Classroom Acoustics

Implementing Classroom Acoustics Standards: a Progress Report

March 2007

Acoustical performance is an important consideration in the design of classrooms. Research indicates that levels of background noise and reverberation little noticed by adults, who are mature and skillful listeners, adversely affect learning environments for young children, who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension. Poor classroom acoustics are an additional educational barrier for children who have hearing loss and those who use cochlear implants, since assistive technologies amplify both wanted and unwanted sound. Children who have temporary hearing loss, who may comprise up to 15% of the school age population according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are also significantly affected, as are children who have speech impairments or learning disabilities. Kids whose home language is different than the teaching language are also at additional risk of educational delay and failure.

In 1998, the U.S. Access Board joined with the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) to support the development of a classroom acoustics standard. Stakeholders from both public and private sectors were involved. Their work has now been approved as ANSI/ASA S12.60-2002, Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements and Guidelines for Schools. Consistent with long-standing recommendations for good practice in educational settings, the new standard sets specific criteria for maximum background noise (35 decibels) and reverberation time (0.6 to 0.7 seconds) for unoccupied classrooms.

Taken by itself, the standard is voluntary unless referenced by a State code, ordinance, or regulation. However, school systems may require compliance with the standard as part of their construction documents for new schools, thus making the design team responsible for addressing the issues. Parents may also find the standard useful as a guide to classroom accommodations under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). States, local jurisdictions, and boards of education that have taken action on classroom acoustics are listed below:

Adopted ANSI/ASA S12.60-2002

Other Classroom Acoustics Standards/Directives in Use

International Standards/Guidelines

Cover of ASA's bulletin on classroom acousticsThe ANSI/ASA standard is available for download free from ASA at ASA has also published two manuals for architects on classroom acoustical design, available at the same URL. Volume 1 is a design manual; Volume 2 outlines key acoustical issues in learning. A series of 5 technical assistance documents for teachers, educators, and designers, entitled 'Listening for Learning' is posted at: It is also available in Spanish. A classroom acoustics listserve is online at

Contact: Lois E.L. Thibault, Research Coordinator, US Access Board,


Other Resources

Manufacturer Armstrong Industries has technical information for architects -- including on-line training for which AIA continuing education units are available -- on its website at

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has just published two Technical Reports on Acoustics in Educational Settings; see "Acoustics in Educational Settings: Technical Report" and "Guidelines for Addressing Acoustics in Educational Settings."

The Educational Audiology Association ( markets a 10-minute video entitled 'Listening vs Learning' that was excerpted from a longer program on school design and construction; copies are also available by phone: (800) 460-7322, or by e-mail:  The cost is $10.00, including shipping. 

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers a wealth of education and advocacy information through their website at

A new parent advocacy organization, the Hear to Learn Center, is online at

A series of 5 technical assistance documents for parents and advocates, entitled 'Listening for Learning', is available in English and Spanish from the US Access Board (; the English text is posted at:

Guidance for design professionals on classroom acoustics was published by the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International (CEFPI ), "Teaching in the Dark", by John Erdreich, PhD, in Brief on Educational Facility Issues (July 1999).

Volume 13, Number Two (Second Quarter 1999) of Contact Magazine, a publication of the Cochlear Implant Club International, Inc. (Washington, DC), contains an article entitled "Modifications to Mainstream Classrooms for Children with Cochlear Implants," by architect Franklin M.V. Pepi, AIA.