Having an Impact on Learning

In this issue, you will find our Impact on Learning awards program winners for 2009. First, let me say congratulations to all of those winners! Second, let me say to the skeptics — facilities DO impact learning.

Many things play into student success, from parental involvement to socioeconomics — things over which we have little control. What we do have control over is the quality of our school facilities, and research shows facilities can be an asset or a detriment to the educational process and to student achievement. Researchers have repeatedly found a difference of between five-17 percentile points between achievement of students in poor buildings and those students in above-standard buildings (when the socioeconomic status of students is controlled). The average is around 10 points — the difference between a C and a B.

Recently in Virginia, a study was conducted to investigate the relationship between school building condition and student achievement, as measured by their performance on Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) examinations at the middle school level. Data was collected on building condition, test scores and socioeconomic status. Results showed that students performed better in newer or recently renovated buildings than they did in older buildings. The percentage of students passing the Commonwealth of Virginia Standards of Learning Examination at the middle school level was higher in English, mathematics and science in standard buildings than it was in substandard buildings. Building age, windows in the instructional area and overall building condition were positively related to student achievement.

In another recent study, almost 1,100 Canadian principals, along with students participating in the PISA study (OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment), answered a wide range of questions about school condition, including facilities. The results showed a direct correlation between better facility conditions and student outcome. “On every one of the learning environment indicators, the evidence from almost 1,100 schools across Canada shows substantial differences between schools with different facility conditions. In all cases, schools in top-ranked facility condition have better learning environments than schools in bottom ranked condition.” Students work with more enthusiasm. The moral of teachers is higher. There is less disruption of classes by the students. Teacher’s expectations of student are higher.

It all comes down to the old adage — accept the things that we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can. Facilities are one of the things we can change that will positively affect students and staff. Facilities DO impact learning.