CLEVELAND - A study of six big-city Ohio public schools showed students who were required to wear uniforms had improved graduation, behavior and attendance rates. Academic performance was unchanged.
The researcher, Virginia Draa of Youngstown State University, said the conclusions were limited by the size of the study released Wednesday.
"Uniforms alone do not improve student reading and math proficiency test scores, but they do help in addressing problems with discipline and attendance in a school building," Draa said.
Draa talked with administrators and examined test scores and attendance, graduation and suspension rates from 1994 to 2002 at 64 high schools in Ohio's eight largest public school districts -- Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.
Six schools had uniform requirements.
Draa reported that mean graduation rates rose nearly 11 percent at schools that required uniforms, compared to pre-uniform years. Non-uniform school mean graduation rates dropped 4.6 percent, compared with the earlier years.
Mean attendance rates at uniform schools increased an average of 3.5 percent in four schools and declined in two. Mean expulsion rates dipped by 0.6 expulsion per 100 students in the years during which uniforms were required.
"My advice to superintendents and principals, especially those in high-risk school districts, would be that uniforms may help reduce problem behaviors and may create a more orderly environment for learning," Draa said. "They are not a cure-all, but they certainly may help."
A national study published in 1998 on 10th graders required to wear uniforms found no significant effect on drug use, behavior or attendance.
A co-author of that study, David Brunsma of the University of Missouri, said Thursday the Youngstown State study had a limited scope of six schools and didn't prominently factor parental involvement, a key issue in educational success.
Nevertheless, it reflected sound research and "a really wonderful model" that could become a standard for future research on the issue, he said.
Brunsma said some schools have begun dropping uniform requirements, sometimes because parents were unsupportive. He estimated that 23 percent of American elementary schools and half that many middle and high schools have uniform requirements.
Outside Cleveland's Collinwood High School, John Hall, 16, an 11th grader, said classmates took the uniform requirement in stride. "I'm all for it," said Hall, dressed in the standard outfit of dark blue slacks and white, button-down shirt.
Keenan Powell, 15, a sophomore, said Collinwood was more orderly than Glenville High School, a non-uniform Cleveland school where he attended until moving three months ago.
Still, "I don't like it," he said. "I'd rather wear regular clothes because I'm more comfortable."
Powell also indicated that uniforms don't necessarily eliminate peer pressure over clothing issues. Some classmates can't afford new uniforms and face ridicule for wearing used uniforms, said Powell, who has three pairs of school pants at $18 each and four shirts at $12 each.
Draa said confidentiality agreements barred identifying all six schools, but said the group included Youngstown's three public high schools and Columbus East High School, which has since ended its uniform requirement.