Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 12, pp 1649–1660 | Cite as

Classroom Context, School Engagement, and Academic Achievement in Early Adolescence

Empirical Research


Classroom context and school engagement are significant predictors of academic achievement. These factors are especially important for academically at-risk students. Grounded in an ecological systems perspective, this study examined links between classroom context, school engagement, and academic achievement among early adolescents. We took a multidimensional approach to the measurement of classroom context and school engagement, incorporating both observational and self-reported assessments of various dimensions of classroom context (instruction quality, social/emotional climate, and student–teacher relationship) and school engagement (psychological and behavioral engagement). Using data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, we tested whether school engagement mediated the link between classroom context and academic achievement among 5th grade students, and whether these pathways were the same for students with previous achievement difficulties identified in 3rd grade. Participants included 1,014 children (50% female) in 5th grade (mean age = 11). The majority of the participants were white (77%) and 23% were children of color. Results indicated that psychological and behavioral engagement mediated the link between classroom context and academic achievement for students without previous achievement difficulties. However, for students with previous achievement difficulties psychological and behavioral engagement did not mediate the link between classroom context and academic achievement. These results suggest that improving classroom quality may not be sufficient to improve student engagement and achievement for students with previous achievement difficulties. Additional strategies may be needed for these students.


School engagement Academic achievement Classroom climate Student–teacher relationship At-risk students 


  1. Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Horsey, C. S. (1997). From first grade forward: Early foundations of high school dropout. Sociology of Education, 70, 87–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arbuckle, J. L. (1996). Full information estimation in the presence of incomplete data. In G. A. Marcoulides & R. E. Schumacker (Eds.), Advanced structural equation modeling: Issues and techniques (pp. 243–277). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Baker, J. A. (2006). Contributions of teacher–child relationships to positive adjustment during elementary school. Journal of School Psychology, 44, 211–229. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2006.02.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrington, B. L., & Hendricks, B. (1989). Differentiating characteristics of high school graduates, dropouts, and nongraduates. Journal of Educational Research, 82, 309–319.Google Scholar
  5. Bentler, P. M., & Bonett, D. G. (1980). Significance tests and goodness of fit in the analysis of covariance structures. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 588–606. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.88.3.588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. (1997). The teacher–child relationship and the children’s early school adjustment. Journal of School Psychology, 35, 61–79. doi: 10.1016/S0022-4405(96)00029-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bond, L., Butler, H., Thomas, L., Carlin, J., Glover, S., Bowes, G., et al. (2007). Social and school connectedness in early secondary school as predictors of late teenage substance use, mental health, and academic outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 357.e9–357.e18. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.10.013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes. In W. Denton (Series Ed.), & R. M. Lerner (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 1: Theoretical models of human development (5th ed., pp. 993–1028). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In K. A. Bollen & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing structural equation models (pp. 136–162). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Connell, J. P. (1990). Context, self, and action: A motivational analysis of self-system processes across the life span. In D. Cicchetti & M. Beeghly (Eds.), The self in transition: Infancy to childhood (pp. 61–97). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Connell, J. P., Spencer, M. B., & Aber, J. L. (1994). Educational risk and resilience in African American youth: Context, self, action, and outcomes in school. Child Development, 65, 493–506. doi: 10.2307/1131398.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  13. Decker, D. M., Dona, D. P., & Christenson, S. L. (2007). Behaviorally at-risk African American students: The importance of student–teacher relationships for student outcomes. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 83–109. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2006.09.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dotterer, A. M., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2009). The development and correlates of academic interests from childhood through adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 509–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Downer, J. T., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., & Pianta, R. C. (2007). How do classroom conditions and children’s risk for school problems contribute to children’s behavioral engagement in learning? School Psychology Review, 36, 413–432.Google Scholar
  16. Eccles, J. S., Wigfield, A., & Schiefele, U. (1998). Motivation to succeed. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3: Social, Emotional, and personality development (5th ed., pp. 1017–1095). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  17. Finn, J. D. (1993). Parental engagement that makes a difference. Educational Leadership, 55(8), 20–24.Google Scholar
  18. Finn, J. D., & Rock, D. A. (1997). Academic success among students at risk for school failure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 221–234. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.82.2.221.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59–109. doi: 10.3102/00346543074001059.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Furrer, C., & Skinner, E. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children’s academic engagement and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 148–162. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.95.1.148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Greene, B. A., Miller, R. B., Crowson, H. M., Duke, B. L., & Akey, K. L. (2004). Predicting high school students’ cognitive engagement and achievement: Contributions of classroom perceptions and motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 29, 462–482. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2004.01.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher–child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72, 625–638. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00301.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Can instructional and emotional support in the first-grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? Child Development, 76, 949–967. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00889.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hughes, J. N., Luo, W., Kwok, O., & Loyd, L. K. (2008). Teacher–student support, effortful engagement, and achievement: A 3-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 1–14. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.1.1.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jimerson, S. R., Campos, E., & Greif, J. L. (2003). Toward an understanding of definitions and measures of school engagement and related terms. The California School Psychologist, 8, 7–27.Google Scholar
  26. Johnson, M. K., Crosnoe, R., & Elder, G. H. (2001). Students’ attachment and engagement: The role of race and ethnicity. Sociology of Education, 74, 318–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jordan, W. J. (2000). Black high school students’ participation in school-sponsored sports activities: Effects on school engagement and achievement. Journal of Negro Education, 68, 54–71. doi: 10.2307/2668209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kelly, S., & Turner, J. (2009). Rethinking the effects of classroom activity structure on the engagement of low-achieving students. Teachers College Record, 111, 1665–1692.Google Scholar
  29. Ladd, G. W., & Burgess, K. B. (2001). Do relational risks and protective factors moderate the linkages between childhood aggression and early psychological and school adjustment? Child Development, 72, 1579–1601. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00366.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ladd, G. W., & Dinella, L. M. (2009). Continuity and change in early school engagement: Predictive of children’s achievement trajectories from first to eighth grade? Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 190–206. doi: 10.1037/a0013153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lynch, M., & Cicchetti, D. (1997). Children’s relationships with adults and peers: An examination of elementary and junior high school students. Journal of School Psychology, 35, 81–99. doi: 10.1016/S0022-4405(96)00031-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. MacKinnon, D. P., Lockwood, C. M., Hoffman, J. M., West, S. G., & Sheets, V. (2002). A comparison of methods to test mediation and other intervening variable effects. Psychological Methods, 7, 83–104. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.7.1.83.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Manlove, J. (1998). The influence of high school dropout and school disengagement on the risk of school-age pregnancy. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 82, 187–220. doi: 10.1207/s15327795jra0802_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Marks, H. M. (2000). Student engagement in instructional activity: Patterns in the elementary, middle, and high school years. American Educational Research Journal, 37, 153–184. doi: 10.2307/1163475.Google Scholar
  35. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2002). The relation of global first-grade classroom environment to structural classroom features and teacher and student behaviors. The Elementary School Journal, 102, 367–387. doi: 10.1086/499709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). A day in third grade: A large-scale study of classroom quality and teacher and student behavior. The Elementary School Journal, 105, 305–323. doi: 10.1086/428746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2006). Infant-mother attachment classification: Risk and protection in relation to changing maternal caregiving quality over time. Developmental Psychology, 42, 38–58. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.42.1.38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70, 323–367. doi: 10.3102/00346543070003323.Google Scholar
  39. Patrick, H., Ryan, A. M., & Kaplan, A. (2007). Early adolescents’ perceptions of the classroom social environment, motivational beliefs, and engagement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 83–98. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.1.83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pianta, R. C., La Paro, K. M., Payne, C., Cox, M. J., & Bradley, R. (2002). The relation of kindergarten classroom environment to teacher, family, and school characteristics and child outcomes. The Elementary School Journal, 102, 225–238. doi: 10.1086/499701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pianta, R. C., Steinberg, M. S., & Rollins, K. B. (1995). The first two years of school: Teacher–child relationships and deflections in children’s classroom adjustment. Development and Psychology, 7, 295–312. doi: 10.1017/S0954579400006519.Google Scholar
  42. Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Early, D. M., Cox, M. J., Saluja, G., Pianta, R. C., Bradley, R. C., et al. (2002). Early behavioral attributions and teachers’ sensitivity as predictors of component behavior in the kindergarten classroom. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 23, 451–470. doi: 10.1016/S0193-3973(02)00128-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Roeser, R. W., Eccles, J. S., & Sameroff, A. J. (2000). School as a context of early adolescents’ academic and social-emotional development: A summary of research findings. The Elementary School Journal, 100, 443–471. doi: 10.1086/499650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ryan, A. M., & Patrick, H. (2001). The classroom social environment and changes in adolescents’ motivation and engagement during middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 437–460. doi: 10.3102/00028312038002437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schafer, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2002). Missing data: Our view of the state of the art. Psychological Methods, 7, 147–177.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Schneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18, 158–176. doi: 10.1521/scpq. Scholar
  47. Shernoff, D. J., & Schmidt, J. A. (2008). Further evidence of an engagement-achievement paradox among US high school students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 564–580. doi: 10.1007/s10964-007-9241-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stipek, D., & Miles, S. (2008). Effects of aggression on achievement: Does conflict with the teacher make it worse? Child Development, 79, 1721–1735. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01221.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Voelkl, K. E. (1997). Identification with school. American Journal of Education, 105, 294–318. doi: 10.1086/444158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wang, M., & Holcombe, R. (2010). Adolescents’ perceptions of school environment, engagement, and academic achievement in middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 47, 633–662. doi: 10.3102/0002831209361209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wentzel, K. R. (1997). Student motivation in middle school: The role of perceived pedagogical caring. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 411–419. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.89.3.411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Woodcock, R. W., & Johnson, M. B. (1989). Woodcock–Johnson psycho-educational battery—revised. Itasca, IL: Riverside.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Child Development and Family StudiesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

Personalised recommendations