- Adjusting school start times so high-schoolers are the last to begin their day and elementary school students are the first would significantly increase academic achievement for adolescents, according to the latest study pointing to the learning gains related to letting teens get more sleep in the morning.
- Conducted by Jennifer Heissel, an assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, and Samuel Norris, at the University of Chicago, the study, published in EducationNext, focuses on a sample of students between the ages of 8 and 15 who moved between the Eastern and Central time zones in the Florida Panhandle, where sunrise times differ but school start times are relatively the same.
- The study finds adolescents’ math scores increase by 8% of a standard deviation, which represents about three months of learning, when they start school an hour later. Reading scores increase by 6% of a standard deviation. While there would be a “small academic cost” among students in the elementary grades, the researchers say those negative effects would disappear as students get older, and they also found the benefits spike with the onset of puberty — age 11 for girls and age 13 for boys.
Often confronting criticism from community members, school districts across the country continue to explore ways to adjust school schedules in response to findings such as these and recommendations from pediatricians. The Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas, the Orange County Public Schools in Florida and the Vernon Township School District in New Jersey are among districts currently considering a change.
The researchers suggest the increase in academic performance is likely due to students getting more sleep and being more alert in the morning when it’s time to learn.
The study also adds to a growing body of research on pushing start times later for older students. A study on students in two Seattle high schools showed when start times were pushed back, teens used the additional time to get more sleep, not to stay up later. And a University of Minnesota study found more sleep for adolescents to be linked to reductions in the percentage of students saying they felt unhappy, sad or depressed and in the percentage reporting the use of alcohol, cigarettes and other substances.