School environmental conditions and links to academic performance and absenteeism in urban, mid-Atlantic public schools

J. D. Berman, M. C. McCormack, K. A. Koehler, F. Connolly, D. Clemons-Erby, M. F. Davis, C. Gummerson, P. J. Leaf, T. D. Jones, F. C. Curriero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


School facility conditions, environment, and perceptions of safety and learning have been investigated for their impact on child development. However, it is important to consider how the environment separately influences academic performance and attendance after controlling for school and community factors. Using results from the Maryland School Assessment, we considered outcomes of school-level proficiency in reading and math plus attendance and chronic absences, defined as missing 20 or more days, for grades 3–5 and 6–8 at 158 urban schools. Characteristics of the environment included school facility conditions, density of nearby roads, and an index industrial air pollution. Perceptions of school safety, learning, and institutional environment were acquired from a School Climate Survey. Also considered were neighborhood factors at the community statistical area, including demographics, crime, and poverty based on school location. Poisson regression adjusted for over-dispersion was used to model academic achievement and multiple linear models were used for attendance. Each 10-unit change in facility condition index, denoting worse quality buildings, was associated with a decrease in reading (1.0% (95% CI: 0.1–1.9%) and math scores (0.21% (95% CI: 0.20-0.40), while chronic absences increased by 0.75% (95% CI: 0.30–1.39). Each log increase the EPA's Risk Screening Environmental Indicator (RSEI) value for industrial hazards, resulted in a marginally significant trend of increasing absenteeism (p < 0.06), but no association was observed with academic achievement. All results were robust to school-level measures of racial composition, free and reduced meals eligibility, and community poverty and crime. These findings provide empirical evidence for the importance of the community and school environment, including building conditions and neighborhood toxic substance risk, on academic achievement and attendance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)800-808
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Tonya Webb, Emily Sherman, the Office of Achievement and Accountability, the Office of 21st Century Buildings, and the rest of Baltimore City Schools for their continued support throughout this project. We also thank contributing study personnel, including Hannah Braun and Kristoffer Spicer. This publication was developed under Assistance Agreement No. 83563901 and 83615201 awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to MC McCormack. It has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the EPA. The EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication. Additional funding was provided by NIH ORIP 1K01OD019918 (MFD) and NIEHS P50ES018176.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier GmbH


  • Absenteeism
  • Academic achievement
  • Air pollution
  • Chronic absence
  • Facility condition
  • Schools


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