Life Before Adolescence: A Sampler of What Social Environmental Data From Children, Their Parents, and Teachers Can Tell Us
Efforts to improve the educational performance of elementary school children are unlikely to succeed without attention to the social environmental factors that influence academics and behavior. Few schools, however, systematically collect data on the wide range of ecological factors known to influence student outcomes. Furthermore, even if information is collected by schools about elements of the social environment, the information typically does not come from children themselves. As stakeholders with the most at stake in their own education, elementary school students are often not included in discussions about the circumstances and perceptions that influence their performance. Critical information from parents is also rarely collected by school staff, in spite of the key role of parents in children’s development. The Elementary School Success Profile (ESSP) is an online assessment that collects social environmental information about children in grades 3 through 5 from students, their parents, and teachers. It provides school staff with a comprehensive view of students’ social environments as well as their health and well-being. This symposium provides a sampling of the knowledge to be gained by analyzing ESSP data. Having ESSP data on over 1000 students from diverse backgrounds and school districts provides the opportunity to examine developmental and ecological hypotheses in new ways. Each of the four papers in this symposium examines a different combination of social environmental domains and uses data from a different combination of sources to answer hypotheses about the factors that contribute to the behavior of elementary school students.
Data were collected as part of ESSP projects in 13 schools in four districts across North Carolina. The ESSP assessment was used as the starting point of a data-driven, prevention planning and implementation process. Three of the projects took place during the 2008-2009 school year. The fourth was a 3-year project in which longitudinal data were collected at 6 time points. Analyses used appropriate procedures available in Mplus 6.11 for ordinal, clustered data. StataSE 11 was used for the 3-level longitudinal analysis in paper 1.
New information about trajectories of peer acceptance (the opposite of bullying) was obtained in paper 1. A quadratic shape with a peak at the beginning of 4th grade was revealed for the majority of students, while different shapes and slopes were revealed for African Americans and Asians. Papers 2 and 3 identified the salience of positive and negative neighborhood characteristics for child behavior in the years before they become more independent of families. Paper 4 focuses on the importance of teacher support to students. This paper, as well as the others, highlights the interconnections among social environmental domains and the leverage points practitioners can target to support young people. The studies also support the construct validity of data from the ESSP, including the child component, and demonstrate the contribution data from multiple sources can make to studies of child development and the design of interventions to support school success.