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Division of the Sate Architect

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 The Division of the State Architect's Sustainable Schools Resource

Faculty & Student Performance in
High Performance Schools

Today's California schools are facing quite a list of challenges, which includes tight budgets, an ever increasing student enrollment (1 in 8 students in the United States are educated in California schools), a growing need for the renovation and building of many schools, and most importantly a higher expectation of faculty and student performance among these compelling circumstances. While schools built to be sustainable cannot solve every particular issue facing a school, they can certainly have a favorable impact on the school's budget, help protect our environment, and encourage better performance of faculty and students as a result of a better learning environment. High performance schools integrate today's best technologies with architectural design strategies to achieve a better learning environment. Such well-designed schools include properties such as appropriate lighting (integration of daylighting and electrical lighting technologies), reduced noise levels (acoustic materials and low-noise mechanical systems), and healthy air quality, temperature, humidity levels (indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal comfort, HVAC systems, and low-emission materials). This reduces distractions and creates environments where students and teachers can see and communicate with one another clearly and comfortably.

Key Benefits of a High Performance School

Higher Test Scores:

A number of studies have already established that an influential relationship exists between a school's physical condition, especially its lighting and indoor air quality, and student performance. One such study by the Heschong-Mahone Group, administered in the states of California, Washington, and Colorado, has indicated a strong correlation between increased daylighting and ventilation, and improved student performance. In a California district, for example, students in classrooms with the most daylighting exposure progressed 20% faster on math tests and 26% faster on reading tests than those in classrooms with the least amount of daylight.

This study as well as many others confirms what teachers, parents, and students have intuitively sensed regarding high performance schools for years: a better school facility - one with better lighting, indoor air quality, and other high performance features will enhance learning and may improve test results as a result of a more conducive environment for teaching and learning.

Increased Average Daily Attendance (ADA):

A high performance school provides superior indoor air quality by controlling sources of contaminants, providing adequate ventilation, and preventing moisture accumulation. These tactics, designed to reduce sources of health problems and inhibit the spread of airborne infections, help keep pollutants, stale air, and mold growth out of the classroom. The result will be fewer sick days for students and teachers, especially those suffering from asthma or other respiratory problems; it is important to note that children are known to be more susceptible to illness with their developing immune systems. Consequently, at least a small increase in average daily attendance (ADA) will significantly boost the operating school's budget, which is directly dependent largely on ADA counts.

Increased Teacher Satisfaction and Retention:

High performance classrooms are designed to be pleasant and effective places for not only students but for faculty members as well. Such environments become positive factors in recruiting and retaining teachers and in improving their overall satisfaction with their work. It goes without saying that teachers may be more effective with their skills, especially when students are already in a conducive environment for learning.

Reduced Liability Exposure:

High performance school buildings produce a healthier environment, and therefore, a school district can significantly reduce its exposure to health-related problems, lawsuits, and loss of credibility. Remediation expenses and legal costs can for schools with indoor environment problems often induce a large decrease in the school's budgets - money that could have been channeled instead toward its educational purposes. Consequently, it is a logical to invest in proactive measures that prevent such problems from arising and reduce exposure to liability.

Photo of a class meeting in a large room with superb lighting provided;  photo's caption, 'The argument is straightforward: students and faculty in schools that have superior indoor air quality, lighting quality, thermal comfort, and acoustical quality will perform better because a more conducive and comfortable environment for working, teaching, and especially learning.  Distracting variables caused by building elements are mitigated and avoided with sound planning and design.

Please visit these related topics: Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) & Materials

Featured Resources

Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)
CHPS aims to facilitate the design of high performance schools in California - environments that are not only resource efficient, but also healthy, comfortable, well lit and contain the amenities needed for a quality education. CHPS has developed a set of Best Practices Manuals (available at to create a new generation of high performance school facilities in California.

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) - Impact of School Facilities on Learning
NCEF's resource list of links, books, and journal articles examining the association between student achievement and the physical environment of school buildings and grounds.

Heschong-Mahone Group
This report focuses on the school analysis. The study looks at the effect of daylighting on human performance. It includes a focus on skylighting as a way to isolate daylight as an illumination source, and separate illumination effects from other qualities associated with daylighting from windows. In this project, they established a statistically compelling connection between lighting quality, natural ventilation, and student performance.

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