Findings of a University of Minnesota study are the first to conclusively link later morning school starts to higher test scores, better grades and fewer teen car crashes.
The study puts weight behind an issue hotly debated by parents, students and school leaders nationwide.
“People keep asking me, ‘Is this [later school start times] really making a difference?’ ” said project director Kyla Wahlstrom, a former North St. Paul, Minnesota principal who’s studied school start times for 17 years. “We didn’t have the proof until now.”
For three years, researchers at the university’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement analyzed data from more than 9,000 students at eight high schools in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming. Overall results showed a boost in attendance, test scores and grades in math, English, science and social studies for schools that shifted the school day later into the morning.
Schools also saw a decrease in tardiness, substance abuse and symptoms of depression. Some even had a dramatic drop in teen car crashes.
“The eight hours of sleep seems to be a tipping point for making healthy or unhealthy behavioral decisions,” Wahlstrom said.
But, the study found, only 34 percent of students are getting the recommended eight hours of sleep when school starts at 7:30 a.m. compared with 66 percent of students getting eight hours of sleep at schools that start as late as 8:55 a.m.