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Air Pollution Correlated with Lower Test Scores amongst Third Graders

Air pollution and the levels of particulate matter in the air, defined as P2.5, are a growing environmental problem in the face of climate change and global warming, yet never before has the correlation between peak P2.5 levels and the academic success of children in grades K-5 been studied until now.

This study, conducted by researchers at The University of Utah, examined the link between days with peak levels of P2.5 and Math and English test scores amongst 3rd grade students in Salt Lake City, Utah. To analyze the weight of social disadvantages in their study, researchers created a “school disadvantage variable” that factors in schools with high populations of Hispanic and non-Hispanic minority students and examines the percentage of students on free or reduced-price meals. Taking into account this extra variable is important in the study because “social factors are tightly linked with standardized test scores,” according to researcher Sara Greneski. Additionally, she adds that “students from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds often have unequal educational experiences in the U.S...These factors influence standardized test scores."

Overall, the researchers in this study found that even when accounting for social disparities, there was a higher percentage of students that tested below their grade level for English and Math during peak P2.5 days. The results of this study demonstrate that not only are the more disadvantaged schools and their students in the more polluted parts of the city more affected by air pollution, but also that students, teachers, and members of their community are impacted by peak P2.5 pollution regardless of background or socioeconomic status, according to doctoral student Casey Mullen. This conclusion truly reinforces the idea that air pollution is and has been a growing problem for years, and affects everybody on a community level.

Consequently, if air pollution and environmental damage is not addressed, the health of future generations will be negatively impacted. Furthermore, this study probes the fact that state and federal governing bodies can improve on implementing policies and legislation to reduce air pollution. By doing so, it may greatly improve the health and academic well-being of students.


University of Utah. "Air pollution spikes linked to lower test scores for Salt Lake County third graders." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201201103622.htm>.

Casey Mullen, Sara E. Grineski, Timothy W. Collins, Daniel L. Mendoza. Effects of PM2.5 on Third Grade Students’ Proficiency in Math and English Language Arts. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020; 17 (18): 6931 DOI: 10.3390/ijerph17186931