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Implementing Classroom Acoustics Standards: a Progress Report

Research indicates that levels of background noise and reverberation little noticed by adults, who are mature and skillful listeners, adversely affect learning environments for young children, who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension.

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Implementing Classroom Acoustics Standards: a Progress Report
1 April 2005
Lois L. Thibault, Coordinator of Research
US Access Board

Acoustical performance is an important consideration in the design of classrooms. Research indicates that levels of background noise and reverberation little noticed by adults, who are mature and skillful listeners, adversely affect learning environments for young children, who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension. Poor classroom acoustics are an additional educational barrier for children who have hearing loss and those who use cochlear implants, since assistive technologies amplify both wanted and unwanted sound.  Children who have temporary hearing loss, who may comprise up to 15% of the school age population according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are also significantly affected, as are children who have speech impairments or learning disabilities.  Kids whose home language is different than the teaching language are also at additional risk of educational delay and failure.

In 1998, the U.S. Access Board joined with the Acoustical Society of America to support the development of a classroom acoustics standard.  Stakeholders from both public and private sectors were involved.  Their work has now been approved as ANSI/ASA S12.60-2002, Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements and Guidelines for Schools.  Consistent with long-standing recommendations for good practice in educational settings, the new standard sets specific criteria for maximum background noise (35 decibels) and reverberation time (0.6 to 0.7 seconds) for unoccupied classrooms.  Taken by itself, the standard is voluntary unless referenced by a Statecode, ordinance, or regulation. However, school systems may require compliance with the standard as part of their construction documents for new schools, thus making the design team responsible for addressing the issues. Parents may also find the standard useful as a guide to classroom accommodations under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  States, local jurisdictions, and boards of education that have taken action on classroom acoustics are listed below:

Adopted ANSI/ASA S12.60-2002
--New Hampshire State Board of Education
--New Jersey School Construction Board
--Ohio School Facility Commission

Legal/Legislative Proposals under Consideration
--Minnesota
--Connecticut

Other Classroom Acoustics Standards/Directives in Use
--New York State Department of Education
--Los Angeles Unified School District
--Minneapolis Public Schools
--Washington State Board of Health
--Washington, DC Public Schools
--California Collaborative for High-Performance Schools (CHPS)

Standards/Guidelines in Development
--Maryland State Department of Education

International Standards/Guidelines
--UK
--Sweden
--Italy
--Switzerland
--World Health Organization (WHO)


The ANSI/ASA standard S12.60-2002 can be purchased from ASA online at https://asastore.aip.org.

The ASA has also published two manuals for architects on classroom acoustical design; see http://asa.aip.org/classroom.html

Volume 1 can be downloaded free at http://asa.aip.org/classroom/booklet.html

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has just published two Technical Reports on Acoustics in Educational Settings:
http://www.asha.org/NR/rdonlyres/066CDD53-6052-405F-8CB7-3D603D5CCD0F/0/AcousticsTR.pdf
http://www.asha.org/NR/rdonlyres/4110318E-8F48-4DB4-8938-9BA15EB8BAAC/0/AcousticsGL.pdf

A series of 5 technical assistance documents for teachers, educators, and designers, entitled 'Listening for Learning' is posted at: http://www.quietclassrooms.org/ada/ada.htm

Manufacturer Armstrong Industries has technical information for architects on its website at http://www.armstrong.com/commceilingsna/article22213.html.  

A parent advocacy organization, the Hear to Learn Center , has useful information and links at http://www.heartolearncenter.org/

Other information, including background, research, rulemaking notices, and links to stakeholders, can be viewed on the U.S. Access Board's website at http://www.access-board.gov.


US Access Board           
800/872-2253 (V)
800/993-2822 (TTY)
202/272-0081 (F)

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