The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Environmental Control, Support, and Challenge: Influences On School Success

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
S. Colby Peters, LGSW, Doctoral Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose:Youth who drop-out or experience poor academic achievement have increased dependency on welfare, health struggles, or criminal activity.  Examining the microsystem factors that affect academic outcomes could inform the development of effective interventions.  Research has shown that environmental factors including control (safety and discipline), support (unconditional positive regard and provision of necessary resources), and challenge (encouragement toward intellectual, psychological, and social growth) have significant impact on academic outcomes.  Our theoretical framework, informed by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, anticipated that specific blends of control, support and challenge would differentially impact school outcomes. We hypothesized support will not be optimally effective without adequate levels of control, and challenge will not be optimally effective absent support. 

Methods:Student responses on the School Success Profile, an ecological school practice survey that measures students’ experiences across microsystems, were analyzed to examine how various combinations of control, support, and challenge predicted academic success.  Factor analyses were used to identify sets of items that specifically measured these factors.  Multiple regression analyses were performed to determine how well each construct predicted academic outcomes, as well as their relative predictive ability when paired with low or high reported levels across the other factors. 

Results: Analyses showed that 3.3% of variance in academic outcomes (DF(1, 17168)=624.87, p<.001) can be attributed to levels of control, with B=.59 (p<.001) increase in academic success (average letter grades) when control is adequate.  Second, we found that when control is inadequate, levels of support account for .60% of the variance (DF(1, 5465)=32.36, p<.001);  when control is adequate, support accounts for 1.8% of the variance (DF(1, 10574)=214.37, p<.001), with B=.03 (p<.001) increase in academic success.  Final analyses showed that with adequate control and low support, level of challenge does not account for significant variance; with adequate control and high support, challenge accounts for .30% of the variance (DF(1, 3956)=13.86, p<.001), with a B=.001 (p<.001) increase in academic success with high challenge compared to moderate challenge. When all three constructs are entered into the model, they account for 4.8% of variance (DF(3, 14451)=263.29, p<.001) in academic performance.

Conclusions and Implications: Our analyses supported all three hypotheses: 1) levels of control predict academic outcomes, 2) support is a stronger predictor of academic outcomes with adequate control, and 3) challenge is a stronger predictor of academic outcomes with adequate control and high support.  Results indicate the centrality of safety for children’s academic success and that challenge cannot be effective unless children feel safe and supported across microsystems.  Implications for practice include the development of educational policies at the level of local government and school district that simultaneously address all three factors – control, support, and challenge – across children’s microsystems.  Key adult figures in a child’s life, including teachers, parents or guardians, and members of the community, could be recruited to collaborate in developing programs that link all three microsystems and create an integrated environment in which the child can be assured of his safety, access to emotional and material support, and opportunities for growth.