a strong inverse
relationship was found between student behaviour
and building age, that is, the older the buildings
were, the better the behaviour of the students.8
It has been speculated that this conflicting finding
may be the result of negative student reaction to
greater supervision and disciplinary measures in
the newer facilities.
It is important to note that, as buildings age, the
individual building elements, such as lighting,
air-conditioning and floor-coverings, vary in life
expectancy and levels of maintenance. Thus
different elements will impact on learning and
behaviour differentially.
Four recent replicated studies have identified a
relationship between cosmetic factors (related to age,
maintenance and condition) and student perform-
ance and behaviour, with student achievement
scores improving by as much as 5% in schools of
higher condition ratings.9Schools were rated by
teachers as sub-standard, standard or above standard.
Another study on student achievement and building condition noted
that, as a school moves up from one condition category to another, the
achievement scores can improve by over 5%.10 In the case of a school
moving two categories (from poor to excellent in this case study) the
student scores improved by more than 10%. Differences, if any, in urban,
suburban and rural contexts have not yet been fully analysed.
Individual Building Elements and their
Relationship to Student Outcomes and Behaviour
Natural and Artificial Lighting
It is generally accepted that good lighting, both natural and artificial,
can contribute to the aesthetic and psychological character of a learning
space. Studies confirm that, for fifth and sixth grade students,
appropriately designed and well-maintained lighting improves
students’ achievement scores. Medical studies have shown that natural
light is critical to the regulation of the circadian rhythm of the body in
adjusting to night and day conditions and therefore of vital importance
where students are inside classrooms for much of the day. There is,
however, no evidence in the educational literature that this effect has
been measured in terms of academic or behavioural outcomes. One
educational facilities research organisation recommends that 20% of wall
space be allocated to windows located so students can see out from a
seated position.11
Other findings in the literature on the impact of lighting on students
demonstrate:
the negative effects of poor lighting on students’ neuron functions,
hyperactivity, health and task behaviour;
that ultra-violet enhanced broad-spectrum fluorescent lighting can
result in better attendance, growth and development; and
that fluorescent lighting does reduce glare incidence and provides
a more diffused spectrum, although it may increase hyper-activity
(compared with the use of full spectrum or incandescent lighting).
Colours and their Impact on Students (adapted from Gimbel 199712 and Pile 199713)
Red y y n n n Alert, increased pulse, activity
Orange y y y n n Dance and movement, lightness, joy
Yellow do not use Detachment, shallow breathing, mature minds
Green n y Balance, judgement, arrests movement, stasis
Torquoise n y n Cool, calming, soothing
Blue n n y Relaxing, sleep inducing
Violet y Meditation, dignity
Magenta n y y Contentment, self respect
Black do not use Heightens emotional response
White do not use Stark
Activity areas
Passages
Dining areas
Entertainment areas
Study areas
Stress areas
Kitchen areas
Bathroom areas
Offices
Play areas
Entrances
Lecture rooms
Colour
Although no quantitative measures have been
identified in the published research, colour is believed
to influence student attitudes, behaviours and learning,
particularly student attention span and sense of time.14
It is also believed that carefully planned colour
schemes can influence absenteeism, promote positive
feelings about the school and, if students like the
colours, can also influence muscular tension and motor
control. The suggested uses and effects of a range of
colours are summarised in the table above.
Air Quality and Temperature
The overwhelming weight of evidence supports a
relation between the thermal environment and
academic achievement and student behaviour.15
Temperatures in excess of 25ºC have detrimental
physiological effects which, in turn, decrease mental
efficiency, work outputs and performance. Above
this temperature, and with poor humidification,
respiration rates are increased, physical efforts
become more demanding, attention spans decrease
and students report more discomfort. There is also
increased absenteeism and conditions favourable to
disease and infection spread amongst students.
Student achievement is further reduced by poor
ventilation, lack of air movement and poor humidity
control. Much of the research on this was done before
standardised testing was available as a measuring
tool. However, students in appropriately controlled
environments were observed to make significantly
fewer errors on tasks and required less time on tasks
than students in uncontrolled environments.16 In
Australia, environmentally sustainable design (ESD)
approaches are increasingly being used for thermal
control by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects
which publishes guidelines for building planners
and designers.17
Acoustics
The impact of excessive noise in learning settings on
learning outcomes has been extensively researched
over many decades. Noise emanates from other
classrooms, road traffic, trains, aircraft and building
mechanical systems. It is clear that inordinate noise
levels influence stress, verbal interaction, reading
comprehension, blood pressure, cognitive task
success, feelings of helplessness, inability to
concentrate and lack of extended application to
learning tasks.18 Whilst it was evident that the open-
plan classrooms of the 1970s in Australia suffered
from noise, more recent designs of large teaching/
studio spaces use baffling devices to minimise
noise transmission. Studies of noise attenuation,
particularly the use of carpet with its inherent sound
absorbent qualities, have indicated improved student
achievement levels although quantitative
measurement is not evident in the studies. Background music can
enhance reading comprehension and may also be of benefit to
students who are below average in achievement and intelligence.19
Design implications include the increasing use of carpet on floors,
acoustic ceiling tiles, softer wall finishes (including artworks), softer
upholstery, better sound isolation in and above adjoining walls
between classrooms and sound baffles in larger spaces such as lecture
and drama auditoria. None of the research studies measured the
impact of acoustics on student assessment scores although medical
and occupational health, safety and welfare studies have clearly
established criteria for acceptable levels of noise in the workplace.20
School Size
To date no relationship has been established between school size and
student achievement that can be generalised or correlated. However
studies do indicate an effect on behaviour. The research seems to
indicate that large school sizes may benefit more affluent students but
can have an adverse effect on more impoverished students, and vice
versa. Some studies show that the negative effect of larger sized
schools on the learning outcomes of impoverished students is much
stronger than the positive effects of equivalent schools on affluent
students.21 Schools limited to 300–600 students may be as effective in
improving student learning as special programmes do although there
is some difference in findings across regions.
Furniture
UNESCO’s Educational Building and Furniture Programme has been
engaged for many years in extensive empirical project based work in
developing countries. UNESCO reports that uncomfortable and
unsuitable furniture causes problems including backache, poor
concentration spans and writing difficulties, thus reducing learning
opportunities.22 There is a general body of work on ergonomics that
support these conclusions. These fundamental principles are clearly
also applicable to the developed world, although it appears that no
specific research studies have attempted to measure the impact.
Design Factors which can Influence Learning
Outcomes and Behaviour
The Educational Specification
More recent empirical research explores how spaces should be
re-configured to assure improved student behaviour and outcomes.
Many building projects evolve from revisions in pedagogy and
curriculum and new trends in behavioural research. For example,
a 1993 Australian Government report identified the need for a
separate environment for middle schooling.23 Whilst the middle school
might still be collocated with the senior school to enable the sharing of
specialist facilities, separation allows 11 to 16 year olds (in years 8 to 10)
to have an identity, focus and culture of their own, independent of the
influence of older students in years 11 and 12. There is also an
increasing need for flexibility (such as movable furniture) during class
sessions, as well as the eventual removal of adjoining classroom walls,
to create larger spaces for new pedagogical approaches. Research is
yet to determine whether these flexible spaces will improve student
behaviour and outcomes. However, the uncertain future regarding
the impact of technology on pedagogy and, inevitably, on student
outcomes, is implicit in these studies.
Learning Settings
There is some evidence to support links between the
levels of privacy of a learning setting and the
behavioural characteristics of students, particularly in
libraries. Behaviour is seen to be dependent on the
potential for exposure to visual monitoring of one’s
behaviour by others. For example, traditional
classroom designs with students at the back corners
exclude those students from interactive proceedings at
the front, with consequent disruptive or inattentive
behavioural patterns.25 Research in Australia has
shown that these traditional classroom designs are less
than optimal for the delivery of the new primary
school curriculum, unless the classroom space
allocation is increased to allow for additional
technology and wet and dry practical areas.26
However, no ‘scientifically rigorous’ research studies
were identified which attempt to measure links
between the design of learning settings and student
achievement and behaviour.
Other Factors
A range of other building design factors and elements
are currently under investigation to determine possible
relationships between these factors and student
behaviour and academic outcomes. The factors include the amount of
space allocated per student, the openness of space, the use of
underground or windowless facilities, site size, building utilisation and
room occupancy rates, the range of support facilities (including storage)
and the availability of specialist instructional facilities. The replication,
validity and reliability of the research methodologies and ‘scientific’
rigor in these studies is still evolving.
Studies on science laboratories indicate strong causal links between the
quality and amount of science equipment and furniture design on the
one hand and the quality of student behaviour and learning outcomes
on the other. A difference of 7% in science scores occurred between
schools rated low and high in overall science facility quality. Libraries
have recently been undergoing extensive design remodelling and
rethinking to accommodate the increasing use of Internet access, multi-
media and other new technologies. Student behaviour appears to be
particularly sensitive in libraries, as students work independently
outside formal classrooms on individual project and problem-based
curriculum requirements or on group projects.28
European studies confirm that the aesthetic appearance of a school can
convey subtle messages that act as perceptual constraining factors for
both staff and students. School architecture can facilitate the
transmission of cultural values, stimulate or subdue, aid in creativity,
slow mental perception and cause fear and joy.29 The emergence of
new understandings of contextually and socially based cognition is
Formal Learning Settings
Outdoor classrooms
Learning through landscapes
Social interaction
Security gradients
• Crowding
• Spaciousness
Social interaction
Personalisation and ownership
Building functionality
Safety and security
Clusters / instructional neighbourhoods
• Compact
Flexible / adaptable
Diversity and variety of settings
Activity pockets and learning zones
Location of administration / teacher offices
Controlled climate / acoustics / lighting
• Storage
Ceiling heights
Informal Learning Settings
(inc. community use & public spaces)
Social interaction
• Territoriality
• Gathering
• Surveillance
Out of bounds
• Safety
• Promenade
Green areas
Play areas
Quiet areas
Entrance area
Private spaces
Hard and soft landscaping
Community centre / use
Diversity and variety
Public areas
Technology for teachers and students
Outdoor Spaces
Socio-spatial Factors in School Design
Indoor Spaces
... Grangaard (1995), having examined the effects of color and light in early years' classrooms, found significant reduction of off-task behaviors under modified environments. Those results were echoed by Fisher's (2001) study of the impact of building conditions, including wall color and lighting, on students' attitude in classes from K-12. Similar results were also found when Hill and Epps (2010) and Han et al. (2018) examined the effects of the classroom environment on satisfaction among undergraduate students. ...
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Research findings indicate that students are affected positively or adversely by the visual, acoustical, and thermal characteristics of the classroom environment. During the 1986-87 school year, 280 fourth- and sixth-grade students housed in two separate school facilities--the oldest and the newest in a rural Tennessee county school district--were tested to determine if the physical environment of a school was related to student achievement, health, attendance, and behavior. ANOVA, chi-square, and t-tests were used to analyze the data. A significant difference existed between students at the two elementary schools in regard to the relationship between the physical environment and student achievement. Scores in reading, listening, language, and arithmetic showed a significant difference, with the students in the modern building performing much better than the students in the older school. The former students proved to have a better record in the areas of health, attendance, and discipline when compared to the latter students. Educational consultants, architects, and administrators should be apprised of the importance attached to the compatibility between physical environment and student learning and other behavior. Included are 4 tables and 10 references. (MLF)
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As a means of achieving a unitary school system, a mandated busing policy was implemented by the Norfolk, Virginia, public school system in 1986. This study examined the extent to which individual characteristics, school characteristics, and busing affected the student achievement gap between the busing and postbusing years. Methodology involved multiple regression analysis of: (1) the dependent variable, the achievement test scores of 431 fourth-grade students (228 African-Americans and 203 whites) for the busing year 1985-86 and the nonbusing year 1986-87; and (2) the independent variables, individual and school characteristics. Findings indicate that positive relationships existed between the gap in achievement test scores and Chapter 1, race, school income level, and the average number of library books. Negative relationships existed between the achievement gap and gender, school building age, and average teacher salary. The paper begins with an overview of educational desegregation litigation in the United States and the background of Norfolk's efforts to create a desegregated unitary school system. Two tables are included. (21 references) (LMI)
Article
In 1988, a California study by Friedkin and Necochea confirmed an interaction between size and socioeconomic status such that large schools benefited affluent students, whereas small schools benefited impoverished students. This report describes a replication applying the model to West Virginia schools and school districts. In order to control for widely varying grade-span configurations, school size was defined as the fall 1990 enrollment in the grade-level cohort under analysis. Separate analyses were carried out on grades 3, 6, 9, and 11. Achievement was defined as composite basic skills scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills. Socioeconomic status was defined as (1) the proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price meals and (2) the proportion of the adult population with educational attainment less than grade 12. The results of bivariate correlational and multivariate regression analyses are similar to those of the California study, except that the pattern of effects derives in part from the fact that impoverished West Virginia students tended to be served by smaller schools. Small schools disrupted the usual negative relationship between socioeconomic status and student achievement. The size effect was absent in grade 3, was modest and indirect in grade 6, strengthened in grade 9, and was strongest and both direct and indirect in grade 11. The combined and indirect effects of size were strong, as well, across all grades in analyses at the school district level. That is, impoverished students appear to derive achievement benefits from attending small school districts. Since 1988 a consolidation scheme facilitated by the state has closed nearly 20 percent of West Virginia's schools, most of them small schools serving rural communities. The findings are interpreted with respect to this context. Contains 36 references, 9 statistical tables, and an appendix explaining regression equations used. (Author/SV)
Article
This paper examines the impact of parental involvement on the overall condition of the Washington (District of Columbia) public school buildings, and then looks at the impact of various variables on student achievement. Regression analysis shows the relationship among building conditions, parental involvement, and student achievement. Although a complete set of data on all schools was not obtained, a sampling of 52 schools indicates that the size of a school's Parent Teacher Association (PTA) budget is positively related to the condition of the school building. The relation between the PTA budget per pupil and the overall condition of the school building was statistically significant at the 0.07 level. The condition of the building is related to academic achievement, and improvement in the condition of the building is associated with improvement in achievement scores. The policy implications of these results are discussed. Although actions such as the support of parents' organizations appear to contribute to maintaining the school in good condition, capital outlays to improve the basic condition of the schools may contribute to student achievement. There are six tables presenting study data. Three appendices contain data about the schools, correlation analysis results, and regression results. There is an 96-item list of references. (SLD)
Article
This study examines the degree to which frail physical school infrastructures have affected education over the past 10 years and the impact and role of the school building in achieving outcome-based goals of education reform. Chapter 1 examines the scope of deteriorating school buildings in the United States. Chapter 2 offers a case study of the Milwaukee Public Schools Facility Master Plan to illustrate the societal context in which these issues are often resolved (or ignored). Chapters 3 and 4 provide a detailed literature review on public elementary school environments and open space schools. Chapter 5 addresses the process of developing and managing school facilities, and critiquing and reconceptualizing the current educational facility planning model. Chapter 6 synthesizes and builds upon existing models and frameworks developed within the educational, environmental psychology and architectural literature to develop one conceptual framework: a multidimensional model of educational environments. The appendix contains an annotated bibliography of educational environments. (GR)
Article
What happens when teachers share power with students? In this profound book, Ira Shor—the inventor of critical pedagogy in the United States—relates the story of an experiment that nearly went out of control. Shor provides the reader with a reenactment of one semester that shows what really can happen when one applies the theory and democratizes the classroom. This is the story of one class in which Shor tried to fully share with his students control of the curriculum and of the classroom. After twenty years of practicing critical teaching, he unexpectedly found himself faced with a student uprising that threatened the very possibility of learning. How Shor resolves these problems, while remaining true to his commitment to power-sharing and radical pedagogy, is the crux of the book. Unconventional in both form and substance, this deeply personal work weaves together student voices and thick descriptions of classroom experience with pedagogical theory to illuminate the power relations that must be negotiated if true learning is to take place.
Choose the Right Colour for Your Learning Style
  • E Sinofsky
  • Knirck
  • Fg
Sinofsky, E. and Knirck, FG (1981). 'Choose the Right Colour for Your Learning Style.' Instructional Innovator 26(3): 17–19.