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

14 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


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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