The Role of Sex, Self-Perception, and School Bonding in Predicting Academic Achievement among Middle Class African American Early Adolescents

Article excerpt

A significant body of research has addressed the achievement gap between African American and Caucasian students over the past four decades (Coleman et al., 1966; Jencks & Phillips, 1998). Different patterns of achievement have been documented, with African American students typically falling behind their Caucasian peers (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005; U.S. Bureau of Census, 2001; Weiss, March 2003). Because academic achievement is related to a number of positive outcomes later in life, including achieving higher education, employment, and financial stability (Bailey, 2003; Locke, 1999; McLananhan & Sandefur, 1994; Saunders, Davis, Williams, & Williams, 2004; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995), it is imperative that the pathways to academic success for African American students be better understood to help alter these potential trajectories. Although much research has been conducted comparing the educational performance of African American students to other racial groups, within group differences among African American youth have received less attention. To date, studies have mostly relied on predominantly low-income African American youth considered to be "at-risk" for academic failure (Hill, 1997), making the external validity of these data questionable. Given the documented growth of the Black middle class during the 21st century (Atwell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2004), questions remain about the academic experiences of these young people. Because of the dearth of empirical research on middle class African American students, the present study sought to examine the role of individual factors in predicting their school achievement.

While much data document a divergence in the academic outcomes of African American males and females (Belluck, 1999; U.S. Department of Education, 1998), little research has addressed potential explanations for these differences. Data show that by the end of high school, African American females significantly outperform their male counterparts in reading and writing (Coley, 2001), have higher grader point averages (GPAs; Chavous, Smalls, Rivas-Drake, Griffin, & Cogburn, 2008; Saunders et al., 2004; Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2005), and greater school engagement (Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2005; Woolley & Bowen, 2007). African American females are also more likely to graduate from high school and acquire a college or advanced degree than are African American males (Carter & Wilson, 1993; U.S. Bureau of Census, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 1998; Wilds, 2000). Additionally, African American females have been found to have higher graders in college than African American males (Cokley & Moore, 2007; Willingham & Cole, 1997). However, many studies have only reported the presence of gender differences in academic achievement rather than assessing possible reasons for these differences. Given that gender has been proposed to be a moderating variable which is limited in explanatory value (see Crain, 1996), a finding of gender differences in academic achievement should be viewed as a starting point for further investigation (Crawford & Unger, 2004; Grady, 1981; Lips, 2003; Yoder, 2003). Focusing solely on gender differences implies that they are static (Unger, 1979) and little intervention is possible. Therefore, instead of solely assessing gender, the role of other variables as potential mediators of gender differences need to be addressed to better understand their role in academic achievement.

Another aspect of academic achievement that has received less attention for African Americans is the phase of early adolescence (ages 10-14; Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995). This period of development encompasses many transitions for youth, including physiological changes of puberty, psychological development, and the social changes of middle school (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995). As a result of negotiating many changes at once, youth may be more vulnerable during this period. …