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School Performance and Light

Permission graciously given by the author to reproduce this paper


Michael H. Nicklas 
Gary B. Bailey 

Innovative Design 
850 West Morgan Street 
Raleigh, North Carolina, 27603


The conclusions of a recent research project on the impacts of full-spectrum light on student performance and health prompted us to investigate the performance of students attending three daylit schools that were designed by our firm. The 1992 "Study into the Effects of Light on Children of Elementary School Age: A Case of Daylight Robbery" was conducted in Alberta, Canada by the Policy and Planning Branch of Alberta Education. Over a two year period, the study compared children attending elementary schools with full-spectrum light versus children attending similar schools with normal lighting conditions.

The most striking conclusions of this study were:

a. the students in full-spectrum light were healthier and attended school 3.2 to 3.8 days more per year; 

b. libraries with superior light resulted in significantly lower noise levels; 

c. full-spectrum lighting induced more positive moods in students; and 

d. because of the additional vitamin D received by the students in full-spectrum light, they had 9 times less dental decay and grew in height an average of 2.1 cm more (over the two year period) than students attending schools with average light. 


Although there are many variables that can alter student performance, it appears that the students attending daylit schools clearly benefit by being in the superior, daylit learning environments. The following summarizes our conclusions:

1. The students who attended daylit schools out-performed the students who were attending non-daylit schools by 5 to 14 percent, depending upon whether you consider short or long-term impacts. When analyzing the improvement experienced by all the reference classes at Four Oaks, Clayton, and Selma, the average improvement was 4.7%.

School Comparison Yrs Net Change in Student Performance Percent Improvement

School Comparison Years Net Change in Student Performance Percent Improvement
Four Oaks K-5 87/88 - 91/92 +4.3 above norm to +6.6 = +2.3 107% above norm to 110% = +3%
Clayton 92/93 - 93/95 +6.3 above norm to +7.8 = +1.5 110% above norm to 112% = +2%
Selma 92/93 - 93/95  -15.0 below norm to -9.8 = +5.2 24% below norm to 15% = +9%

                                       Average CAT Grade = +3.0 Ave. % Improvement = +4.7%

2. When you consider the impact on student performance resulting from being within a daylit facility for multiple years, the impact is even greater. During the same timeframe, Clayton's 8th graders showed a 21% improvement versus the norm improvement of 10%. The Selma Middle School 7th graders showed a 32% gain versus the norm of 15%. This equates to an average increase of 14% better performance by the students in daylit schools.

3. "New" does not necessarily translate into better performance. The new, non-daylit North Johnston Middle School actually showed a negative impact on the students' performance. 

4. It is quite clear that placing students in temporary, mobile classroom units had a very significant and negative impact on the performance of students. The year following the Four Oaks School destruction and the subsequent students relocation, the average CAT scores went from 7% above the norm to 10% below the norm for the County - a 17% decrease in student performance. 


Averages and Summaries of California Achievement Tests and End-Of-Grade Tests, Hannah Youngblood, Director of Testing, Johnston County Schools, December, 1995 

Report Card - 1995: The State of School Systems in North Carolina, NC Department of Public Instruction, December, 1995

"A Study Into the Effects of Light on Children of Elementary School Age - A Case of Daylight Robbery", Hathaway, Hargreaves, Thompson, and Novitsky, Policy and Planning Branch, Planning and Information Services Division, Alberta Education, January, 1992.