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How Are Middle School Climate and Academic Performance Related Across Schools and Over Time?

By Adam Voight, Thomas Hanson


An increasing number of educators agree that, in order to improve academic performance, schools must focus not only on students’ academic needs but also on their social, emotional, and material needs.

Most studies on the relationship between school climate and academic performance assert that a more positive school climate promotes higher academic performance. But evidence of a relationship between the two is weak. These studies generally are based on data collected at a single point in time and compare academic performance across schools with different school climates.

This study, produced by REL West, used California Healthy Kids Survey data from approximately 1,000 middle schools in California for 2004/05–2010/11 to explore the relationship between school climate and academic performance across schools and over time.

Schools with a positive school climate were those in which students reported high levels of safety/connectedness; caring relationships with adults; meaningful student participation; and low rates of substance use at school, bullying/discrimination, and student delinquency.

School-level academic performance was measured using California Standards Test scores in English language arts and math.

Key Findings

  • Schools with more positive student-reported school climate had higher average academic performance
  • School-level changes in student-reported school climate over time were often related to simultaneous changes in academic performance over time
  • The within-school longitudinal associations of school climate and academic performance over time were smaller than the between-school cross-sectional associations at a single point in time

Resource Details

Product Information

Copyright: 2017
Format: PDF
Pages: 29
Publisher: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences