Sep 05 2012

Positive Action Benefits Academic Outcomes for Low-income, Urban Students

Positive Action Staff
A new assessment of student-reported disaffection with learning and grades, and of teacher ratings of their ability and motivation, has found that Positive Action significantly improves growth in academic motivation and mitigates disaffection with learning for students living in low-income, urban communities.

Furthermore, in the schools using Positive Action, absenteeism was reduced and standardized test performance in math and reading improved for many students.

This analysis of data from a longitudinal, matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled trial conducted in 14 Chicago public schools over six years (2004-2010) will soon be reported in the "Journal of School Health." It is the first examine the academic impact of Positive Action in this setting, and supplements findings on the academic impact of Positive Action in Hawai'i by including data from elementary and middle-school students and teachers.

Specifically, Positive Action was found to have favorable program effects on reading for African American males and cohort students transitioning between Grades 7 and 8, a marginally significant impact on the math performance of all students, and favorable program effects on math for females and low-income students.

In the Chicago trial of Positive Action, the intervention also had a positive impact on absenteeism and mitigated a natural increase in disaffection with learning, and Positive Action teachers rated their students as experiencing greater growth in academic motivation and ability. Researchers considered these findings encouraging, because such outcomes are predictors of long-term academic achievement and school completion.

The impact on academic-related outcomes observed in this study may be attributed to a number of factors, researchers said. For example, the skills fostered by the Positive Action program (e.g., problem solving, self-control, emotional regulation, and attention), and lesson plans focusing on improving motivation to learn and do well in school, may in part explain the observed results.

In addition, the promotion of positive behaviors may have resulted in less time being spent by teachers on classroom management and, subsequently, more time devoted to interactive strategies that create an intellectually stimulating environment. Moreover, the impact on academics may have been mediated through improvements in attachment to school and teachers.

When taken together with preliminary research showing the impact of this trial on health behaviors, results from this study demonstrate the possibility of addressing the proverbial “two birds” (i.e. health and academics) with “one stone” (i.e. school-based social-emotional and character development programs), researchers said.

These results have been included in the outcomes matrix.


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