Principals in Philadelphia Public Schools seem to push breakfast participation harder during test week than at other times, according to a recent survey of 35 city elementary schools, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The survey by Public Citizens for Children and Youth found that 63 percent of the schools changed their policy to make sure students ate breakfast during the week when they were taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test.
The test measures academic progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law and schools are under severe pressure to amximize scores. Studies have repeatedly shown that eating breakfast has a positive impact on a child’s ability to concentrate in school.
All 165,000 Philadelphia Schools students are eligible for free breakfast every day, but participation is typically only about 51,000. Nutrition activists charge that school principals only make accommodation for boosting breakfast participation when it is in their vested interest, i.e., during test week.
For example, PCCY found that most of the schools it surveyed served breakfast in classrooms during the first period during test week, while the rest of the time, it is served in the cafeteria before the school day begins. Studies show a significant increase in participation if the meal is served during first period, as opposed to earlier, because many children don’t get to school until just before the bell, or don’t have the time or inclination to go to the cafeteria even if they show up earlier.