The relationship of socio-cultural contextual factors in schools with academic achievement in adolescents of high ability

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Burney, Virginia H.
Cross, Tracy L.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of Educational Psychology
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This study identified school and district level variables relevant to the relationship among advanced academic achievement, as defined by a score of 3, 4, or 5 on at least one Advanced Placement exam, and high school context, opportunities for social support and advanced academics, and district support for high ability students in grades K-12. Using school and district-level data from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), district level data on services for high ability students from the IDOE Division of Exceptional Learners, and school-level data from College Board, 49 variables are described for 339 public high schools. A hierarchical linear regression was applied to 15 independent variables thought to be most relevant to the explanation of the variance among high schools. After review, a second hierarchical regression was conducted with 9 retained independent variables explaining 80% of the variance in high performance. The retained variables included size of the graduating class, SAT average, demographic classification according to local population density, percentage of the community with less than a high school education, number of different AP exams offered by the school, ratio of the number of students scoring between 55 and 80 on the math portion of the PSAT to the number of graduates, ratio of the number of students taking SAT Subject Tests to the number of graduates, percentage of the school corporation enrollment identified as high ability, and the number of grade levels and subject areas in which advanced instruction differentiated for high ability students was offered for at least 150 minutes per week. The variables included in the first regression are delineated for the highest 34 (10%) and lowest 34 (10%) performing schools on the dependent variable to construct profiles of a high and low performing school. High performance is limited in small and rural schools. The overarching finding is that schools make a significant difference in the opportunities and development of high performance in adolescents of high ability. Future research directions are suggested and implications of the findings for policymakers are discussed.