Nothing Says “Fun” Like Standardized Tests: Creating Healthy Environments to Help Students Succeed

By Cathy Davis

When I was about eight years old, I actually loved standardized tests. (Trust me, I know that’s strange.) My dad developed the student assessment program for the state board of education. He loved his job, and I loved hearing about it, so I loved standardized tests. He used to tell me about all the different factors outside a student’s innate ability that could affect their scores: having nutritious meals, family stability and support, family income, having a safe place to study and read, and so many other social and economic factors.

What I’ve learned since then is that there is growing evidence that the environment where children learn can also affect their achievement (see Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits ). When schools have good indoor air quality, safe chemicals management programs (including pesticides and other chemicals), safe drinking water, and well-maintained facilities, the students are better learners. They don’t miss as much school, and it’s easier for them to pay attention when they’re in school. But many school buildings contain environmental conditions that may inhibit learning and pose increased risks to the health of children and staff.

Creating healthy school environments can seem like a daunting task. There are over 120,000 schools in the country, and there are many potential environmental hazards. But I think the benefits to children’s health now and their success in the future far outweigh the short-term cost and effort. EPA has many programs and tools that parents, teachers, and school administrators can use to improve the environmental health of schools. So here’s my question to you, which of these programs (or similar programs run by your state or community) are you going to put into action to make your community’s schools healthier places to learn?

Learn how you to promote healthy communities for healthy children, during Children’s Health Month and every month, at

About the author: Cathy Davis works on healthy schools and other children’s environmental health issues in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection. She comes from a family of educators (and a couple of lawyers).

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