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Study: School field trips improve student performance

By Ashtyn Asay - | Feb 23, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

Fourth-graders from Westridge Elementary School pack away a sail during a field trip Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at Utah Lake State Park in Provo.

Are school field trips to the zoo or art museum really beneficial to children? According to research my multiple groups, including Brigham Young University, the outings can improve student performance.

The study, published in The Journal of Human Resources, found that those students who participated in multiple field trips during the school year performed better in class, had higher test scores and had increased cultural conscientiousness over time.

Research was done by BYU, Johns Hopkins University and the Heritage Foundation with school field trips being non-existent for the last two years due to COVID-19.

“We really wanted to study the impact that field trips actually have,” said Heidi Holmes Erickson, assistant professor of educational leadership at BYU and lead author of the study. “Field trips are a century-old tradition in schools, common, everyone has experienced them, but there’s actually not a lot of rigorous research looking at the impacts of field trips on students”

The study was conducted on fourth and fifth-grade students from 15 elementary schools in Atlanta. Students from these schools were randomly assigned to participate in three field trips during the school year: One to an art museum, one to a symphony concert and one to a live theater performance.

According to Erickson, the researchers chose these field trips in order to broaden the students’ horizons.

“We really wanted to focus on kind of these cultural enriching field trips that bring students out of their world, into a bigger world that they have less exposure to,” she said.

Ultimately, the researchers found that students who went on different field trips scored higher on their end-of-grade exams, received higher overall grades, and had fewer absences and behavioral infractions than their peers.

“In addition to the academic improvements, students who participated in multiple field trips were 12% of a standard deviation more likely to express a desire to consume arts in the future and nearly 14% of a standard deviation more likely to agree with the statement, ‘I believe people can have different opinions about the same thing,'” read a BYU press release.

“We tracked the students for a few years, and so after comparing the treatment students who received the field trips to the control students who didn’t receive the field trips, we find that treatment students actually experienced some significant positive impacts,” Erickson said. “One area is kind of in their desire to consume the arts and their tolerance, they report higher tolerance for people who are different from them, and then we see academic and behavior impacts.”

These positive impacts from attending the three field trips were even seen as long as three years later in student performance. Researchers will continue to follow this group of students in order to better understand the long-term impacts field trips can have on students.

“Our biggest kind of policy takeaway from this study is to say, schools you really can consider a wider range of activities without harming student academic performance,” Erickson said.

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