Study: Smartphone Bans Help Test Scores

Justin Streight

Taking away a kid’s smartphone might be the key to higher test scores, according to a study from the U.K. The subject continues to be controversial; parents want to be connected to their children, yet many teachers already complain the devices are too much of a distraction. The report might help vindicate strict schools that already have bans in place.

For the study, researchers Richard Murphy and Louis-Philippe Beland at the London School of Economics looked at the test scores of 130,000 students in 91 British schools, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The schools had a variety of cell phone policies, which the researchers compared to test scores for 16-year-old students.

The economists talked to CNN about their results.

“We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days.”

For parents of easily distracted children, the conclusions might not be earth shaking. Nevertheless, the extent of the problem might be a bit more surprising.

The researchers found that students’ scores increased 6.4 percent when schools banned phones. Perhaps more importantly, the effects were mostly felt by underachieving students — whose test scores increased 14 percent.

“The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones, while high achievers can focus in the classroom regardless of the mobile phone policy,” according to the study.

What does this mean for American schools? If you’re in the New York area, it might mean trouble.

In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently ended a decade-long ban on mobile phones and smartphones in the classroom, leaving individual schools to set their own phone policies.

It’s still too early to know what effect the new policies will have on the area’s test scores, but they might well drop, according to Richard Murphy.

“Schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools, and so by allowing phones in schools, New York may unintentionally increase the inequalities of outcomes.”

Nevertheless, de Blasio’s decision has the support of parents who want to be able to get ahold of their students, even if it means inconveniencing teachers.

The researchers’ results are bad news for students, but other studies have come to even more disturbing conclusions.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, autism expert Dr. Lain McGilchrist claims that smartphones are making kids show less empathy and emotion. She suggested that too much smartphone use might actually lead to autism.

Despite the negative effects, it does appear that kids’ smartphone use is widespread and here to stay. According to Pew Research, 78 percent of teens age 12 to 17 owned a cell phone. Likewise, 63 percent of kids exchanged text messages on a daily basis.

Luckily, Professors Murphy and Beland say their research doesn’t mean that smartphones can play a positive role in education, perhaps even raising test scores, if used responsibly.

Teacher Ken Halla teaches Advanced Placement government and world history with the students’ smartphones playing the role of teacher’s assistants. He actively encourages using the devices to answer questions and do homework.

“I’ve always been that type of person who likes to adapt and change as time goes on. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be teaching this many years down the road.”

Murphy and Beland’s study might just be more proof that distraction in any form is detrimental to students’ test scores — it’s just that smartphones are the latest preoccupation.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]