Nature Increases Student Performance on Standardized Tests

As we explore the literature together, you can see that the health and social benefits of nature are becoming clear. Study after study point to positive effects when we interact with nature, even if it’s just looking out the window at a vegetable garden.

But our health isn’t the only reason for getting outside. Studies also show that exposure to nature is correlated with an increase in standardized academic test scores of our children. This is of great importance because our children are falling far behind other kids internationally in science, math, and reading.

In 2015, the Program for International Student Assessment found that United States 15 year-olds ranked 25th in science, 24th in math, and 41st in reading when compared with their 15 year-old counterparts internationally (based on an assessment of 72 countries/regions). To view a direct comparison of rankings and easily interpret the data, check out Business Insider’s graph.


I’m going to let that sit for a second.

Not only are we not in the top 10, but we don’t even break the top 20!

Since we are progressing toward a more global society, our kids will be competing against children from other countries for jobs. At this rate, will they be competitive on the global job market?


The study I present below found that students with more green vegetation around their schools scored significantly higher on state reading and math exams. And remember, this is just based on greenness and not direct experience with nature.

Nature is an excellent tool for integrating different subjects like math, science, reading, history, and art. Perhaps we could use nature as a tool to improve student learning in these areas? (Of course, this is assuming that we give teachers the freedom, resources, and tools necessary to do so!!)

I know this can be a very sensitive subject. Add your thoughts and comments below or on my Facebook page.


Everyday Takeaways from Science

  • While your child studies for their next test, have them study next to a window with a nature view. Let them take breaks every hour or so and go outside to recharge.
  • If your child is struggling academically, set up a comfortable study space for them (outside or inside with a nature view) and study with them. Make it a fun and memorable experience. I know it can be frustrating to help them with homework but do your best to stay calm and positive!
  • Set up a nature space in your classroom with potted plants or find an appropriate nature space outdoors. Let your kids relax and destress in the nature space before starting a new subject.


Your Ray of Sunshine

The level of green vegetation around a school is correlated with higher academic scores regardless of sociodemographic variables like gender and income! This means that YOU can have an impact at your child’s school. Plant an outdoor garden! Care for indoor plants! There are activities that teachers may not have time to plan or carry through. Volunteer your time and resources to make your school a little greener!


The Research

The study aimed to identify if there was a relationship between greenness of schools and student performance on state standardized tests. The researchers measured 3rd graders scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (their standardized test) from 905 public elementary schools during a six-year period: 2006-2012. Schools surrounded by water were excluded because research shows that exposure to “blue” areas can also have a positive affect on health and wellness.

The researchers measured a single academic score – if the children were above proficiency for math and reading. They also looked at the following variables: race, gender, English as a second language, family income level, student-teacher ratio, and school attendance.

The researchers looked at overall greenness and distance of greenness around the schools. Greenness was measure using NASA’s Earth Observing System data which calculates the distribution and structure of vegetation types. Since the students take their exams in the spring, greenness was measured for March of each study year. They also measured greenness that surrounded the school by using circular areas at the following distances: 250 meters, 500 meters, 1,000 meters, and 2,000 meters.

They were not able to measure home greenness because they did not have access to the kids addresses, but it’s assumed that the school greenness will reflect home greenness because students are required to attend the most adjacent school.


After the researchers adjusted for the sociodemographic variables listed above, they found a significant relationship between school greenness and student proficiency in reading and math. Students with greener schools scored higher on their exams. In fact, student scores increased as the distance of greenness increased. In other words, the more greenness the students experienced, the higher their scores in both math and reading.

If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.  🙂


Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jenny




Wu, C-D., McNeely, E., Cedeno-Laurent, J., Pan, W-C., Adamkiewicz, G., Dominici, F., Lung, S-C. C., Su, H-J., Spengler, J.D. (2014). Linking student performance in Massachusetts elementary schools with the “greenness” of school surroundings using remote sensing. PloS One. 9(10): 1-9.


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