Link Between Air Pollution and Students’ Low Test Grades Proven by University Researchers

A study conducted by University of Utah researchers led to the discovery that the low test scores of Salt Lake County students are linked to peak air pollution. Children exposed to great levels of air pollution in Salt Lake County, one of the most polluted cities in America, are affected by the fine particulate matters polluting the city’s air.

The discoveries of the study aim to put pressure on legislators in acting quickly and decisively, by introducing laws that will regulate air pollution; as well as reduce the number of days communities are affected by peak pollution.

Another key takeaway of the air pollution study in Salt Lake county is that the findings underscore the apparent environmental injustice imposed on school locations. Schools with higher percentages of colored students and with higher population of students belonging to impoverished households, are located in areas where there are higher concentrations of fine particulate matters.

How the Researchers Proved the Link Between Air Pollution and Test Scores

The study revealed that the frequency of exposure to peak pollution affected the level of proficiency among students in socially disadvantaged schools. The findings were based on the test scores in math, English language, and arts in the 2016 to 2017 school performance of the city’s public school third graders.

The researchers concentrated on third graders whose scores were lower than average. They identified the students by looking into Salt Lake County’s 2017 Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) on third graders in all 156 primary schools.

To ensure that the only variable affecting the selected third graders’ test scores was air pollution, the researchers created a school disadvantage variable. The set of variables made a distinction between students’ school status and neighborhood orientation; whether as part of a minority and/or among those receiving price-reduced meals.

According to co-author Sarah Grineski, it is important to include social disadvantages because the affected students are strongly confronted with struggles that can influence their ability to meet standardized test scores (SATs). An example of struggle faced by students from low-income households is food insecurity.

Each and every public primary school’s chronic and peak air pollution concentrations were analyzed daily based on the US EPA downscaler data on census tract housing for PM 2.5 concentrations. The researchers then noted the number of days the school were vulnerable to PM2.5 levels for the peak air pollution.

The frequency of students being exposed to peak pollution and whose scores were lower than average, exhibited a link even when socially disadvantaged students were placed under controlled conditions. What was notable though, is that under controlled conditions, the link between low test scores and chronic pollution exposure showed a tendency to fade.

Lead author Casey Mullen stated that the study confirms that air pollution has links to brain cell inflammations. That being the case, their findings denote frequent exposure to peak air pollution can affect everyone; underscoring the importance of addressing air pollution problems at the soonest time possible.