Predicting Academic Achievement from Cumulative Home Risk: The Mediating Roles of Effortful Control, Academic Relationships, and School Avoidance

By Swanson, Jodi; Valiente, Carlos et al. | Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Predicting Academic Achievement from Cumulative Home Risk: The Mediating Roles of Effortful Control, Academic Relationships, and School Avoidance


Swanson, Jodi, Valiente, Carlos, Lemery-Chalfant, Kathryn, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly


Components of the home environment are associated with children's academic functioning. The accumulation of risks in the home are expected to prove more detrimental to achievement than any one risk alone, but the processes accounting for this relation are unclear. Using an index of cumulative home risk (CHR) inclusive of protective factors, as well as risks, we examined child-level and school environment variables as potential mediators of the relation of CHR to academic achievement in a sample of 266 third-grade through fifth-grade children. Parents reported on the home environment, and school-issued report cards assessed achievement. Results from structural equation models indicated that children's effortful control (parent- and child-reported), conflictual peer and student-teacher relationships (teacher- and child-reported), and school avoidance (teacher- and child-reported) significantly mediated the relation between CHR and achievement. Findings offer insights into specific mechanisms that link a negative home environment to academic functioning.

Academic achievement is consistently related to long-term productive health, social, and professional outcomes (Duncan et al., 2007; Lee, 2010; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010). Accordingly, the role parents (or the home environment; for a review, see Spera, 2005) play in influencing achievement has been extensively investigated. Some family demographic and social factors place children at risk for poor functioning (Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1998); however, theorists have argued that an accumulation of risk factors is more detrimental to positive functioning than is the presence of any one risk (Sameroff, Bartko, Baldwin, Baldwin, & Seifer, 1998). Children develop in the context of multiple simultaneous individual-, social-, and environmental-level influences (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). Thus, there is utility in, and a need for, considering the potentially exacerbated effects of cumulative risk on adjustment (Lengua, 2002; Rutter, 1979). In addition, resilience researchers have identified protective factors that serve to guard against the negative effects of risks (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000), yet the presence of protective factors in the home, such as supportive parenting, are rarely considered in models of cumulative home risk (CHR).

We sought to extend theory and empirical work on the effects of an accumulation of risks in the home (e.g., Sameroff et al., 1998; Prelow & Loukas, 2003) by incorporating protective factors into a CHR composite. Our primary study aim was to test a multiple-mediator process model to elucidate child-level mechanisms expected to account for the relation between CHR and achievement. CHR is related to achievement, across developmental stages, particularly in early and middle elementary grades (Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998; Gassrnan-Pines & Yoshikawa, 2006; Pungello, Kupersmidt, Burchinal, & Patterson, 1996), but the processes underlying this relation are unclear. Self-regulation and social relationships also contribute to achievement (Blair, 2002; National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Early Child Care Research Network [hereafter, NICHD], 2003) and may play more proximal roles than the home environment. Guided by evidence of the importance of the additive influences of multiple risk factors on achievement, we tested a model of whether children's effortful control (i.e., a regulatory component of temperament), conflictual academic relationships, and school avoidance mediate the relation of CHR to academic achievement.

Relations Between the Home Environment and Academic Achievement

Parents influence their children's academic achievement (Spera, 2005). High family socioeconomic status (SES), positive parenting practices, positive aspects of parents' personality, and high marital quality are associated with school success (Harold, Aitken, & Shelton, 2007; Heaven & Newbury, 2004; Robertson & Reynolds, 2010). …

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