Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Biennial Meeting
April 12-14, 2018
Presentation Title: "Juvenile Offending, School Attitudes, and State Test Scores" (paper)
Authors: Caitlin Cavanaugh (Michigan State), Alissa Mahler, Elizabeth Cauffman
Youth who are more bonded to their schools perform better academically (Bryan et al., 2012). However, youth who are chronically suspended may have fewer opportunities to form an attachment to their schools (Toldson, McGee, & Lemmons, 2015). Furthermore, youth with a history of suspensions underperform in school (Maxwell, 2017). Juvenile offenders are a population especially at risk for suspensions (Monahan et al., 2014) and academic underperformance (Katsiyannis et al., 2008). Are youthful offenders with a history of suspensions less likely to be bonded to school, and therefore more likely to perform poorly? Despite the clear link between juvenile offending and academic underachievement, previous literature has not tested the associations between delinquency, suspensions, school bonding, and school performance. We expect that youth with a history of suspensions will report less school bonding, and perform poorly on their state exams. We further hypothesize both suspensions and school bonding will mediate the relation between delinquency and state exam scores.
One hundred and seventy-five male, first-time juvenile offenders (ages 13-17, M=14.77) were interviewed in California. Youth self-reported criminal behavior, history of suspensions, and school bonding. IQ tests were administered for each youth. Official school records were obtained to augment self-report data, including official CAHSEE (California High School Exit Examination) scores in math and English. The analytic sample includes youth who took the CAHSEE 6 months after their initial interview.
Structural Equation Modeling was used to test the association between delinquency, school suspensions, school bonding, and state test (CAHSEE) scores in math and English. A recursive model was identified for both math and English scores. Overall model goodness-of-fit was excellent across a variety of indices (English scores: Χ2(2) = .901, p = .387, RMSEA = .000, CFI = 1.00; math scores: Χ2(2) = .955, p = .620, RMSEA = .000, CFI = 1.00). Equation level goodness-of-fit indices suggested that the model accounted for 27.6% of the variance in youth CAHSEE English scores (R2=.276), and 29.4% of the variance in youth CAHSEE math scores (R2=.294).
When considering CAHSEE English scores, youth with a history of suspensions received lower grades, and youth who reported more school bonding received higher grades. Contrary our expectations, suspensions were not related to school bonding. However, juvenile offending had an indirect effect on English scores, as mediated through suspensions and school bonding (controlling for IQ; see Figure 1). Nearly identical results were found when considering CAHSEE math scores, except that school bonding was not associated with math scores (see Figure 2).
In order to mitigate the risk of dropout among juvenile offenders, it is important to understand the mechanism connecting juvenile offending, suspensions, school bonding, and academic performance. Results from the present study suggest that suspensions mediate the link between juvenile offending and poor test scores, suggesting that alternatives to suspensions may improve youth academic success. Given the importance of state tests in high school completion (McSpadden et al., 2008), school administrators are encouraged to focus disciplinary policies away from school suspensions.