School Cellphone Bans Increase Test Scores

June 23, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Cellphone bans can improve test scores for students who struggle in school.

Cellphone bans can improve test scores for students who struggle in school.

A new study co-authored by an economist at the University of Texas at Austin examined the academic performance of students at 91 high schools in 4 cities from 2001 to 2013 and the effects of mobile phone bans. Across the schools that enforced these bans, test scores improved by 6.41% of a standard deviation.

The study authors posited that even students who spot cellphone use in the classroom but do not use cellphones themselves could become distracted. However, lower-achieving students are more prone to be distracted than high-achievers.

Students who struggle in school tend to reap greater benefits from classroom cellphone bans, since the researchers saw lower-achieving students raise their test scores by 14.23% of a standard deviation.

“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 whether phones are present,” the researchers stated.

They suggested that cellphone bans could be an inexpensive way to target educational inequality, as they posited that the benefits were similar to extending a school year by 5 days or having an extra hour a week in school.

“New technologies are typically thought of as improving productivity; however, this is not always the case,” said Richard Murphy, an assistant professor of economics, in a press release. “When technology is multipurpose, such as cellphones, it can be both distracting and disruptive.”

Previous research has shown that multitasking involving a phone decreases learning, as well as task completion. If used in a structured way, however, cellphones could improve learning. The current study authors described an experiment that found students’ test scores improved when their parents received a text message about their children’s homework.