School Climate and Public High School Student Achievement

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The goal of this study was to examine the influence of school ecology, milieu, social system, and culture on public high school student achievement. Utilized data from the ELS:2002 restricted-use dataset, a series of multilevel model analyses were conducted. The results indicate that performance gaps exist between 12th-graders of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they are merely reflections of the differences that already existed two years prior in 10th-grade. Further, the gap between high and low achieving students becomes narrower from 10th-grade to 12th-grade. The highest mathematics course taken in 12-grade produces a positive estimate of mathematics achievement in 12th-grade, and ethnic minority and lower SES students are less likely to be enrolled in the advanced level courses.

Contradicting to the classic view of school influences on achievement, public high schools exhibit relatively little variability in mathematics performance after controlling for student individual characteristics. Among all school climate variables, school average prior mathematics achievement is significantly positively associated with later mathematics achievement. The nonsignificance of contextual effect, however, suggests that the differences across schools do not matter; rather, the differences among students do. Students in schools located in economically disadvantaged communities make more gains in advanced mathematics course-taking than their peers in more affluent schools. The gap between high and low-achieving students grows slightly wider in schools located in more affluent communities, but becomes slightly narrower in fully computerized schools. Contradicting to most existing findings, school size, noisy environment, quality of light, ethnic composition, teacher certification rate, counselor-student ratio, safety concern, student civility, and general positive climate do not show significant influence on achievement. Suggestions about implications and limitations are provided.