- Earlier school start times do not have the same negative impacts for elementary school students as they do for high school students, according to research published by the American Educational Research Association on Thursday.
- Researchers found earlier start times led to slightly higher math test scores, especially for economically disadvantaged students, students of color, and students in rural communities, but also added that overall "estimates are small in magnitude and suggest that earlier elementary start times have near-zero effects."
- The researchers advise that districts needing to stagger start times to begin the school day earlier for elementary schools should allow later secondary school start times. Evidence supports later start times for middle and high schools based on teen sleep patterns, the report said.
Research on school start times at the elementary level is sparse, according to the study's authors. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools not start before 8:30 a.m. so teens can get sufficient sleep. But the group did not issue a recommendation for elementary start times. There are some concerns that as high schools begin later, elementary students could see adverse effects from earlier first bells, according to a paper from the University of Minnesota.
For the AERA report, researchers conducted two studies. The first looked at all public, noncharter elementary schools in North Carolina from school years 2011-12 through 2016-17. The other study focused on an unnamed urban district in the state that delayed the high school start time and scheduled earlier elementary start times beginning in 2016-17.
In each study, the authors examined the relationship between start times and student absences and suspensions, as well as achievement on standardized exams.
In the statewide analysis, researchers looked at the impacts for elementary students whose school day started at 7:10 a.m. to 7:59 a.m., 8:00 a.m. to 8:44 a.m., or 8:45 a.m. and later. Regarding student achievement, the results showed positive but modest associations between earlier start times and math test scores, particularly for students starting school earlier than 8 a.m. and for economically disadvantaged students, students of color, and students in rural communities. The research for the impact on reading achievement, however, was statistically insignificant, the report said.
For the district studied, the school system had moved high school start times from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. beginning in the 2016-17 school year. As a result, elementary schools set varying school start times, including 7:25 a.m., 7:45 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. The findings on elementary student engagement and achievement were mostly statistically insignificant. However, researchers did see increased absences among economically disadvantaged students after the earlier start times.
“To the extent that districts can change start times to bring middle and high school start times in line with the science on adolescent sleep, this may help close achievement gaps,” said co-author Sarah Crittenden Fuller, research associate professor in the Department of Public Policy and at the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina at the University of North Carolina, in a statement.
“In addition, traditionally disadvantaged groups may benefit most from supports that schools and districts can provide to address disruptions in childcare and transportation created by a change in start times," Fuller said.