New Study Finds a Strong Link Between Lead in the Environment and Lower Test Scores

Recent JBHE posts reporting on the results of the ACT and SAT college entrance examinations show a large and persisting racial gap in test scores. Commentators have expressed a wide range of explanations for the racial gap.

nber_logoA new working paper from the National Bureau of Economics Research finds that children’s exposure to lead in their environment can have a significant effect on their tests scores. Many Black children from low-income families live in older housing where lead-based paint was used and remains in their residential environment.

Deteriorating lead paint and its dust can be inhaled or ingested by young children, with negative cognitive effects that last for years. The study found that for each one percentage point increase in blood lead levels in children there was a correlating one percentage point decline in reading scores on standardized tests.

Anna Aizer, professor of economics at Brown University and lead author of the study, stated that “this study underscores the importance of looking at factors outside the educational setting to help explain persistent gaps in test scores.”

The study, “Do Low Levels of Blood Lead Reduce Children’s Future Test Scores?” may be accessed here.


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