Early School Start Times Lead To Lower Test Scores, Study Says

Students attending Kentucky elementary schools with early start times fare worse than students who start school later, according to a report recently published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky and Auburn University, collected 2011-2012 school year data from 718 Kentucky elementary schools, representing every school district in the state, according to Peggy Keller, lead researcher and UK psychology assistant professor.

Research shows standardized test scores in reading, writing, science, math and social studies are lower in schools with earlier start times. Just an hour difference in start times can result in up to a 14-point differential in school rankings, the study noted.

Keller said the lower test scores and rankings of schools with early start times can be attributed to student sleep deprivation.

More than 25 percent of school-aged children — students in first grade through fifth grade — get less than the recommended daily amount of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Keller said school-aged children need between 10-11 hours of sleep every night.

Jefferson County Public elementary schools have some of the latest start times in the state.  Elementary schools in the district begin classes at 9:05 a.m. 

But later start times do not ensure students will perform better on tests that those students who start school earlier.

Just more than 35 percent of JCPS elementary school students are considered to be proficient in math and reading, according to state education data.

The statewide average is almost 40 percent.

Peggy Keller said some students, despite going to schools with later start times, may still be getting shorted on sleep hours because some are transported by parents who go to work earlier than school starts.  So students may be dropped off well before the school day begins.  Others are taken to places that have before-school programming that begins as early as 7 a.m.

According to the study, just one Kentucky elementary school begins classes between 7 a.m. and 7:19 a.m.

JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey said buses start picking up elementary students around 8:15 a.m. and students spend an average of about 30 minutes on the bus.

That means that many elementary students across Kentucky are already at school when JCPS elementary students are just getting picked up for school. 

According to the research, 351 Kentucky elementary schools start school before 8 a.m.  Just 102 Kentucky elementary schools start school after 9 a.m., 90 of those are JCPS schools.

Jacob Ryan

Jacob Ryan is the Urban Affairs reporter for WFPL.

@jacobhryan

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