An Empirical Study of Student Relationships and Academic Achievement

By Niebuhr, Katherine E.; Niebuhr, Robert E. | Education, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

An Empirical Study of Student Relationships and Academic Achievement


Niebuhr, Katherine E., Niebuhr, Robert E., Education


Past school climate literature historically has been related to two traditions: the investigation of school effects and the study of organizational climate (Anderson, 1982). One of the earliest concepts of a school's climate, developed by Halpin and Croft (1962), envisioned climate as the personality of the organization. More recently, (Deal cited in Gondor, 1994) perceives the school climate as the physical and psychological environment with a specific link to student academic achievement. Anderson (1982), in a review of the research on school climate, utilized an organizational taxonomy to address the issue. She compared a wide range of theoretical discussions, climate instruments, and models and concluded that school climate is the total environmental quality of a school.

Viewing school climate as an antecedent rather than an outcome variable, school-effects research is concerned with the factors that affect academic achievement. This line of research examines cultural elements of climate, such as the norms shared by students (Miskel & Ogawa, 1988). Positive school climate has been shown to have an influence on student behavior, including achievement (Weishen and Peng, 1993). This study is examining a subset of climate, i.e., student relationships at school, and its association to student academic achievement. Are these student relationships related to academic achievement and are there differences due to demographics such as gender, race, or family environment?

Method

Participants

The present study was conducted in a small town in the Southeast where the presence of a large state university had resulted in a bimodal socio-economic population. Participants were 241 high school freshmen, of whom 76 were Black, 158 White, and 7 were classified as other. There were 128 females and 113 males.

Instruments

The survey questionnaire consisted of items providing individual and family demographic information and responses to perceptual measures for each of the study variables.

School Climate. The principle evaluation of school climate was done using the Comprehensive Assessment of School Environment (CASE) instrument. This measure was developed in 1982 by the National Association of Secondary School Principal's Task Force on School Climate (Keefe & Kelly, 1990). The CASE subscales were developed factor analytically and include the following subscales used for this study. Reliabilities for this study are presented in parentheses: teacher-student relationships (.84), administration relationships (.74), guidance relationships (.77), and student-peer relationships (.81).

In a review of the CASE instrument, Leong (1992) indicated that the lack of scales to measure the climate for cultural diversity was one of the problems with the instrument. Therefore, a subscale for racial relationships (.66) was developed to examine possible discriminatory climates. These items were derived from a widely used instrument developed for the military (Landis, Dansby, & Faley, 1993).

Academic Achievement. Because high school grades are generally viewed as indicators of academic success in school (Hagborg, 1992), in this study an overall grade point average from the semester in which the survey was administered was used as the measure of academic achievement.

Procedure

Data Collection. The survey questionnaire was administered to all subjects at the same time in the school auditorium to insure consistency of instruction (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1992). Because the participants provided their names on the survey questionnaire, confidentiality of individual responses was emphasized. Having the names on the survey allowed for matching survey responses with grade point average.

Data Analysis. Zero-order correlations were performed to analyze the relationships between school climate and academic achievement.

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