Locus of Control and At-Risk Youth: A Comparison of Regular Education High School Students and Students in Alternative Schools

Article excerpt

There are many indicators that America's youth continues to struggle with school failure and problem behavior. Some indications of these problems include: (a) one out of four students drop out of high school (these percentages raise to 50% in poor, urban high schools), (b) 3 million students and teachers are crime victims each month, and (c) violence-related deaths in youth have risen six percent from 1993 to 1998 (Gregg, 1999; McWhirter, McWhirter, McWhirter, & McWhirter, 1998). Adolescents make these ineffective and self-damaging choices in an attempt to fulfill a basic need such as freedom or belonging (Glasser, 1986). When students believe it is their choices that determine outcomes more than chance or external elements they will be more likely to make effective decisions.

Various intervention programs are in place in our schools, but to adequately address these issues it is important to understand what personality constructs contribute to adolescent school failure and problem behavior. Locus of Control is a possible factor in determining reasoning for problem behavior. Locus of Control is defined as the tendency of people to ascribe achievements and failures to either internal factors, they are in control, (effort, ability, motivation), or external factors, they are being controlled, (chance, luck, others' actions) (Rotter, 1966).

The purpose of this study is to gain insight on how adolescents who exhibit chronic behavior problems perceive their control over their environment. This will be achieved by comparing levels of locus of control between students who have been removed from regular classrooms because of problem behaviors with students in regular classrooms.

Method

Participants

Participants were 234 students, 7th graders through 12th graders, enrolled at public high schools in Kentucky. Participants self-reported ethnicity as follows: 54 African-Americans (23.1%); 2 Asian-Americans (.9%); 159 Caucasians (67.9%); 2 Hispanic-Americans (.9%); 4 Native-Americans (1.7%); 5 rated as Other (2.1%); and 8 did not identify ethnicity (3.4%). A total of 125 participants were male (53.4%) and 105 were female (44.9%) while 1.7% did not identify gender. Students in regular public schools accounted for 66.7% of the sample and 32.1% were from alternative education settings, 4 participants failed to identify their setting. Students are placed into alternative schools for chronic behavior and attendance problems.

Instruments

The Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale for Children and Adolescents was used for this study. This scale is a 40-item scale that measures the degree to which people believe that reinforcement is a result of their own actions or a result of fate or chance. Participants report a "yes" or "no" to each item, with each response in the external direction receiving a point. Scores can range from 0 (internal locus of control) to 40 (external locus of control) (Nowicki & Strickland, 1973).

Test-retest reliability was reported with a six-week interval at .75 for a group of 12- to 15-year-old children (n=54). Also, a test-retest reliability of .71, was found with a group of 10th graders. A Spearman-Brown split-half reliability of .74 was found for grades nine through eleven (Nowicki & Duke, 1983; Robinson & Shaver, 1973). Validity has been reported through correlating the scale with other scales that measure locus of control, such as the Bialer-Cromwell Scale (MacDonald, 1973). Results have suggested that the scale has fair concurrent validity with other locus of control measures and the relationships between locus of control and other constructs are in the expected directions.

Procedure

Three high school teachers in different schools assisted in data collection. A total of 5 schools were used for data collection. Each teacher contacted the schools' chief administrator to obtain permission to conduct the study in the schools. …