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

17395 Youth Positive Academic Identity As a Promising Factor In Promoting Academic Success

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 11:00 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Dana Prince, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Paula S. Nurius, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Maya Magarati, PhD, PhD, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Purpose: This paper forefronts academic identity as a critical dimension of adolescent self-concept that holds important yet under-investigated influence on academic success, particularly for vulnerable youth. For vulnerable youth (low-income, racial/ethnic minority), educational attainment is a critical pathway to increased earnings and improved health (Stanton-Salazar, 1997; WHO report 2011). Positive academic identity has demonstrated initial promise in fostering school bonding, attendance, GPA and student mental health (Oyserman et al, 2007), factors that lead to school success. The proposed paper extends prior research in a multivariate framework—testing the unique function of positive academic identity (e.g., “How well I do in school is an important part of who I am”) relative to other indicators of academic success (e.g. youths' appraisals of school competence and safety, as well as demographics).

Methods: We utilized data from five waves of the University of Washington Beyond High School Project, a study of educational attainment and transition to adulthood among 9,600 students from 12 high schools (9 public, 3 private) in the Pacific Northwest. Students were interviewed in the spring of their senior year. The UWBHS sample includes diverse racial and ethnic minority groups, and significant representation of youth from immigrant households. Each measure (positive academic identity, perceived school competence, perceived school safety, accessing guidance counselor and educational aspirations) demonstrated satisfactory psychometric properties. We posit that academic identity (the key predictor) will provide significant explanation of variance across three interrelated but distinct indicators which promote academic success: 1) steps taken to access guidance counseling, 2) extent of educational aspirations beyond high school and 3) GPA. Hierarchical linear regression was utilized to test the research hypotheses.

Results: Study hypotheses were confirmed for all three posited indicators of educational success (accessing guidance counseling: F (5, 8040) = 171.193, p < .01; educational aspirations: F (5, 8493) = 150.629, p < .01, GPA: F (5, 9160) = 533.444, p < .01). In each regression model, academic identity emerged as a significant predictor, controlling for shared variance with appraised school competence, safety and sociodemographics. In addition, academic identity was the strongest standardized predictor in each regression model, exhibiting unique and significant influence. Although controlled for in the regressions, significant mean levels of academic identity were identified, with females higher than males (t= -19.447, p= .000), lower income students reporting less positive levels (t= 4.874, p= .000), and significant differences by race/ethnicity F (10) =1.83, p = 0.05.

Implications: Findings highlight the need to capitalize on the intervening capacities of student academic identity to promote academic success–vulnerable youth may especially benefit from such intervention. Positive academic identity can exert influence over student motivation and self-regulation (promoting adoption of behaviors that move the student towards academic goals and away from behaviors detrimental to academic success), thus promoting school bonding and school performance. Findings underscore the need to consider how academic identity relates to other key variables in educational success.

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