A new research study has found that students perform better in math classes held in the morning than those held in the afternoon.
The Review of Economics and Statistics published Nolan Pope’s paper, “How the Time of Day Affects Productivity: Evidence from School Schedules, last month.
Pope’s study found a significant difference in math scores for students who took the subject earlier in the day as compared to students who took it toward the end of the day.
“If a student took a math class at the beginning of the day in the first or second period compared to the end of the day, the fifth or sixth period, they performed significantly better on their math GPA and their math test scores,” said Pope, a graduate student in economics at the University of Chicago.
Students who took math in the first or second period scored an average of 309.8 on the math portion of the California Standards Test, or CST, while students who took math in the last two periods scored an average of 304.5.
Those with early morning math classes averaged a 2.02 grade point average in math, while those who took the subject late in the day averaged a 1.91 grade point average in math.
The study involved nearly 2 million 6th through 11th grade students in the Los Angeles Unified School District who went to schools with six class periods. Pope examined the students’ class schedules, grades, and state exam scores from 2003 through 2009.
Pope’s study also found that students who took English during the first or second period had higher grades in English than those who took the subject during the fifth or sixth period. But taking the class earlier in the day did not affect their standardized test scores.
So where does this all fit in with the research showing adolescents perform better when the school day begins later?
Pope says his work doesn’t contradict that.
“These students, whether they went to school at 8 or 9, it shows that they decreased their performance throughout the school day,” said Pope. “It doesn’t say anything about whether school start times should go up or down.”
Recommendations for Schools
Pope says schools may want to adjust their schedules to make sure as many students are taking math in the morning as possible.
For example, he suggests swapping a course that doesn’t seem to be affected by scheduling late in the day with a math course.
“If PE was later in the day and math was earlier in the day, then you could see these benefits with math without really having any negative effects on PE,” said Pope.
He also says administrators may want to schedule whichever courses they deem most important in the mornings whether that be math or something else because overall students seem to be more productive when they first get to school.
Pope theorizes that as the school day wears on students are just getting tired.
Or, is it that teachers are losing steam?
He says he plans to study that next.
“Right now, it’s unclear whether it’s the teachers that are getting tired throughout the day or whether it’s the students,” said Pope. “It would be nice to be able to separate that.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.