Academy Board Approved Position Statement on Classroom Acoustics (11/17/08)
The American Academy of Audiology supports the improvement of acoustical properties of America’s classrooms in order that all students may better hear and understand their teachers and peers. To address the issue of improving classroom acoustics, the American National Standards Institute approved classroom acoustics standards in 2002, ANSI S12.60-2002, Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools.1 ANSI S12.60 recommends maximum noise and reverberation times for all new and renovated school construction. The Standard specifies that noise levels in unoccupied core learning spaces should not exceed 35 dBA or 40 dBA, depending on room size. These maximum noise levels ensure that the level of instruction (which would be approximately 50-65 dBA depending on the location of the student and teacher) will provide the appropriate sound level required by students to hear their teachers as well as their peers with minimal difficulty, and with reduced vocal strain from the individual speaking. The standard also specifies that reverberation not exceed 0.6 to 0.7 seconds, depending on room size. These reverberation-time criteria are necessary to preserve the temporal properties that make speech intelligible.
The American Academy of Audiology endorses the ANSI S12.60-2002 standard, and recommends adoption of the standard by all schools, school boards, and school districts for the following reasons:
- All students require an appropriate acoustical environment in order to learn effectively.2
- Younger students are especially vulnerable to poor acoustics because of their immature central auditory nervous systems.3
- Students with hearing loss are especially in need of appropriate acoustical environments due to the characteristics of impaired auditory function which affects their ability to understand speech.4
- Students with other auditory or listening challenges or for whom English is a second language require an optimal acoustical environment to maximize learning.5, 6
- Quiet rooms are better for learning than loud classrooms with amplification, particularly for accessing peer discourse.7
- The cost of quiet classrooms is more than balanced by improving the ability of students to hear and therefore to learn.8
- Classrooms that meet the acoustic criteria specified in ANSI S12.60-2002 have also been shown to reduce voice fatigue for the individual speaking.9
Audiologists planning to advise school administrators on classroom acoustics should be familiar with the Standard, the procedures for making measurements addressed in the Standard, the processes for remediation of substandard acoustic conditions, and the roles of other consultants (e.g., an acoustical engineer) in this process to improve school acoustics.
The American Academy of Audiology is committed to improving the listening environment for all students. Endorsement of ANSI S12.60-2002 is a major step towards reaching this goal. The Academy further sets forth an agenda that includes the following actions to further the goal of appropriate classroom acoustics:
- A national effort to promote awareness and the implementation of the ANSI Classroom Acoustics standard and recommendations
- Adoption of the ANSI standard into the International Building Code (IBC)
- Application of known design specifications that are used in theaters, conference and board rooms and other acoustically designed spaces to classrooms
- Consideration of “No Child Left Behind” as a potential regulatory source to adopt and enforce standards
- A “Toolkit” of resources to assist persons and organizations in state and local efforts to adopt the ANSI standard for school construction
- Targeting school parent organizations (PTOs) and teacher organizations (NEA, AFT) to increase awareness and support for classroom acoustics efforts
- Promoting research on the effects of classroom acoustics on educational outcomes for all learners
- Acoustical Society of America (ASA). 2002. ANSI S12.60-2002: Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools.
- Shield BM, Dockrell JE (2008). The effects of environmental and classroom noise on the academic attainments of primary school children. J Acoust Soc Am. 123(1):133-44.
- Ponton C, Eggermont JJ, Khosla D, Kwong B, Don M.(2002) Maturation of human central auditory system activity: separating auditory evoked potentials by dipole source modeling. Clin Neurophysiol.113(3):407-20.
- Crandell, C. (1993). Speech recognition in noise by minimal degrees of sensorineural hearing loss. Ear and Hearing, 14, 210-216.
- Cunningham J, Nicol T, Zecker SG, Bradlow A, Kraus N. (2001) Neurobiologic responses to speech in noise in children with learning problems: deficits and strategies for improvement. Clin Neurophysiol. 112(5):758-67.
- Nelson, P., Kohnert, K., Sabur, S., & Shaw, D. (2005). Classroom noise and children learning through a second language: Double jeopardy? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 219 – 229.
- Studebaker GA, Sherbecoe RL, McDaniel DM, Gwaltney CA. (1999) Monosyllabic word recognition at higher-than-normal speech and noise levels.
J Acoust Soc Am.105(4):2431-44.
- Knecht, H., Nelson, P., Whitelaw, G. and Feth, L. (2002). Background noise levels and reverberation times in unoccupied classrooms: Predictions and Measurements. American Journal of Audiology, 11, 65-71.
- Anderson KL, Goldstein H. (2004) Speech perception benefits of FM and infrared devices to children with hearing aids in a typical classroom. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 35(2):169-84.