Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Multidimensionality of School Engagement and Math Achievement among Racial Groups

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Multidimensionality of School Engagement and Math Achievement among Racial Groups

Article excerpt

The study in this article employed a multidimensional (behavioral, emotional, and cognitive) construct of school engagement to examine its relationship to school achievement in mathematics across the five major racial groups. The sample included 115 American Indians, 486 Asians, 1,551 Blacks, 1,682 Latinos, and 7,554 Whites who participated in the Educational Longitudinal Study (2002-2004). Data were analyzed using a multiple regression analysis for each of the five racial groups. Behavioral and cognitive engagement accounted for much more of the variance in math achievement scores than did emotional engagement. Ways in which professional school counselors can promote these kinds of engagement are discussed.


Throughout the elementary and secondary school years, the quality of the relationship between students and their schools has been viewed as critical in determining academic success and social responsibility. Researchers have examined this relationship using various constructs such as school engagement (Finn & Voelkl, 1993; Jennings, 2003), school bonding (Eggert, Thompson, Herting, Nicholas, & Dicker, 1994), school belonging (Morrison, Cosden, O'Farrell, & Campos, 2003; Osterman, 2000), and school connectedness (Goodenow, 1993; Johnson, Crosnoe, & Elder, 2001). School engagement is the most encompassing and frequently used construct in studying students' relationship to their schools and is considered by some as a "meta" construct (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). School counselors, because of their unique training and role within the school, are considered to have an influential role in helping students become more engaged.


A consistent definition of school engagement, however, has not been used in research. While most studies have understood school engagement as multidimensional, there is disagreement as to the kind and number of dimensions in the construct of school engagement. For example, Finn and Voelkl (1993) defined school engagement as having "both a behavioral component, termed participation, and an emotional component termed identification" (p. 249). Fredricks et al. (2004) defined school engagement as having three dimensions: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive. The tridimensional nature of school engagement allows researchers greater complexity in understanding students' relationships to their schools. The following paragraphs briefly explain each of these three dimensions.

Behavioral Engagement

Behavioral engagement is itself understood as having three components. The first is behavior related to learning such as "effort, persistence, concentration, attention, asking questions, and contributing to class discussions" (Fredricks et al., 2004, p. 62). The second component is compliance as manifested in following school norms and rules, degree of disruptive behaviors, cutting classes, and getting into trouble (Finn, 1993; Finn & Rock, 1997). The third component of behavioral engagement is participation in extracurricular activities (Finn, Pannozzo, & Voelkl, 1995).

Emotional Engagement

Emotional engagement has to do with students' feelings about school and the degree to which they care about their school. Included in emotional engagement are feelings of belongingness (Osterman, 2000), safety, comfort, and pride in the institution (Maddox & Prinz, 2003). Emotional engagement also includes relationships with teachers and peers (Jimerson, Campos, & Greif, 2003). The more students experience their teachers as caring, respectful, approving, and encouraging, the greater the degree of emotional engagement (Goodenow, 1993; Greenwood, Horton, & Utley, 2002; Murray & Greenberg, 2001; Wentzel, 1997).

Cognitive Engagement

The final dimension of school engagement deals with students' investment in learning, their beliefs about the importance of academics and good grades, degree of studying and homework completion, capacity to confront challenge, and willingness to go beyond the minimum requirements (Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Newman, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992; Maddox & Prinz, 2003). …

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