Academic Achievement and Extracurricular School Activities of At-Risk High School Students

By Marchetti, Ryan; Wilson, Randal H. et al. | Educational Research Quarterly, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Academic Achievement and Extracurricular School Activities of At-Risk High School Students


Marchetti, Ryan, Wilson, Randal H., Dunham, Mardis, Educational Research Quarterly


Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2000, schools across the country have become increasingly accountable to students who have historically underachieved. These students often come from readily identifiable groups who are at-risk for poor educational outcomes and are generally referred to as "gap" group students. By definition, a gap group student is any student who is of minority race, has a disability, has limited English proficiency, or qualifies for free and reduced price meals. Historically, students in these groups are at struggle academically compared to the general student body and ate afforded increased accountability by their schools.

Educational accountability systems differ across the country. Kentucky, for example, places an additional focus on the achievement of gap students. When a Kentucky high school receives an overall accountability score, achievement on state assessments by these at-risk students counts as 20 percent of the school's overall score (Kentucky Department of Education, 2012). Thus, the achievement of gap students is a high stakes issue for many schools and districts. While some gains have been seen in gap students, they continue to demonstrate poor performance relative to the general student population (Hemphill, Vanneman, & Rahman, 2011; Vanneman, Hamilton, Baldwin-Anderson, & Rahman, 2009). Disappointingly, there is little research regarding why some gap students, particularly those who qualify for free and reduced price meals, achieve scholastically. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to determine the employment, extracurricular, and family structure differences between high and low achieving students from low SES families in an effort to uncover the protective factors that support achievement for students from low SES families.

Students that receive free and reduced price meals, by definition, are from families with low income. Specifically, students who receive free meals are from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level. Students who receive reduced priced meals are from families with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level. From July 2013 through June 2014, 130% of the poverty level was $30,615 for a family of four; 185% was $43,568 (United States Department of Agriculture, 2013). Just over 50% of students in Kentucky's 2014 graduating class in public schools received free and reduced price meals (Kentucky Department of Education, n.d.).

There is a strong, linear correlation between achievement on the ACT and a student's family income. According to Orlich and Gifford (2006), the higher a student's family income, the higher the student's ACT score. From the same study, scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a similar college preparedness assessment, were equally predictable. In short, the wealthier a student's family, the higher the student's ACT and/or SAT score.

Why do students from low income or low socioeconomic status (SES) families achieve lower on average on the ACT and scholastically than students from middle or high SES families? Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" may be helpful in explaining this phenomenon. Maslow (1943) postulated that an individual is motivated to first meet physiological needs such as nutrition and shelter. With these met, a person will then seek safety and order, followed by acceptance from friends and family. When these needs are meet, esteem needs such as achievement, independence, and respect are pursued. When considering Maslow's hierarchy, it can be reasoned that students from low SES families might have unmet needs that are "lower" on the hierarchy. Maslow's model suggests that students with unmet basic needs will likely place a low priority on achievement at school.

Maslow's hierarchy provides one potential explanation why students from low SES families struggle in school. Researchers and educational professionals have found that students from low SES families are often not provided with family motivation to succeed at school (Usher & Kober, 2012). …

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