Listening to Learn in a Sea of Noise: The Insidious Effects of Classroom Acoustics on Student Performance

There is no question that if a school had poorly lit classrooms that there would be an outcry and a demand to improve lighting so that children could clearly see to learn. Substandard classroom acoustics are not as obvious as the lighting analogy above although the effects of poor classroom listening may be even more significant than those caused by poor lighting. It is an assumption in education that children who are paying attention in the classroom will be able to easily hear what the teacher says, and thereby learn. For too many children, this assumption is untrue. Realities of Classroom Acoustics Appropriate acoustic treatment in classrooms costs 1%-5% of the typical construction budget of a new school – less than the landscaping. In general, providing appropriate classroom acoustics is not a considered a priority. National standards for classroom acoustics were established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 2002. Research indicates that only 10%-30% of classrooms meet these standards In a national survey of schools almost 30% of classrooms were judged to be too noisy by educators. The students who are most challenged by excessive noise and reverberation are under the age of 13, especially those in kindergarten and first grade. The auditory physiology that allows humans to effectively listen in relatively noisy conditions does not mature until secondary school, with some aspects not maturing until the end of high school. Our youngest students are also those with immature language learning and lack the words needed to expertly fill in the blanks when a new word or word ending is missed. Because adults are so much better...