UMinn. Study: School Start Times Affect Grades, Health

Updated: 03/13/2014 7:44 AM
Created: 03/12/2014 5:00 PM
By: Brandi Powell

Landmark research is out Wednesday that affects high school students.

For the first time, University of Minnesota researchers say there's conclusive proof that grades go up -- and some important things go down -- when the school day starts later. We checked around some of the bigger districts across the metro.

St. Paul and Wayzata students are among those forced to rise the earliest.

Those high schools have a 7:30 a.m. start time. Orono students come through the doors 20 minutes later, and Minnetonka students arrive at 8 a.m.

The latest start time we found is at Edina High School. The bell rings there at 8:25 a.m.
Many school districts are facing a big decision. Whether or not to push back high school start times.

Findings from the new research were funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U of M researchers had just over $150,000 to work with, over a three-year-period.

"The later the start, the more we have positive outcomes," said Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom, director of U of M's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). Dr. Wahlstrom used to work in various leadership roles inside schools.

In this study, researchers looked at multiple schools in various locations across the country. The research hits close to home in fact. Students who go to St. Louis Park High School were among the 9,000 who participated in the study. They were asked about their daily activities, substance abuse and sleeping habits.

Here are the findings: When school starts at 7:30 a.m., 34 percent of students get at least eight hours of sleep.

When they begin at 8:35 a.m., up to 60 percent of students get eight hours. When they begin as late as 8:55 a.m., 66 percent of students get eight or more hours of sleep. That's the recommended amount.

"If students are more productive, they'd have a chance to have breakfast and not be so rushed," said August Varwig, father of a high school student.

The study also revealed problems with being late, using drugs and alcohol, getting depressed or consuming drinks with caffeine decreased.

"I definitely think there is value to paying attention to that," said Stephanie Koivula.
Dr. Wahlstrom says attendance, standardized test scores, and academic performance in math, English, science and social studies all improved.

Wahlstrom said, "Up until today we haven't had this kind of high quality data, that tells us that this is in fact a finding;" a finding that's statistically significant, comparing apples to apples.

The findings cover more than academic performance and health. When school started at 8:55 a.m., the study found there was a 70 percent drop in the number of car crashes involving teens.

In addition to St. Louis Park High School, a handful of other Minnesota high schools were used for this study.

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