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Classroom Acoustics - International Efforts

There is an increase in standards in countries around the world to address the acoustical needs experienced by children who are at particular risk of academic delay in noisy classrooms. This report prepared by Lois Thibault of the US Access Board cites work in several countries and the World Health Organization.

British building standards have recently been strengthened by new requirements for school acoustics.  Enforcement of limits on background noise (35dB(A)) and reverberation time (0.6 seconds) in new classrooms began in July 2003 under Education Regulations 1999, SI 1999 No. 2 and Requirement E4/Part E/Schedule 1, 1 of the Building Regulations 2000.  The standards are outlined in Building   Bulletin 93 (replacing Building Bulletin 87), a comprehensive specification and detailed technical assistance document available from: http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/management/resourcesfinanceandbuilding/schoolbuildings/designguidance/sbenvironmentalhs/acoustics/

The new regulations respond to findings from several researchers that Document excessive noise and attendant lack of speech intelligibility in existing schools in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

Classroom acoustics are also regulated in many other European nations (Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy all have requirements), in several Canadian provinces, and in Australia and New Zealand.  The World Health Organization has an active initiative on noise, publishing 'Guidelines for Community Noise' in 1995. See: http://www.who.int/docstore/peh/noise/guidelines2.html

Chapter 4 includes recommendations for background noise and reverberation time in classrooms that are consistent with the U.K. standard.  WHO has recently published a pamphlet (No. 38) entitled 'Noise in Schools' that is available upon request from info@ecehbonn.euro.who.int .

The U.S. Access Board has embarked on an ambitious outreach program to introduce parents, educators, and school administrators to a new U.S. standard on classroom acoustics, ANSI/ASA S12.60-2002 'Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements and Guidelines for Schools'.  Developed by a working group of the Acoustical Society of America and other key stakeholders and supported by the Access, the voluntary standard -- it must be formally adopted by a jurisdiction to become enforceable -- contains background noise and reverberation limits that parallel those in the U.K. standard.

New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Minnesota are currently considering use of the ANSI/ASA standard to guide new school construction.  The California Coalition for High-Performing Schools is also taking a look at limiting noise in classrooms.  Many departments of education (New York State, Minneapolis, Washington State, others) have internal guidelines on classroom acoustics for new school construction with similar background noise/reverberation time limits to those of the U.S. and international standards.  Parents in several states are also using the ANSI/ASA standard to obtain IDEA accommodations for their hearing-impaired children attending public schools.  Other kids at particular risk of academic delay in noisy classrooms include children who have learning disabilities of various types, kids for whom English is a second language, and children who have temporary undiagnosed hearing loss due to earaches, colds, and asthma.  The Access Board hopes that the International Code Council will eventually incorporate the key limits of the ANSI/ASA standard in the International Building Code, which already contains acoustical requirements for multi-family housing.

As part of its outreach effort, The Board has recently developed a series of 5 factsheets on classroom acoustics that have been posted to the Quiet Classrooms link on the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse website at http://www.quietclassrooms.org/ada/ada.htm .  Entitled 'Listening for Learning', the new handouts identify kids at risk of academic delay in noisy classrooms, offer tips on how to tell if a classroom is too noisy for effective speech perception, and suggest interventions that can improve poorly-performing classrooms.  In addition, separate factsheets address cost and technical issues.

See links to research, regulatory, and technical assistance materials on the Access Board's website at
http://www.access-board.gov/publications/acoustic-factsheet.htm . For more information on the Access Board outreach effort, contact the Board's Coordinator of Research, Lois Thibault, at thibault@access-board.gov

   
   
 
last updated Octover 4, 2006
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