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Study: Vog could be the culprit of lower student test scores on Hawaiʻi Island

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A new study from economists at the University of Hawaiʻi and the University College London investigated the effects of poor air quality on students' test scores.

The authors of the report compiled data from the state health department’s air quality monitoring stations and and compared them to annual standardized test scores, provided by Hawaiʻi P-20.

Hawaiʻi P-20 is a statewide partnership program that evaluated the scores from an assessment test taken by about 150,000 Hawaiʻi public school students, focusing largely on math and English literacy.

The assessment results found that about half of the students who took the test were considered 'economically disadvantaged.'

UH economists Timothy Halliday and John Lynham set out to learn more about how vog could play a role in the way students are learning.

"Poor air quality is causing students to perform worse on these tests," said Halliday.

The report states that students on the southwest region of Hawaiʻi Island experience an average of 9 micrograms per cubic meter of inhalable particles, also known as PM2.5. Test scores in the area were reportedly seven times lower than other areas with less PM2.5.

"Now, these impacts are larger when students have some sort of underlying economic disadvantage by a factor of 10. In some cases, more than 10," Halliday said.

"In fact, you can think of it as preexisting economic inequalities are exacerbating the effects of pollution. Or you could think of it as the pollution is exacerbating preexisting economic inequalities because these kids are having a harder time getting education, harder time learning, and this is potentially going to put them at a higher disadvantage for the rest of their lives."

Co-author Rachel Inafuku said student test scores could be reduced by 2% with each 1.8 microgram increase in small inhalable particulates.

For the full report, click here.

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