An Investigation of a Brief Measure of School Membership

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ABSTRACT

School membership is the extent of personal belonging, respect, and support students feel in school. To evaluate this construct, Goodenow (1993) developed the Psychological Sense of School Membership (PSSM) questionnaire. In a recent factor analytic study, Hagborg (1994) found that the PSSM measured three dimensions rather than one. The present investigation examined the psychometric properties of a shortened version--the PSSM-Brief. This unidimensional measure of school membership was administered to 120 middle school students (grades 5 to 8). The PSSM-Brief demonstrated high internal consistency. In addition, a median sample split was performed to investigate the scale's criterion validity. Consistent with prior PSSM research, the high-scoring group reported higher grades, more time spent on homework, and greater school motivation than did the low-scoring group. Supportive of Wehlage's theoretical model of school membership (Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989), the high group reported a more i nternal locus of control. A small but statistically significant positive correlation was also found between school membership and educational aspirations.

Researchers have found that the school milieu and instructional practices are often poorly matched to the developmental needs of children and adolescents (Eccles & Midgley, 1990). In light of this, proposals for reform often recommend various changes aimed at creating a more supportive social-emotional environment for students. For example, the first recommendation of the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1989), in their report "Turning Points," was the development of a community of learning for middle school students. They explained that a middle school should "be a place where close, trusting relationships with adults and peers create a climate for personal growth and intellectual development" (p. 37). This important notion of community has been variously described as school belonging, attachment, identification, and membership (Finn, 1989; Sizer, 1984).

Based on research conducted at 14 alternative schools for at-risk youth, Wehlage and his colleagues constructed a theory of school membership (Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989). They described the four components of school membership: (1) attachment--personal investment in meeting the expectations of others, caring what others think, and positive reciprocal teacher and student relations; (2) commitment--complying with a school's rules and demands; (3) involvement--active participation in school activities and tasks; and (4) belief--valuing and trusting the institution. They posited that school membership would interact with educational engagement, resulting in a variety of positive student outcomes in both the scholastic and personal-social domains.

Guided by the work of Wehlage (Wehlage et al., 1989), the Carnegie Council (1989), and others, Goodenow (1993) developed an 18-item student questionnaire to assess school membership: the Psychological Sense of School Membership (PSSM). Findings from initial investigations with the PSSM have provided support for its reliability and validity (Goodenow, 1993; Hagborg, 1994). However, in exploring the scale's construct validity, Hagborg (1994) found that the scale was composed of three factors, labeled Belonging, Rejection, and Acceptance. The first factor was composed of 11 of the 18 items and accounted for 35% of the scale's variance. It was recommended that researchers work toward scale refinement in order to create a unidimensional measure of school membership consistent with Wehlage's model (Wehlage et al., 1989).

The present study investigated an 11-item version of the PSSM. In addition to scale reliability, criterion validity was examined by high/low group comparisons regarding student grades, homework time, and motivation. Further, drawing on Wehlage's school membership theory (Wehlage et al. …