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

16058 The Mediational Role of Student Engagement In Middle School On the Effect of Career Relevant Instruction On Academic Achievement

Friday, January 13, 2012: 9:30 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Roderick A. Rose, MS, Research Associate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Dennis K. Orthner, PhD, Professor, Associate Director for Policy Development and Analysis, Jordan Institute for Families, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: Increasingly school engagement is seen as a multidimensional construct encompassing behavioral, emotional, and cognitive aspects of engagement. Engagement is an excellent school intervention target for two reasons. First, engagement is malleable so student levels of engagement can be changed. Second, student engagement has been shown to predict school success. Some evidence suggests it can act as a mediator between environmental factors and student achievement. The current research examined the meditational role of student engagement in the delivery of CareerStart, a middle school intervention designed to promote career relevant instruction (CRI) in the classroom.

Methods: Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to examine the meditational role of emotional and behavioral engagement between CRI and math end-of-grade (EOG) test scores. In order to demonstrate mediation in this case five conditions must be established: 1) CRI must predict EOGs, 2) CRI must predict engagement, 3) engagement must impact EOG, 4) given CRI predicting engagement and engagement predicting EOG, the effect of CRI on math achievement must be at or near zero to indicate full mediation, and finally and often neglected, 5) there must be evidence of a causal relationship between CRI and math scores. In the current SEM model, CRI, emotional engagement, and behavioral engagement were latent variables estimated by multiple student-report survey items.

Results: Initial models established the first three mediation conditions. Condition 5—causality between CRI and math EOG—is supported by analyses detailed in another paper within this symposium. That leaves condition four. The full mediated model was specified in which CRI in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades predicted eighth grade behavioral and emotional engagement, which in turn predicted math EOGs. This model had fair fit (RMSEA = .056, CFI=.89, IFI=.89), with all but one of the pathways significant. To test for mediation the direct pathways were added from CRI to EOGs and the change in chi-square in relation to degrees of freedom was examined. A significant but small chi-square change (9.2 @ 3 df) suggested a partially mediated model. Examining the coefficients for the three added pathways revealed a significant pathway, from CRI in eight grade to EOG, therefore the final model included that pathway. Fit for the final model was improved (RMSEA = .045, CFI=.92, IFI=.92) and indicated that engagement partially mediated the impact of CRI on math achievement, and that CRI strongly predicted emotional and behavioral engagement, with both types of engagement predicting math achievement. Squared multiple correlations indicated the model explained 32% of behavioral and 17% of emotional engagement, and 8% of math EOG scores.

Conclusions and Implications: The current findings support the multidimensional conceptualization of student engagement and the role of engagement as a partial mediator of the impact of CRI on academic achievement. This suggests that we may first need to change the way students feel and behave toward school in order to effect change in academic outcomes. And finally, that when students perceive that what they are learning in school is relevant to their futures, we see such positive changes.

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