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What is the Role of Noncognitive Skills and School Environments in Students' Transitions to High School?

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This week we are hearing from REL Southwest (@RELSouthwest). This post is by Ginger Stoker, Senior Researcher at REL Southwest.

Today's post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner's perspective on this research.

 

the Role of Noncognitive Skills and School Environments in Students' Transitions to High School.jpegWhy This Research

New Mexico has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the United States. Moreover, graduation rates in New Mexico vary considerably by race/ethnicity, with only 71 percent of Hispanic students and 63 percent of American Indian students in the 2015/16 graduating cohort having graduated in four years, compared to 76 percent of White students. Given research that links grade 9 performance and high school graduation, members of the Regional Education Laboratory Southwest's (REL Southwest) New Mexico Achievement Gap Research Alliance wanted to learn whether improving the transition to high school for American Indian and Hispanic students could close these achievement gaps. Alliance members were particularly interested in relationships between noncognitive skills and school environments and student success in grade 9.

What The Research Is Examining

REL Southwest worked with alliance members to develop a survey and design a study to determine how grade 9 students' perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments are related to grade 9 success. The survey measured grade 9 students' perceptions of the noncognitive aspects of learning (for example, academic perseverance, self-efficacy, sense of belonging) and school environmental factors (for example, student respect, teacher support, and preparation for the future) reported in the literature as related to transitional successes and struggles from grade 8 to grade 9.

The study used student data from 14 high schools in 10 school districts in New Mexico to examine how students' perceptions of their noncognitive skills relate to three outcomes that have been identified in the research as mattering most for a success transition to high school:grade 9 grade point average, course failures, and absences. The study employed multilevel modeling and structural equation modeling to look at relationships between student race/ethnicity, students' perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments, and the three grade 9 outcomes.

What The Research Is Finding

American Indian students, Hispanic students, and White students differed in how they perceived noncognitive skills and school environments. The results of the study revealed statistically significant differences in students' perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments by race/ethnicity. For example, American Indian students had statistically significantly higher scores than White students on survey scales measuring students' perceptions of their academic monitoring, peer support, future orientation, preparation for the future, school discipline, and student respect. Hispanic students had statistically significantly higher scores than White students on survey scales measuring students' perceptions of their future orientation and student respect.  

Some noncognitive skills and school environments were more strongly related to grade 9 outcomes than others. The study also found that most of these perceptions were associated with grade 9 GPA, course failures, and absences. For example, students who had higher scores on survey scales measuring students' perceptions of their sense of belonging, academic perseverance, parent involvement, study habits, future orientation, and teacher support were statistically significantly less likely to fail courses in grade 9 than other students. Similarly, students who had higher scores on survey scales measuring students' perceptions of their study habits, sense of belonging, and future orientation were had statistically significantly fewer school absences than other students.

Several relationships between grade 9 outcomes and student race/ethnicity were moderated by students' perceptions of their noncognitive skills. For example, being an American Indian student had a statistically significant and positive effect on grade 9 grade point average through its relationships with future orientation and student respect, as well as statistically significant and negative effects on grade 9 absences and grade 9 course failures through its relationship with future orientation.

Implications For Practice   

Stakeholders in New Mexico and beyond can use the results of this study to help students transition successfully to high school. The study demonstrates that specific noncognitive skills and school environments are associated with grade 9 outcomes. For example, the study found that study habits, sense of belonging, and future orientation were statistically significantly related to all three grade 9 outcomes. Schools and districts can benefit by implementing programs or other forms of assistance targeted at strengthening these noncognitive skills and improving school environments. In order to see the greatest gains in student performance, schools or districts could implement programs designed to improve students' study habits, increase their sense of belonging, and/or increase the relevance of high school work to students' future plans or create links between high school courses and college and career plans.

Investing in the noncognitive skills and school environments that are strongly related to grade 9 outcomes for American Indian and Hispanic students, two groups with lower high school graduation rates, may improve the transition to high school for these students and reduce dropout rates.

 

Previous blog posts from REL Southwest:

 

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

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