LONGITUDINAL ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL CONTEXTS AND STUDENT AGGRESSION IN EARLY ADOLESCENCE

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Sanders, Michael Thomas
Graduate Program:
Psychology
Degree:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
June 21, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Thesis Advisor
  • Martha Ellen Wadsworth, Committee Member
  • Dawn Paula Witherspoon, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • aggression
  • poverty
  • achievement
  • school context
Abstract:
High levels of aggressive behaviors in early adolescence are associated with a host of problematic short- and long-term outcomes, including school drop-out, substance use, mental health problems, and delinquency. Growing up in poverty increases youth risk for developing aggressive behavior problems. In part, this appears due to exposure to school contexts that are characterized by high levels of student poverty and low achievement, which can create socialization contexts that support aggression and impede the development of adaptive self-regulation skills. For example, when there are many aggressive children in the peer group, students are exposed to aggressive models and peer support for aggressive behaviors. In schools characterized by low levels of academic achievement, disorganized classes and demoralized teaching staff often fail to support student self-regulation skills, reducing the inhibitory control of student aggression. Several studies have documented associations between student aggression and school contexts characterized by high levels of student poverty or low levels of student academic achievement, but rarely have studies examined these contexts together using a developmental lens. In the current study, 365 children from low-income families (58% Caucasian, 17% Hispanic, 25% African American; 54% girls) were followed from preschool through seventh grade. Regression analyses predicted teacher and parent ratings of seventh-grade student aggression with school levels of poverty (percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch) and academic achievement (percentage of students scoring below the basic proficiency level on state achievement testing) experienced during elementary school and middle school, controlling for student baseline aggression and family demographics. Results revealed significant effects of elementary- and middle-school school-level context on student aggression in seventh grade, with middle-school school achievement levels making unique contributions across school and home settings (teacher and parent raters). Implications, limitations, and future directions of these findings are discussed.