Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Regency Ballroom Wings (Omni Shoreham)

Identifying Protective Factors Effecting Trajectory of Academic Achievement among Children in Poverty

Hyunsun Park, PhD, Sejong University, Sang-Gyun Lee, PhD, Catholic University of Korea, Charles N.B. Fleming, MA, University of Washington, and Richard F. Catalano, PhD, University of Washington.

Purpose: Poverty is considered a primary marker for risk of poor developmental outcomes of children. Children in poverty are more frequently exposed to such risk factors as financial stress, medical illnesses, family conflict, inconsistent parenting and mental health problem of parents. However, the research paradigms focusing on risk factors fail to explain why some adolescents living in poverty succeed in school while others do not. This study is based on a 'resilience' model focusing on protective factors for children in poverty. Protective factors are generally defined as characteristics of individual, the family environment and school environment fostering adaptive development. The purpose of this study is to identify protective factors among children in poverty that predict academic achievement in later adolescence.

Method: We used data from the Raising Healthy Children (RHC) project, which is a 13-year study of a preventive intervention and the etiology of substance use and other problem behaviors. RHC participants (N = 1040) were drawn from 10 public schools in a suburban school district in Washington State. In order to select children who were in poverty, we select those whose families received Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, or free/reduced lunch programs when the children were between 3rd grade and 6th grade. These criteria resulted in an analysis sample of 366 students, which consists of 169 girls and 197 boys.

Results: Using growth mixture models, we identified 3-groups of children based on their trajectories of academic achievement from grades 7 to 12. These groups were characterized by trajectories of (1) high academic achievement, (2) moderate achievement, and (3) low achievement. Multinomial logistic regression analysis was done to identify protective factors measured when children were in grades 3 through 6 that predict trajectory group membership. After adjusting for educational resources (e.g., parent education and academic performance of early childhood), and psychosoical problem behaviors(e.g., antisocial behavior and anxiety), child commitment to school and teacher's support increase the probability of being in the high academic achievement versus the low achievement group.

Implications: This study identified resilient children who had trajectories of high academic achievement despite poverty. ‘Commitment to school' and ‘teachers' support' were vital factors that explained doing well academically in spite of poverty. The findings suggest that better academic achievement of poor children requires intervention strategies aiming at improving school environment where cognitive and emotional support is provided for children, as well as public policy aiming at reducing poverty.