Exploring protective factors in school and home contexts for economically disadvantaged students in the middle school



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The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of middle school students particularly focusing on the academic achievement of economically disadvantaged students. Existing data show that there is an increasing cohort of school children experiencing poverty, either short or long term. For poor middle school students, the risk for school failure is amplified by the general risks associated with middle school transition and early adolescence development. The cumulative nature of these risks is often associated with undesirable school outcomes including grade retention, behavior problems, absenteeism, delinquency, teenage pregnancy, school dropout, fewer years of schooling, and lower academic achievement. However, there is evidence that some students succeed in spite of adversity, which is often attributed to protective factors present in the students’ own immediate environment – school, home, and community. This current study, therefore, examined the relationship between two potential protective factors–parent involvement and school belonging–and student achievement. Previous research has established that parent involvement and school belonging are both associated with positive school outcomes including academic motivation, self-efficacy, internal locus of control, pro-social and on-task behavior, school engagement, educational aspirations and expectations, and better academic achievement. Consequently, this study examined three main questions: (a) How is parental involvement associated with academic achievement for economically disadvantaged eighth grade students? (b) How school belonging associated with academic achievement for economically disadvantaged eighth grade students? (c) Do the relations between parent involvement, school belonging, and eighth grade achievement vary as a function of prior achievement and middle school? To answer these research questions, this study used the nationally representative longitudinal data from Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten (ECLS-K) Class of 1998/99. The findings for this study showed that when parent involvement and school belonging were considered together, the association between parent involvement and student achievement diminished while school belonging consistently emerged as a significant predictor of achievement. However, while school belonging emerged as a significant predictor of achievement, this study established that students’ prior achievement was the single strong and significant factor explaining achievement for poor eighth grade students.