Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15634 Achievement Gap: The Role of School Climate In Mediating, Moderating and Compensating the Relationship Between Students' Socio-Economic Background and Their Academic Achievements

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:00 AM
Penn Quarter A (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ruth Berkowitz, MA, Ph. D. candidate, Louis and Gaby Weisfeld School of Social Work, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Rami Benbenishty, PhD, Professor, Bar Ilan University & Haruv Institute, Ramat Gan, Israel
Elisheva Ben-Artzi, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Kinneret Academic College, Tzemach and Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
Hagit Glickman, PhD, Senior researcher, Ministry of Education, Tel Aviv, Israel
Tal Raz, PhD, Director of Projects Evaluation, Ministry of education, Tel Aviv, Israel
Nurit Lipshtat, MA, Researcher, Ministry of Education, Tel Aviv, Israel
Academic success is a major personal and community resource associated with a range of positive outcomes. The scientific literature has documented large academic achievement gaps between social and racial groups and their deleterious consequences for marginalized individuals and communities. The empirical evidence suggesting the important role of school climate in mitigating the negative impact of students' background on their academic achievements is limited and inconsistent. This study examines three alternative models of the impact of school climate on academic achievement: compensating, moderating and mediating the relationships between student background and academic achievement.

The present study's unique data base contains information on students' SES backgrounds, perceptions of 16 factors of schools' social and academic climate, and academic achievements (math and mother tongue) using a national monitoring system in Israel covering 75,674 students in 1,188 schools. Hierarchical linear regressions were used to examine the relationship between students' SES backgrounds, schools' climate and achievements. Data were aggregated by school and were analyzed separately for Jewish and Arab schools.

Correlations, all significant p< .001, between school climate factors and students' achievements were slightly higher in Arab schools compared with Jewish schools. Correlations in Jewish schools ranged from .004 with close relationships between teachers and students , and -.131 with insecurity at school . In Arab schools, correlations ranged from -.043 with presence of violent gangs in school and -.161 with victimization to physical violence .

Students' SES was significantly related to higher achievements among Jewish and Arab students (b = .397 and b = .303 respectively). School climate explained a significant amount of variance in students' achievements in Jewish (R2 = .473) and Arab schools (R2= .390). Most school climate factors were significantly related to higher achievements: In Jewish schools, students' school satisfaction (b =.226), proper behavior of students in the classroom (b =.240), involvement in physical violence (b =-.175), school efforts to promote safety (b =.107) and students' sense of insecurity at school(b=-.100); In Arab schools, victimization to physical violence (b =-.462), thefts (b =-.359), teachers' belief in students' ability to succeed (b =.289), positive peer relationships (b = .058), and violent gangs at school (b = -.101).

The unique contribution of school climate to explained variance in students' achievements was significant in Jewish (R2 change=.121) and Arab schools (R2 change=.255).

Analyses indicated school climate to moderate the relationship between students' SES and achievements. Almost all interactions between students' SES and school climate were significant. Finally, analyses indicated that school climate does not mediate the relationship between students' SES and achievements.

Academic achievements are higher in safe schools where climate is positive and academic expectations are high. School climate has an additive contribution to school success, above and beyond students' SES backgrounds. Further, climate interacts with SES in impacting academic achievement. Consequently, the paper proposes practice and policy measures to improve school climate, especially in low SES schools, to help increase academic learning and reduce achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds. Differences between Jewish and Arab schools call for cultural sensitive approaches.

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