Schoolyard trees around an elementary school in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Rhonda Mazza.
Greenness around a child’s home and school is associated with higher scores on standardized math and reading tests, whereas proximity to major roads is associated with lower scores.
Several studies have found that exposure to the natural environment is associated with better performance on standardized tests. However, all but one of these studies have used aggregate school-level measures of academic performance, and all have exclusively focused on the natural environment around a child’s school and not their home. Failing to account for the home environment may be problematic: recent research has shown that environmental measures that fail to account for a person’s entire “activity space” slight environmental exposure and lead to inaccurate estimates of effect.
Accounting for school and home environments
A team of scientists, including Geoffrey Donovan and Demtrios Gatziolis with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, used individual test scores from more than 17,000 students to estimate the effects of a child’s school and home environment on his or her test scores. They found that children with more trees around their homes do better on standardized math tests while more trees around a school were associated with higher reading scores. Proximity of a child’s home or school to high-traffic roads was associated with lower standardized test scores.
Their results suggest that the natural environment around a child’s home and school can positively affect cognitive development and academic performance, whereas road density may negatively affect both cognitive development and academic performance.