Dissertation

Does school climate influence academic achievement disproportionately for historically marginalized students?

This study examines the responses of 133,990 eleventh grade students for traditional high schools in California during the 2017–18 school year. The sample comes from 670 high schools among 330 school districts, representing 57 of the 58 counties in California. The survey comes from the California Healthy Kids Survey, jointly administered by WestEd and the School Health and Safety Office within the CDE. This regression analysis, focusing on four common perceptual elements of school climate, (1) Caring Relationships, (2) High Expectations, (3) Meaningful Participation, and (4) School Connectedness, examined their effect on the dependent variable of grade point average among students of low SES, English Language Learners, and students who are homeless or live in Foster Care. The results reveal that these four perceptual variables (protective factors) do have a significantly positive effect on school climate and such an effect has implications both for educational practice at the high school level, and for state level policy regarding school climate, one of the eight state priorities in the recently enacted Local Control Funding Formula. Specifically, this study showed that the traditional items of Caring Relationships from the California Healthy Kids Survey, when examined separately produce a negative effect on the eight-point self-reported grade scale. However, when these variables are chosen together by students who agree with each of the items the results show a strong positive effect for most students, especially English Learners. Foster youth however, controlling for other variables seemed to resist the effects of three of the four perceptual variables. However, the combined items of the Meaningful Participation variable showed tremendous positive academic effect for foster youth, strongly suggesting that we must provide our foster youth students with voice, relevancy and self-determinacy at their schools and inside their classrooms if we are to activate their academic potential.

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