Aof a $19.5 billion, decadelong school construction program in the Los Angeles school district found that elementary students moving from overcrowded facilities into new buildings showed achievement gains equal to an average of 35 additional days of instruction a year.
The students who remained at older schools in the 664,000-student district also saw their test scores improve as their schools became less crowded, the study found. But achievement gains were modest to nonexistent for high school students moving from overcrowded buildings to new schools.
The district built 131 new schools after voters approved five local and state initiatives to pay for new construction and renovation.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, followed about 20,000 elementary and high school students from 2002 to 2008, as the new schools opened. Before, some of the students had been attending elementary schools of 2,800 to 3,000 students, said Bruce Fuller, the director of the research project and a professor of education and public policy. Some high schools were serving 5,000 students.
It’s unclear why the new facilities seemed to help with student achievement. The new schools could have better classroom equipment and an instructional environment more conducive to learning, the report hypothesizes. But the cost of construction itself—ranging from $12,000 to $22,000 per student seat—did not correlate with test-score gains.
One element that did correlate with higher achievement gains was the degree of overcrowding that students experienced before moving to a new facility: Gains were greater for students who transferred from severely overcrowded schools than for those whose former schools were less crowded.
A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2012 edition of Education Week as Study: L.A. Building Boom Led to Gains for Young Students