IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Are You What You Eat? Understanding the Links Between Diet, Behavior, and Achievement During Middle School

We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” but what exactly does it mean for student learning and achievement in middle school? In 2018, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham received an IES Exploration grant to investigate the direction and nature of the relationships between middle school students’ diet, behavior, and academic achievement. These relationships have not been fully studied in the United States, nor have longitudinal designs been used (most existing studies are cross-sectional) making it hard to determine the precise nature of the links between what adolescents eat and potential implications for learning and achievement.  

Because children in the United States consume about half of their nutrients at school, the need to identify school nutrition policies and practices that benefit student behavior and achievement is great, especially given newly published findings that motivated this IES research and that have attracted lots of media interest in recent days (see this story from CNN and this press release). The Alabama researchers found that specific nutrients (high sodium, low potassium) predicted depression over a year later in a sample of 84 urban, primarily African American adolescents (mean age 13 years). In the IES study, these researchers are expanding their work with a larger and more diverse sample of 300 students. In the first year of this 4-year study, the researchers recruited about two thirds of their sample (186 students across 10 schools) who completed the first of three week-long assessments as 6th graders and who will complete assessments again in the 7th and 8th grades. During each week-long assessment period, each student reports on their own diet and academic functioning, and on their own and their peers’ emotions and behavior. They also complete objective tests of attention and memory. The researchers observe each child’s actual food and beverage consumption at school and behavior during one academic class period. They also collect school records of grades, test scores, attendance, discipline incidents, and information about each school’s nutrition policies and practices. Parents and teachers also report on student diet, behavior, and academic functioning.

This school year the researchers are recruiting the rest of their sample. If their findings suggest a role for school practices and dietary factors in student behavior and achievement, they can guide future efforts to develop school-based programs targeting students’ diet that could be easily implemented under typical school conditions.

Written by Emily Doolittle, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research

Now Available! New Nationally Representative Data on the Socioemotional Development of Elementary School Students

In an earlier blog post, we shared that one of our survey programs—the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) program—was collecting data on socioemotional development to better understand how different academic and nonacademic factors may influence a child’s early schooling experiences. New data are now available from the spring 2016 public-use dataset for the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). This file contains data from every round of the ECLS-K:2011, from kindergarten through fifth grade.

For decades, the National Center for Education Statistics and other researchers have used ECLS data to examine questions about elementary school students’ socioemotional development. For instance, as seen in the excerpt below, an earlier wave of data was used to develop an indicator in the America’s Children report that looks at first-time kindergartners’ scores on socioemotional scales and how these students may victimize their peers. ECLS data are rich with information that can be used to analyze the influence of family, school, community, and individual factors on students’ development, early learning, and performance in school.

In the most recent ECLS program study, the ECLS-K:2011 collected information on its sample of kindergartners during the 2010–11 school year and then at least once during every academic year thereafter until 2015–16, when most of the students were in fifth grade. The ECLS-K:2011 data allow researchers to study how students’ socioemotional skills develop over time through reports from the students themselves and from key people in those students’ lives, including their parents, before- and after-school care providers, teachers, and school administrators.

Here’s a peek into the socioemotional development measures included the ECLS-K:2011:

  • Students completed questionnaires about their relationships with peers, social distress, peer victimization, and satisfaction with different aspects of their lives.
  • Teachers used their experiences with students in their classrooms to provide information about students’ approaches to learning (e.g., eagerness to learn, self-direction, attentiveness), social skills, and problem behaviors, as well as their own closeness and conflict with students.
  • Parents provided separate reports on much of the same information reported by teachers to provide a richer picture of their child’s development through a different lens.

For more information on the measures of socioemotional development included in the ECLS-K:2011, please see our study instruments or email the ECLS study team. Also, keep an eye out for future online training modules for the ECLS-K:2011, which will be released in fall 2019 or early 2020. To be alerted about the release of the free online trainings, email the ECLS study team at ECLS@ed.gov and ask to be added to the ECLS listserv.

 


Excerpt from America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2017


 

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll and Gail M. Mulligan

 

Teaching Organizational Skills to Adolescents: Bringing Clinical Practices into Schools

Organizing, planning, and managing time influence student achievement and become increasingly important as adolescents enter middle school. Clinical research offers promising practices for improving these skills in students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but the key is getting these practices into schools. That’s where IES-funded researchers come in.

In 2009, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University used an IES grant to develop Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS)—a program that teaches middle school students with ADHD to use checklists to organize, plan, and manage their schoolwork.

In 2013, IES funded an initial efficacy study to test HOPS in public middle schools, comparing HOPS with more traditional homework support. Researchers found that parents of students using HOPS and traditional homework support reported fewer homework problems and better organizational skills at home. In contrast, teachers reported improved organization and management skills in the classroom only for their students who used HOPS, not the homework support. HOPS also provided greater benefits overall for students with higher levels of hyperactivity and oppositional behavior and greater deficits in organizational skills.

In June, IES awarded a grant to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to conduct a five-year effectiveness study that will test whether HOPS is beneficial for all students who have organizational skill deficits, rather than just students with a formal ADHD diagnosis. This is important because organizational deficits affect student achievement regardless of whether a student has been diagnosed with a learning disorder. This study will determine whether schools can implement HOPS effectively and inexpensively in a school environment.

Written by Greg Shanahan, IES Presidential Management Fellow, and Emily Doolittle, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research

New Data Show Growth in Online Bullying

A vast majority of middle and high school students have an online presence, resulting in heightened awareness and concern about cyberbullying. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that reports of students being bullied online or by text are growing.

According to results from Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 20 percent of students reported being bullied during the 201617 school year. Of those students, 15 percent reported being bullied online or by text, which is an increase from 11.5 percent during the 201415 school year.

During the 201617 school year, students’ reports of bullying online or by text were found to differ by sex, race, and school level. For instance, three times as many female students reported being bullied online or by text (21 percent) as male students (7 percent), and about 17 percent of White students reported being bullied online or by text, compared with 12 percent of students of other races. Also, a higher percentage of high school students reported being bullied online or by text (19 percent) than middle school students (12 percent).

In the 2017 School Crime Supplement (SCS), students reported being bullied online or by text in higher percentages than did students being bullied only in person in three key types of bullying.

  • Students who reported being bullied online said they were made fun of, called names, or insulted more often (74 percent) than students who reported being bullied in person only (63 percent).
  • 90 percent of students bullied online reported that rumors were spread about them, compared to 62 percent of those who reported being bullied in person only.  
  • 39 percent of students being bullied online reported that they were excluded from activities on purpose, compared to 23 percent of students who reported being bullied in person only.

 



 

Browse the full report for more bullying estimates from the 2016–17 school year.

 

By Rachel Hansen

 

References

Lessne, D., and Yanez, C. (2016). Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2015 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime and Victimization Survey (NCES 2017-015). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017015.pdf.

Yanez, C., and Seldin, M. (2019). Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime and Victimization Survey (NCES 2019-054). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Forthcoming.

IES Expands Research in Social Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a key ingredient of high-quality education care, is important for both educators and children, and has been associated with children’s concurrent and later academic and social success.

Over a decade ago, Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence developed and began testing RULER, an SEL program geared toward children and educators (i.e., school leaders, teachers, and staff). RULER stands for five key social and emotional skills: Recognizing emotions in self and others, Understanding the causes of emotions in self and others, Labeling and talking about emotions, Expressing emotions across situations, and Regulating emotions effectively. For children and the key adults in their lives, RULER combines a whole-school professional development approach with a skill-building curriculum targeting educator and student social and emotional skills, school and classroom climate, and educator and student well-being. RULER is currently offered for pre-k–12 and out-of-school-time settings.

IES has supported the development and testing of RULER programs since 2012. The first IES award supported the modification of existing components of the RULER K-8th grade intervention and creation of new developmentally appropriate content for preschool settings. RULER is currently implemented in over 200 early childhood school- and home-based programs across the country and nearly 2,000 K-12 schools nationwide. Although RULER’s evidence-base has been growing over the years, RULER has not been systematically studied in large-scale, randomized controlled trials in preschool settings nor has it undergone an external evaluation in the later grades.

That is about to change: this year, IES awarded two grants to study the effects of the RULER programs. One will study the efficacy of whole-school RULER implementation for preschool students (under the Early Learning Programs and Policies program), and the other will do so for grades K-6 (under the Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning program).

The Preschool RULER grant (PI: Craig Bailey, PhD) will assess school readiness in children aged 3-5, as well as outcomes at the teacher/classroom and school leader/school levels. The researchers will study 72 early childhood centers, including public, private, and Head Start programs from urban areas in Connecticut, using a multisite, cluster-randomized control trial design. Altogether, approximately 216 classrooms, 1,800 staff, and 2,160 children will participate. Children, educators, and school leaders will be assessed for social and emotional skills, and educators/leaders will be assessed for emotionally intelligent pedagogy and leadership. Children will also be assessed for their approaches to learning, pre-literacy, and pre-math skills. This study will provide evidence about the efficacy of RULER in preschool settings and contribute to our understanding of high quality early childhood interventions that promote social emotional learning.

 

The other grant, for RULER in grades K-6 (PI: Jason Downer, PhD), will be the first large-scale external evaluation of RULER. The study will take place in 60 urban and suburban public elementary schools, including 420 teachers and 2,520 K-6 students in Virginia. Key outcomes for this study will include school climate assessments (assessed by teacher and principal reports), teacher well-being (assessed by self-report), and four student outcomes: social-emotional skills, behavior, academic engagement and academic achievement (assessed by standardized assessments, tests, and attendance records). Ultimately, this study will describe RULER’s effects on school climate, teacher well-being, classroom climate, and student outcomes.

By Amanda M. Dettmer, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow Sponsored by the American Psychological Association Executive Branch Science Fellowship

Photo credits: Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence