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