Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Extracurricular sports produce disciplined preteens

Regular, structured extracurricular sports seem to help kids develop the discipline they need in order to engage effectively in the classroom, according to a new study led by Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital.

"We worked with information provided by parents and teachers to compare kindergarteners' activities with their classroom engagement as they grew up," Pagani said. "By time they reached the fourth grade, kids who played structured sports were identifiably better at following instructions and remaining focused in the classroom. There is something specific to the sporting environment - perhaps the unique sense of belonging to a team to a special group with a common goal - that appears to help kids understand the importance of respecting the rules and honoring responsibilities."

Professor Pagani and her colleagues Geneviève Piché and Caroline Fitzpatrick came to their conclusions after reviewing the data on 2,694 children who were born in Quebec between 1997 and 1998. The information was retrieved from the Quebec Longitudinal Study on Child Development, a public data set coordinated by the province's statistical institute.

"Our goal was to answer two questions: firstly, does participation in extracurricular activities in kindergarten predict fourth grade self-discipline, and secondly, do kindergarten self-discipline characteristics predict fourth-grade participation in sports?" Pagani explained. These characteristics encompass things such as classroom engagement, physical aggression, impulsivity and emotional distress.

At kindergarten, when most children in the study were six, teachers filled in questionnaires about their student behaviour and parents were interviewed by phone or in person about their home life. The exercise was repeated four years later. The researchers then analyzed the data by eliminating pre-existing influences such as child's physical fitness and cognitive abilities, mother's education, and how well the family unit functioned (asking families to rate, for example, how well they communicate) which could have influenced the results.

"Children who were involved in sports at kindergarten, or in fact who were involved in any kind of structured activity, were likely to be involved in teams sports by age ten. However, involvement in unstructured activities at kindergarten had no bearing on the child's future. Across the board, we found that children who had better behaviour in the kindergarten class were more likely to be involved in sport by age ten," Pagani said. "Nonetheless, we found that those children who were specifically involved in team sports at kindergarten scored higher in self-regulation by time they reached fourth-grade."

The researchers believe that sporting activities and attention skills go hand in hand and can be addressed simultaneously in school planning. Their findings could help schools and public health authorities better reach children at risk of insufficient exercise as a way of addressing both the obesity and school drop-out crises at the same time.

"Programs to help parents develop their child's self-regulation skills and the availability of extracurricular sports programs as early as kindergarten could help decrease the risk of kids being left behind," Pagani said. "We also hope policy makers consider our findings in order to improve access to parks and playgrounds, where children and their families can engage in sporting activities, to improve access to K12 enrichment programs that target self-regulation skills, and to improve the promotion of active schools and communities generally-speaking."

Teachers Not Well Attuned to Student Bullying

This study examined the effects of teacher attunement to victimization on student perceptions of the bullying culture of their schools as a means of fostering a sense of belonging among early adolescents. Participants (n = 1,264) in sixth grade reported on the frequency that they had been bullied, and teachers were asked to report students who were “picked on.” Teacher attunement represented the correspondence between self-identified and teacher-identified victims.

Attunement at the beginning of the school year was related to positive changes in student reports that their peers would intervene in bullying; in turn, sense of belonging was greater when students perceived that their peers would intervene in bullying. Teacher attunement was indirectly related to greater belonging through its impact on student perceptions of the bullying context.

However, teachers were not well attuned to self-identified victims.  Attunement calculation resulted in a number ranging from 0 (no attunenment) to 1 (perfect attunement). In this study, schoolwide teacher attunement ranged from 0 to .36. The average level of attunement across all schools was .16.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Estimates of childhood, youth exposure to violence, crime and abuse

More than a third of children and teens 17 and younger experienced a physical assault in the last year, primarily at the hands of siblings and peers, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
Violence against children is a national and international public health and public policy issue. The U.S. Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiated in 2008 the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV) to provide ongoing estimates of a wide range of violence against youth. Assessments have occurred in three-year intervals in 2011 and now in 2014.

Researcher David Finkelhor, Ph.D., of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and co-authors analyzed data from the survey for 4,000 children and adolescents (17 and younger) to provide current estimates of exposure to violence, crime and abuse. Survey information was collected in telephone interviews (from August 2013 to April 2014) with caregivers and young people.

Key findings (that respondents reported occurred in the past year):

  • 40.9 percent of children and youth had more than one direct experience of violence, crime or abuse; 10.1 percent had six or more and 1.2 percent had 10 or more.
  • 37.3 experienced a physical assault during the study year, primarily from siblings (21.8 percent) and peers (15.6 percent). An assault resulting in injury occurred in 9.3 percent.
  • 5 percent experienced a sexual offense; 1.4 percent experienced a sexual assault
  • Girls ages 14 to 17 were the group at highest risk for sexual assault, with 16.4 percent experiencing a sexual offense and 4.6 percent experiencing sexual assault or sexual abuse. Among this group, 4.4 percent had an attempted or completed rape, while 11.5 percent experienced sexual harassment and 8.5 percent were exposed to unwanted Internet sexual solicitation.
  • 15.2 percent of children and youth experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including 5 percent who experienced physical abuse.
  • 24.5 percent witnessed violence in the family or community, with 8.4 percent witnessing a family assault.
"Children and youth are exposed to violence, abuse and crime in varied and extensive ways, which justifies continued monitoring and prevention efforts," the study concludes.

Teacher Quality Gap Between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students


Policymakers aiming to close the well-documented achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students have increasingly turned their attention to issues of teacher quality. A number of studies have demonstrated that teachers are inequitably distributed across student subgroups by input measures, like experience and qualifications, as well as output measures, like value-added estimates of teacher performance, but these tend to focus on either individual measures of teacher quality or particular school districts. 

This study presents a comprehensive, descriptive analysis of the inequitable distribution of both input and output measures of teacher quality across various indicators of student disadvantage across all school districts in Washington State. 

In elementary school, middle school, and high school classrooms, virtually every measure of teacher quality we examine—experience, licensure exam scores, and value added—is inequitably distributed across every indicator of student disadvantage—free/reduced-price lunch status, underrepresented minority, and low prior academic performance. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ninth Graders High School Completion Status

This First Look introduces new data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, collected in 2013 when most sample members were recent high school graduates, and in 2014 from the high school transcripts of students who were freshmen in 2009.

The analyses examine students' high school completion status; plans for postsecondary enrollment and financing of postsecondary education; and high school coursetaking.

Findings of particular interest include:

- Approximately 89 percent of fall 2009 ninth-graders had earned a high school diploma by 2013.

- Among fall 2009 ninth-graders who were attending or planned to attend a postsecondary institution in 2013, approximately 42 percent enrolled in or planned to enroll in a bachelor's degree program and 34 percent in an associate's degree program.

- Among respondents who were taking or planning to take postsecondary classes on November 1st, 2013, and who identified a major in which they were interested, 23 percent identified a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) major.

Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2012

The National Center for Education Statistics has released Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2012. The report draws on an array of nationally representative surveys and administrative datasets to present statistics on high school dropout and completion rates.

The report includes national estimates of the percentage of students who drop out in a given 12-month period (event dropout rates), the percentage of young people in a specified age range who are high school dropouts (status dropout rates), and the percentage of young people in a specified age range who hold high school credentials (status completion rates).

In addition, the report includes state-level data on event dropout rates and the percentage of students who graduate within four years of starting ninth grade (adjusted cohort graduation rate). Data are presented by a number of characteristics including race/ethnicity, sex, and socioeconomic status.

Key findings from this year's report include the following:

On average, 3.4 percent of students who were enrolled in public or private high schools in October 2011 left school before October 2012 without completing a high school program. Event dropout rates have trended downward, from 6.1 percent in 1972 to 3.4 percent in 2012. Black and Hispanic students had higher event dropout rates than White students in 2012 (6.8 percent, 5.4 percent, and 1.6 percent, respectively).

In October 2012, approximately 2.6 million 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential. These status dropouts accounted for 6.6 percent of the 38.8 million noninstitutionalized, civilian 16- through 24-year-olds living in the United States. Among all individuals in this age group, status dropout rates trended downward between 1972 and 2012, declining from 14.6 percent to 6.6 percent.

The 2012 status dropout rates for Asian/Pacific Islander (3.3 percent) and White (4.3 percent) 16- to 24-year olds were lower than those for Black (7.5 percent), Hispanic (12.7 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (14.6 percent) 16- to 24-year-olds. White and Black status dropout rates fell from 1972 to 2012, from 12.3 to 4.3 percent and from 21.3 to 7.5 percent, respectively. Between 1972 and 1990, Hispanic status dropout rates showed no clear trend, but between 1990 and 2012 they fell from 32.4 percent to 12.7 percent.

In 2012, 91.3 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school had received a high school diploma or alternative credential. Since 1980, the status completion rate has shown an upward trend, starting at 83.9 percent in 1980 and rising to 91.3 percent in 2012.

In 2012, Asian/Pacific Islander (94.9 percent) and White (94.6 percent) young adults had status completion rates that were higher than Black (90.0 percent), Hispanic (82.8 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (79.0 percent) young adults (table 9). The status completion rate for persons of Two or more races (91.9 percent) did not measurably differ from the rates for White or Asian/Pacific Islander young adults.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Minorities underrepresented in US special education classrooms

Although minority children are frequently reported to be overrepresented in special education classrooms, a team of researchers suggests that minority children are less likely than otherwise similar white children to receive help for disabilities.

The previously reported overrepresentation is most likely due to a greater exposure to environmental and economic risk factors, said Paul Morgan, associate professor of education, Penn State.

"The general limitation of the available studies is that they haven't been able to correct for minority children's unfortunate, but well-established, greater risk factor exposure to factors that themselves increase the risk for disability," said Morgan. "For example, minority children in the U.S. are much more likely to be born with low birth weight than children who are white, as well as more likely to be exposed to lead in their environment."

Adjusting for this greater risk factor exposure indicated that children who are racial, ethnic or language minorities in U.S. elementary and middle school are instead less likely to receive special education help than otherwise similar white, English-speaking children, according to the researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Educational Researcher.

The magnitude of these differences is large. For example, according to the dataset analyzed by the researchers, the odds of black children being identified as learning disabled are 58 percent lower than white children displaying the same levels of academic achievement, behavior and family economic resources. Black children are 57 percent less likely to be identified as having intellectual impairments and 77 percent less likely to be identified as having health impairments compared to white children. The odds that black children are identified as having emotional disturbances are also 64 percent lower than otherwise similar white children.

The odds that Hispanic children would be identified as having learning disabilities are 27 percent lower than otherwise similar white English-speaking children. Hispanic children are also 33 percent less likely to be identified as having speech or language impairments and 73 percent less likely to be identified as having health impairments.

These numbers differ significantly from the unadjusted or minimally adjusted comparisons. For example, black children make up approximately 14 percent of the general school age population, yet are about 19 percent of the special education population.

"Prior studies have often relied on 'apples to oranges' comparisons between minority and non-minority children, who likely differ in ways other than their race, ethnicity, or language use," said Morgan. "Yet characterizations have been repeatedly made of the special education system as racially biased based on these 'apples to oranges' studies."

Federal law and policies require states to monitor and report on the extent of overrepresentation of minorities in special education. School districts are required to take corrective action if overrepresentation is reported.

Morgan said these federal efforts, although well intentioned, could actually exacerbate inequities in access to special education and related services.

"What's happening is that federal officials have been monitoring and, to some extent, flagging racial bias when they observe what they view as minorities being overrepresented in special education, yet, what is occurring is that minorities are underrepresented in special education," said Morgan. "Instead of emphasizing prevention or reduction of minority overrepresentation, cultural or language barriers may be making it less likely for minority children with disabilities to be appropriately identified and treated."

The researchers failed to observe any tendency of U.S. schools to be racially biased toward identifying minorities as disabled and, therefore, inappropriately placing these children into special education classrooms. Instead, the results indicated that white, English-speaking children are systematically more likely to be provided with special education services.

The researchers suggest that training could help educational professionals better identify minority children with special needs.

"This underrepresentation may result from teachers, school psychologists and other education professionals responding differently to white, English-speaking children and their parents," said Morgan. "Education professionals should be attentive to cultural and language barriers that may keep minority children with disabilities from being appropriately identified and treated, so that all children with disabilities, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or language use, receive the help they need."