Abstract: Racial Differences in Student Reports of School Climate and Social Emotional Skills (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

Racial Differences in Student Reports of School Climate and Social Emotional Skills

Sunday, January 14, 2018: 12:14 PM
Independence BR H (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Tiffany M. Jones, MSW MFT, Doctoral student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Charles Fleming, MA, Research Scientist, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Jessica Beaver, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle, WA
Samantha Bindman, PhD, Research Scientist, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle, WA
Todd Herrenkohl, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background: Schools are increasingly attuned to the ways that climate plays a role in students’ learning, and are beginning to measure climate as part of school reform and enhancement initiatives. Relatedly, schools are beginning to focus on the skills and attributes of individual students and the ways these intersect with school climate.  School climate refers to students’ multifaceted, subjective experience of the spaces in which teaching and learning takes place. As with school and classroom climate, social emotional skills are related to students’ academic performance and behavioral health (Durlak et al., 2011). Two potential drivers for the achievement gap are differences in the way students experience climate and differences in social emotional skills (Voight, Hanson & O’Malley, 2015). Differences in perceived school climate and social emotional skills may, together, help explain why gaps in achievement persist and why students of color appear more vulnerable.  Thus, the present paper will explore racial differences in school climate and social emotional competence.

Method: Data are from the Seattle Public Schools annual student school climate survey of 50,770 3rd -12th graders from 97 Schools.  Demographics of respondents are as follows: 43% White, 16% Asian, 12% Black, 17% Multiracial, 7% Latino, 2% Pacific Islander; 44% male, 46% female, and 7% prefer not to state gender; and 41% from English-as-second-language homes. School climate items measured sub-constructs of healthy community, belonging, classroom environment, safety, and pedagogical effectiveness. Social emotional competence items covered sub-constructs of social emotional awareness and learning mindset. Previous analyses validated scales (Jones et al., 2017). We used multilevel modeling to partition variance between the individual and school level in series of regressions using the lme4 package in R.

Results: Intraclass coefficients indicated that for school climate, 9% variance of the variance was between schools; for social emotional competence, 2% of the variance was between schools. Latino and Asian students reported significantly more positive perceptions of climate compared to Whites (p<0.001); Multiracial students reported significantly worse climate (p<0.001); Black students reported marginally significantly worse climate (p<0.055); and Native American and Pacific Islander students were not significantly different than Whites. Models that included a random effect of race fit better (lower BIC), suggesting that the influence of race on school climate varied across schools. There were significant differences between some racial groups on self-reported social competence factors, accounting for school random effects. Latino, Black, Multiracial, and Native American students reported significantly lower scores than Whites on the scale (p<0.001).  

Implications: Both climate and social emotional skills differed significantly among racial groups.  Such differences might be concealed if results are not disaggregated in diverse school districts. Further research is needed to explore whether the social emotional competence scale is culturally relevant, and how these characteristics are related to academic achievement and behavioral health. In addition, racial differences in experience of school climate appear to vary across schools.  Explaining that variation may provide insight into mechanisms that can address racial/ethnic disparities in academic success and behavioral health.