How Are Middle School Climate and Academic Performance Related Across Schools

Schools with a more positive student-reported climate had higher academic achievement in English language arts and mathematics than schools with a less positive climate, according to a new study from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) West.

While there is widespread consensus that positive school climate leads to higher academic performance, most of the research has compared differences across schools at a single point in time rather than examining how changes in a single school’s climate are related to changes in academic performance over time.

REL West examined both approaches for nearly 1,000 California middle schools by analyzing climate and academic achievement data from 2004-05 to 2010-11.

The study finds that (1) middle schools with higher levels of positive student-reported school climate exhibited higher levels of academic performance; (2) increases in a school’s level of positive student-reported school climate were associated with simultaneous increases in that school’s academic achievement; and (3) within-school increases in academic achievement associated with school climate increases were substantially smaller than the academic performance differences across schools with different school climate levels.

As positive school climate is continuing to gain more attention as a lever to improve student learning, there is increasing interest in how improvements in school climate are related to improvements in academic performance. Most studies examining the school climate-academic performance relationship compare the academic achievement across schools with different levels of school climate. Although the results of this study found that schools with high levels of positive school climate exhibited substantially higher levels of academic performance than their counterparts with low levels of positive school climate, such differences across schools were not an accurate guide for predicting the magnitude of school-specific gains in academic performance associated with increases in school climate.

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