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Optimal classroom temperature to support student learning — November 2018

Question

Could you provide research on optimal classroom temperatures to support student learning?

Response

Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on climate control standards in schools, to determine if there is any information on optimal classroom temperature to support student learning. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Mendell, M. J., & Heath, G. A. (2005). Do indoor pollutants and thermal conditions in schools influence student performance? A critical review of the literature. Indoor Air, 15, 27–52. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004.00320.x

From the abstract: “To assess whether school environments can adversely affect academic performance, we review scientific evidence relating indoor pollutants and thermal conditions, in schools or other indoor environments, to human performance or attendance. We critically review evidence for direct associations between these aspects of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and performance or attendance. Secondarily, we summarize, without critique, evidence on indirect connections potentially linking IEQ to performance or attendance. Regarding direct associations, little strongly designed research was available. Persuasive evidence links higher indoor concentrations of NO(2) to reduced school attendance, and suggestive evidence links low ventilation rates to reduced performance. Regarding indirect associations, many studies link indoor dampness and microbiologic pollutants (primarily in homes) to asthma exacerbations and respiratory infections, which in turn have been related to reduced performance and attendance. Also, much evidence links poor IEQ (e.g., low ventilation rate, excess moisture, or formaldehyde) with adverse health effects in children and adults and documents dampness problems and inadequate ventilation as common in schools. Overall, evidence suggests that poor IEQ in schools is common and adversely influences the performance and attendance of students, primarily through health effects from indoor pollutants. Evidence is available to justify (i) immediate actions to assess and improve IEQ in schools and (ii) focused research to guide IEQ improvements in schools.”

Wargocki, P., & Wyon, D. P. (2007). The effect of moderately raised classroom temperatures and classroom ventilation rate on the performance of schoolwork by children. HVAC&R Research, 13(2), 193–220. Abstract retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10789669.2007.10390951

From the abstract: “Two independent field intervention experiments were carried out in school classrooms in late summer (in 2004 and 2005). The air temperature was manipulated by either operating or idling split cooling units installed for the purpose. In one of these experiments, the outdoor air supply rate was also manipulated. The conditions were established for one week at a time in a blind crossover design with repeated measures on two classes of 10- to 12-year-old children. Six to eight exercises exemplifying different aspects of schoolwork (numerical and language-based) were performed as part of normal lessons. Pupils indicated their environmental perceptions and the intensity of any symptoms on visual analogue scales. Their thermal sensation changed from slightly too warm to neutral, and the performance of two numerical and two language-based tests was significantly improved when the temperature was reduced from 25°C to 20°C (77°F to 68°F). When the outdoor air supply rate was increased from 5.2 to 9.6 L/s (11.0 to 20.3 cfm) per person, their performance of four numerical exercises improved significantly, confirming the results of previously reported experiments in the same series. The above improvements were mainly in terms of the speed at which tasks were performed, with negligible effects on error rate. Most school classrooms worldwide experience raised air temperatures during increased thermal loads, e.g., in warm weather; these results show that providing some means of avoiding elevated temperatures would improve educational attainment.”

Wargocki, P., Wyon, D. P., & Irgens, S. (2005). The effects of classroom air temperature and outdoor air supply rate on the performance of school work by children. Indoor Air, 17, 368–372. Retrieved from https://www.isiaq.org/docs/PDFs/0368.pdf

From the abstract: “A field intervention experiment was conducted in two classes of 10-year-old children. Average air temperatures were reduced from 23.6°C to 20°C and outdoor air supply rates were increased from 5.2 to 9.6 L/s per person in a 2x2 crossover design, each condition lasting a week. Tasks representing 8 different aspects of school work, from reading to mathematics, were performed during appropriate lessons and the children marked visual-analogue scales each week to indicate SBS symptom intensity. Increased ventilation rate increased work rate in addition, multiplication and number checking (P<0.05), and subtraction (P<0.06). Reduced temperature increased work rate in subtraction and reading (P<0.001), and reduced errors when checking a transcript against a recorded voice reading aloud (P<0.07). Reduced temperature at increased ventilation rate increased work rate in a test of logical thinking (P<0.03). This experiment indicates that improving classroom conditions can substantially improve the performance of schoolwork by children.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Association for Learning Environments – https://www.a4le.org

From the website: “The Association for Learning Environments is a professional 501 (c)(3) non-profit association whose sole mission is improving the places where children learn. The Association for Learning Environments believes that: Facilities impact the learning, development and behavior of the facility user; The planning process is essential for quality facilities; Sharing and networking improves the planning process; and There is a standard by which to measure.”

REL West note: One report published by the Association for Learning Environments is relevant to this request, as follows:

Perez, J., Montano, J., & Perez, J. (2014). Does temperature impact student performance? Room temperature and its impact on student test scores. Scottsdale, AZ: Association for Learning Environments. Retrieved from https://healthyschools.cefpi.org/temperature.html

From the abstract: “Whether it’s too hot or too cold, uncomfortable temperatures will cause a distraction to students. Temperature impacts student’s learning ability and also affects numerous other mental and physical activities. When temperatures are not ideal, the brain gets constant interruptions from the body signaling it to readjust to the temperature. A study conducted at Westview High School shows how scores were affected by varying temperatures. This is what the results revealed:

– At 61 degrees Fahrenheit, students averaged a score of 76%
– At 72 degrees Fahrenheit, students averaged a score of 90%
– At 81 degrees Fahrenheit, students averaged a score of 72%.”

Healthy Schools for Healthy Learning – http://app.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/healthyschools/

From the website: “The Healthy Schools for Healthy Learning Web site is a project of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health, and was supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, Air and Radiation Division. The Healthy Schools for Healthy Learning Web site uses text and pictures to provide information about indoor environmental quality, safe chemical storage, and other environmental health topics that affect schools. The Web site is primarily intended for parents, teachers and students, but it offers information for the general public as well.”

REL West note: The Healthy Schools for Healthy Learning Web site provides information about schoolhouse tour, includes information about classroom temperature regulation, as follows:

“Temperature can affect comfort and indoor environmental quality. Changing thermostat settings or opening windows to try to control temporary changes in temperature can worsen comfort problems. Classroom temperatures should be maintained between 68 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months and between 73 degrees and 79 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer month.”
Retrieved from http://app.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/healthyschools/modulesClassroom.asp

Office of Legislative Research, Connecticut General Assembly – https://www.cga.ct.gov/olr/

From the website: “The Office of Legislative Research (OLR) provides nonpartisan, objective research for all 187 members of the Connecticut General Assembly and their caucus staff. OLR analysts draft bill analyses (plain language summaries) that appear in the file copies of all favorably reported bills; summarize public acts and publish separate reports identifying major acts and the impact of various provisions on particular occupations, industries, and groups; write research reports on a wide range of topics for legislators and committees; respond to research requests; staff legislative committees; and provide other services to the Legislature as needed.”

REL West note: One report published by the OLR is relevant to this request, as follows: 

Sullivan, M. (2016). Air quality and temperature in public schools. Hartford, CT: Office of Legislative Research. Retrieved from https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/rpt/pdf/2016-R-0193.pdf

From the abstract: “This report addresses the following topics related to air quality and temperature in public schools: (1) laws and regulations in Connecticut and other states that address classroom temperature; (2) statistics on the number of air-conditioned public schools in Connecticut; (3) Connecticut’s state funding and bidding processes for installing air conditioning upgrades in public schools; and (4) the impact of indoor air quality on children with respiratory conditions.

OLR did not find any state with laws establishing mandatory minimum and maximum classroom temperatures; however, a few states established acceptable temperature ranges in agency regulations (Indiana and Washington). In warmer climates, one state recently passed an initiative to increase the number of air conditioners and other cooling devices in classrooms (Hawaii), and another requires air conditioning in all classrooms statewide as an accreditation condition (Mississippi).”

United Federation of Teachers (UFT) – http://www.uft.org/who-we-are/union-basics

From the website: “The UFT, which represents approximately 185,000 members, is the sole bargaining agent for most of the non-supervisory educators who work in the New York City public schools. We represent approximately 75,000 teachers and 19,000 classroom paraprofessionals, along with school secretaries, attendance teachers, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, adult education teachers, administrative law judges, nurses, laboratory technicians, speech therapists, family child care providers and 64,000 retired members. We also represent teachers and other employees at a number of private educational institutions and some charter schools.”

REL West note: One report published by the UFT is relevant to this request, as follows:

United Federation of Teachers. (2016). Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ air conditioning guidelines. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from http://www.uft.org/our-rights/indoor-temperature-regulations

From the abstract: “The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) 2016 Summer Energy Conservation Guidelines apply to the NYC public schools. These guidelines stipulate that air-conditioners should be run only during the official season from May 27, 2016 through September 25, 2016.

New York City Department of Health regulations require the following: From October 1 through May 31, the indoor temperature must be 68.0 F or above when the temperature outside is less than 55.0 F between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.; From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the temperature inside must be at least 55.0 F when the temperature outside is less than 44.0 F.”

Method

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

(“Optimal temperature” OR “temperature standards” OR “climate control standards”) AND (“school” OR “classroom” OR “education setting”)

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.