Methods: Data are from one school district in the Pacific Northwest. All students in grades 3-12 from 97 schools completed the annual school climate survey in 2016 (N=29,593). Students self-reported their race: 15.1% Asian, 10.7% African American, 6.7% Latino or Hispanic, 14.9% Multiracial, 1.5% Native American, 1.7% Pacific Islander, and 44.9% White; (44.4% male, 45.8% female, 6.5% prefer not to state; 59.2% English at home). Previous analyses established measurement sufficiency of climate subscales. Students self-reported their grades. Two level multilevel modeling in Mplus v7.4 was used, with grades modeled as an ordered categorical variable and schools as the clustering variable. Race was treated as a random effect.
Results: We found that schools with more positive school climates experienced significantly smaller race differences in student self-reported grades (climate x Asian β =-.12; climate x Black β=.42; climate x Latinx β=.35; climate x Multiracial β=.25; climate x Native β=.34; climate x Pacific Island β=.59; all results significant at p<.05). The moderating effect of school climate remained after accounting for the poverty level of the school and students’ own perceptions of climate at their school. This moderating effect was confounded by school grade band (i.e., elementary, middle, or high) since perception of positive school climate was lower in middle and high schools than in elementary schools.
Conclusion: Despite the difficulty of disentangling school climate from grade band, the findings suggest school improvement strategies focused on school climate may promote racial equity in academic outcomes. Decreases in perceived school climate in middle school point to some of the ways in which schools are not meeting the needs of students as they change during development. Improving climate in middle school might have the added benefit of reducing racial inequities in grades.