Will new schools help test scores?

Published 12:55 am Sunday, April 30, 2017


NATCHEZ — Will building new school facilities increase student performance and test scores?

Natchez-Adams School District officials say yes it will and point to past research that shows a direct link between student performance and the quality of a school building.

Email newsletter signup

“We do believe that new buildings and major renovations to the facilities will have a positive effect on student performance,” Natchez-Adams Schools Superintendent Fred Butcher said.

Butcher said research shows that students in poor learning environments test between 5 to 15 percentage points lower on test than students in newer facilities.

Butcher pointed to a U.S. Department of Education report in 2000 suggesting the negative impact of substandard buildings may be “cumulative and continue to increase the longer a student attends an older, deteriorating school.”

The quality of the classroom environment directly affects both teachers and students, Butcher said.

“All of the environmental factors in a classroom affect how a student takes in and retains information and how well a teacher can effectively communicate with his or her students,” he said.

In 2003, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, a commission made up of elected officials and private citizens, reviewed hundreds of academic studies to determine how much school facilities affect student performance. Its conclusion was that students had higher achievement scores in newer facilities and as the condition of the facility improved, scores improved.

A quality classroom environment is just one part of the solution to better test scores, the report cautioned. Despite research that demonstrates a link between newer facilities and higher test scores, the Tennessee report also pointed to an Arizona study of 394 schools and 34,658 students that suggested without supportive parents, gifted teachers and high standards, students did not do well “by virtue of attending school in a newly constructed or newly renovated building.”

But the preponderance of the evidence shows that providing a quality learning environment is one of the keys to providing a good education, the report showed.

One particular area of concern, the study indicated, is the quality of the air in the classrooms.

Butcher said the quality of the district’s air conditioners are noisy and in bad condition.

“Clean, fresh and abundant air is essential to students’ health and their ability to learn,” Butcher said. “Trying to determine what a teacher is saying or concentrate during state testing through excessive reverberation and background noise for equipment can distract students and make it harder to concentrate.”

When outside temperatures rise, the current air conditioning systems need constant repair. Students either must put up with heat and humidity or teachers must relocate classrooms on an as needed basis. Either situation is a distraction that could impact student learning.

The schools also cannot meet the technology demands required in today’s high stakes testing culture, Butcher said.

“All testing K-12 is computer based,” Butcher said. “We have limited space in our buildings for computer labs for the student population we serve. The electrical system is only able to accommodate a limited number of computer stations.”

The broadband capability in the district cannot support a lot of Internet and computer use at one time.

“At Natchez High School, during (testing) limited areas of the campus allow for increased Internet traffic,” Butcher said. “Students and employees in other areas of the building cannot access any devices.”

Butcher said creating classrooms that meet the technology needs required for today’s students is one of the priorities of the current design for the schools.

“Newer facilities would increase the connectivity and access to technology by all students,” Butcher said.

In addition to upgrading technology standards, Butcher said the classrooms would allow for more flexibility and not be as cramped as the current classrooms.

“When you consider the instructional resources and learning areas available to students in high-performing school districts, a number of them have one-to-one technology programs for their students,” Butcher said.  “They have classroom spaces that are created for collaborative learning — varied, open learning spaces to facilitate group and individual learning.”

“Building new schools must be a top priority,” Butcher said.