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In-school breakfasts improve test scores.

In-school breakfast improve test scores

Children from low-income families who participate in the federally funded School Breakfast Program improve more on annual achievement tests than do classmates who qualify for the program but skip the school breakfast, new research shows. Though other studies have identified nutritional benefits from the subsidized breakfasts, this is the first to demonstrate the program's statistically significant impact on academic achievement, its authors say.

Elementary schools in Lawrence, Mass., adopted the School Breakfast Program in January 1987. Researchers compared changes in achievement test scores between the spring semesters of 1986 and 1987 for 1,023 third- to sixth-graders in six of those schools. Though more than 90 percent of the students in the study qualified for free breakfasts--and the rest for heavily subsidized ones -- only 33 percent ate the early meal. The researchers say they do not know why most children passed it up or how many ate breakfast at home.

While achievement gains showed up both in those who ate school breakfasts and in those who chose not to, the increases among children participating in the program were roughly 2 percent higher in math, 4 percent higher in reading and more than 6 percent higher in language skills. In schools basing promotion to the next grade level on standardized achievement test scores, "differences of this magnitude may mean the difference between promotion and retention," note Boston University pediatrician Alan F. Meyers and his colleagues in the October AMERICAN JOURNAL OF DISEASES OF CHILDREN.

Moreover, participating children had lower rates of absence and tardiness than did those who declined the meals. And this difference "may be as crucial as or more crucial than the one in achievement test scores," says coauthor

Michael Weitzman. "Many studies have shown that absence rates -- even as early as the third grade -- help predict kids that will eventually drop out of school."

The size of the test gains "is exactly what I'd expect," says psychologist David Benton of University College in Swansea, Wales. Benton coauthored a study in the Jan. 23, 1988 LANCET showing a similar modest gain in nonverbal intelligence-test scores for Welsh children receiving vitamin and mineral supplements. He says data from his unpublished follow-up involving 169 Belgian students suggest that "what we're measuring are effects of poor diets on a child's ability to concentrate."
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Author:Raloff, J.
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 14, 1989
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