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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Educator Effectiveness

January 2019


What research is available on the influence of mobility on academic achievement, attendance, and school engagement outcomes among elementary students?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the influence of mobility on academic achievement, attendance, and school engagement outcomes among elementary students. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Anderson, S. (2017). School mobility among middle school students: When and for whom does it matter? Psychology in the Schools, 54(5), 487–503. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study sought to understand the extent to which elementary or middle school mobility was associated with adverse middle school academic achievement and mental health and whether youth or contextual characteristics moderated associations. I contrasted elementary and middle school mobility to consider whether a recent school move or elementary school move mattered for current adjustment and achievement. Using a diverse sample of youth from a mid-sized urban school district (N = 1,651), results from propensity score weighted regression models indicated that middle school but not elementary school mobility was associated with deficits in achievement and mental health. Results differed notably for girls and boys. Girls who changed schools demonstrated more depressive symptoms and had lower achievement than similar girls who did not. Moderated effects were also evident by receipt of free or reduced price lunch. Results are discussed in terms of future research and school policies to support mobile youth.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Ashby, C. M. (2010). Many challenges arise in educating students who change schools Frequently (GAO-11-40). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Educational achievement of students can be negatively affected by their changing schools often. The recent economic downturn, with foreclosures and homelessness, may be increasing student mobility. To inform Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) reauthorization, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked: (1) What are the numbers and characteristics of students who change schools, and what are the reasons students change schools? (2) What is known about the effects of mobility on student outcomes, including academic achievement, behavior, and other outcomes? (3) What challenges does student mobility present for schools in meeting the educational needs of students who change schools? (4) What key federal programs are schools using to address the needs of mobile students? GAO analyzed federal survey data, interviewed U.S. Department of Education (Education) officials, conducted site visits at eight schools in six school districts, and reviewed federal laws and existing research. Appended are: (1) Scope and Methodology; (2) Data on Characteristics of Mobile Student Populations; (3) Data on Characteristics of Schools Regarding Mobile Student Populations; (4) Literature Review of Published Research on Student Mobility; and (5) GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments.”

Burkam, D. T., Lee, V. E., & Dwyer, J. (2009, June). School mobility in the early elementary grades: Frequency and impact from nationally-representative data. Paper prepared for the Workshop on the Impact of Mobility and Change on the Lives of Young Children, Schools, and Neighborhoods, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the executive summary: “The current study addresses these gaps in the literature by focusing on the impact of school change on children from kindergarten to third grade using a nationally representative sample of children who were followed longitudinally. The longitudinal nature of our analysis allows us to control for initial achievement (a serious albeit common omission in past research). In this study, we use the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) dataset to investigate the following research questions:

  1. Who changes schools and who does not change schools? For children aged 5–8, which children move from one school to another?
  2. What is the broad nature of the school move? To what extent do children change schools during the school year as opposed to between school years? To what extent do children change schools for structural reasons (they have completed the highest grade available in their school and must transfer for the next school year) as opposed to family reasons (residential relocation or the family’s desire or need for a different school)?
  3. What is the impact of moving on children’s mathematics and reading achievement? Are children who change schools negatively impacted by school mobility after accounting for such important factors as social class, minority status, and prior achievement? Is the impact of the school mobility related to the timing and the motivation for the school change?
  4. Is the impact of school mobility conditioned by other characteristics of the child or family? More specifically, is the effect of school mobility different for girls than for boys? For children of different social, racial, ethnic, or language backgrounds?”

Coley, R. L., & Kull, M. (2016). Cumulative, timing-specific, and interactive models of residential mobility and children’s cognitive and psychosocial skills. Child Development, 87(4), 1204–1220. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Residential mobility has received notable attention in the literature, yet there remains limited consensus on how and when mobility is associated with detriments to children’s development. Drawing on a nationally representative sample of 19,162 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study followed from kindergarten through eighth grade, this study compared cumulative, timing-specific, and interactive models of mobility. Results found that mobility during middle childhood and early adolescence was negatively associated with children’s cognitive skills, with short-term effects that dissipated over time. In contrast, associations with psychosocial functioning emerged in relation to early and middle childhood mobility. Effects of residential mobility were robust to more conservative modeling techniques and adjustments for school mobility.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Engec, N. (2006). Relationship between mobility and student performance and behavior. Journal of Educational Research, 99(3), 167–178. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The authors investigated the relationship between student mobility and student performance and behavior. The authors used criterion-referenced test (CRT) and norm-referenced test (NRT) data indexes from the 1998–1999 school year. Results showed that as the mobility of students increased within the school year, their test performance on the CRT and the NRT decreased. Also, suspension rates were high for students who had changed schools within a school year. As a practical solution, students who experience single or multiple transfers within a school year should receive particular attention because they are likely to have discipline and performance problems. Also, the K–12 grade structure appears to be much more appropriate for students than is the traditional K-5, 6–8, and 9–12 structure.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Gruman, D. H., Harachi, T. W., Abbott, R. D., Catalano, R. F., & Fleming, C. B. (2008). Longitudinal effects of student mobility on three dimensions of elementary school engagement. Child Development, 79(6), 1833–1852. Retrieved from Full text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “Working within the developmental science research framework, this study sought to capture a dynamic and complex view of student mobility. Second- through fifth-grade data (N = 1,003, predominantly Caucasian) were drawn from a longitudinal study, and growth curve analyses allowed for the examination of mobility effects within the context of other factors that put children at risk, including behavior problems and family stress. School changes predicted declines in academic performance and classroom participation but not positive attitude toward school. Time-varying factors such as peer acceptance and teacher support had a positive influence on the growth trajectories of child outcomes. Additionally, teacher support had a particularly strong influence on positive attitudes toward school among children who had more school changes.”

Han, S. (2014). School mobility and students’ academic and behavioral outcomes. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 9(6). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The study examined estimated effects of school mobility on students’ academic and behavioral outcomes. Based on data for 2,560 public schools from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) 2007–2008, the findings indicate that high schools, urban schools, and schools serving a total student population of more than 50 percent minority students tend to have more school mobility than their counterparts. After controlling for safety initiatives, violence, and school background characteristics, school mobility is negatively associated with principals’ perceptions of students’ levels of aspiration and school achievement but positively associated with principals’ perceptions of students’ insubordination. The study offers policy implications for school administrators.”

Hanushek, E. A., Kain, J. F., & Rivkin, S. G. (2001). Disruption versus Tiebout improvement: The costs and benefits of switching schools. New York, NY: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Greensboro, NC: Smith Richardson Foundation, and Tarrytown, NY: Donner Foundation. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Most students change schools at some point in their academic careers, but some change very frequently, and some schools experience a great deal of turnover. Many researchers, teachers, and administrators argue that mobility harms students, particularly disadvantaged students in high turnover, inner city schools. However, economists emphasize the importance of Tiebout mobility in which parents change districts in pursuit of higher quality schools. Empirical research on mobility has yielded inconclusive results. This paper develops a general theoretical model that identifies school quality changes resulting from moving. The empirical analysis, which exploits the rich longitudinal data of the University of Texas at Dallas Texas Schools Project, disentangles the disruption effects associated with moves from changes in school quality. The results suggest that there is a small average increase in school quality for district switchers, while there is no evidence that those switching schools within districts obtain higher school quality on average. The results also show a significant externality from moves: students in schools with high turnover suffer a disadvantage, and the cost is largest for lower income and minority students who typically attend much higher turnover schools. ”

Isernhagen, J. C., & Bulkin, N. (2011). The impact of mobility on student performance and teacher practice. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 16(1), 17–24. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article examines the effects that high mobility can have on highly mobile students, non mobile students, teachers, and schools, with particular focus on the effect of high mobility on academic achievement. A mixed-methods study with data collected from public schools in Nebraska during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years finds that highly mobile students scored lower on criterion-referenced assessments than their non-highly mobile peers. The article also provides recommendations of strategies that can be implemented to help address mobility-related issues based on data from qualitative interviews. These strategies are grouped into categories of transition programs, administrative procedures, classroom strategies, and support for teachers.”

Lesisko, L. J., & Wright, R. J. (2009, February). An analysis of a rural Pennsylvania school district’s transient population and NCLB scores. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Educational Research Association, Sarasota, FL. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) data from one rural school system covering four groups of children for a consecutive three year period was used to study the impact of transient students entering the school system. The analysis compared native children (those on roll since the first year) with transient children added to or deleted from the enrollment base of the district during 2006, 2007, 2008 academic years when the PSSA exam was administered. Significant differences favoring the achievement of native children were noted over the years of the study. A policy recommendation regarding data used for making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is also presented in this paper.”

Parke, C. S., & Kanyongo, G. Y. (2012). Student attendance, mobility, and mathematics achievement in an urban school district. Journal of Educational Research, 105(3), 161–175. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The authors aim to describe student attendance-mobility within a large urban district in ways that are meaningful and useful to schools and the community. First, the prevalence of mobility and nonattendance in Grades 1—12 across all students and by gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic subgroups is presented. Second, the impact on student mathematics achievement is examined. Results show that nonattendance—mobility negatively impact mathematics achievement as measured by the state’s assessment, even after controlling for socioeconomic status and gender. Interestingly, there is not a differential impact across ethnicities. Black and White subgroups show similar patterns of achievement across attendance and mobility levels. Finally, the authors take a closer look at the 10 district high schools to determine where nonattendance—mobility is of particular concern. Implications for districts are discussed in terms of targeting the extent of the problem and where it is occurring, using that information to improve attendance and reduce mobility, and finally, instituting systematic approaches to deal with student movement in and out of schools.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Reynolds, A. J., Chen, C.-C., & Herbers, J. E. (2009, June). School mobility and educational success: A research synthesis and evidence on prevention. Paper prepared for the Workshop on the Impact of Mobility and Change on the Lives of Young Children, Schools, and Neighborhoods, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This report assessed the effects of school mobility on achievement and dropout in 16 studies from 1990-2008 that included pre-mobility achievement. 13 of the studies found that mobility from kindergarten to high school was independently associated with outcomes. Findings indicated that children who moved 3 or more times had rates of school dropout that were nearly one-third of a standard deviation higher than those who were school stable net of prior achievement other factors. Frequent mobility was also associated with significantly lower reading and math achievement by up to a third of a standard deviation. In marginal effects, each additional move was associated with a reduction in reading and math achievement of about onetenth of a standard deviation. Further analysis of one of the included studies—the Chicago Longitudinal Study—that controlled for residential moves and school factors in an urban context revealed that students who move frequently or beyond third grade experience the most detrimental effects. Evidence also is presented that mobility contributes indirectly to school performance and later well-being. The Child-Parent-Center preventive intervention is illustrated to show the benefits of preschool-to-third-grade approaches to reducing the prevalence of mobility.”

Rose, B. A. (2013). Examining variation in effects of student mobility using cross-classified, multiple membership modeling. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Research on the effectiveness of educational interventions usually is based on samples of students who remain in the same school over time. In contrast, most students transfer schools at least once during their K-12 school career, not including normative transfers such as those from elementary to middle school (Rumberger, 2002). Even when looking at just the two years prior to the 1998 NAEP, one-third of fourth graders, 19 percent of eighth graders, and 10 percent of twelfth graders had changed schools at least once (Rumberger, 2002). Mobility is higher among low-income and minority populations (Rumberger, 2002). While many studies have investigated the relationship of student mobility with achievement (Alexander, Entwisle, & Dauber, 1996; Reynolds, Chen, & Herbers, 2009; Rumberger & Larson, 1998; Tucker, Marx, & Long, 1998), the degree to which this relationship might vary among schools has not been fully investigated; in other words, are some schools more effective with mobile students than others? Data for the current study were obtained from a prior study of student mobility in a mid-Atlantic state that took place in 2001-2003. (A full description is available in Rogers, 2004.) This study examined complete school history data from a statewide sample of students in order to investigate the relationship between mobility and reading achievement in the sixth year of schooling. Cross-classified, multiple membership models were used to accurately account for students’ membership in multiple schools during Year 6 as well as prior years. The relationship between mobility and reading scores was found to be non-significant on average, but examination of the variance components revealed that the impact of student mobility on reading achievement varied significantly among schools. Furthermore, the covariance estimate suggests that mobility gaps are especially large in schools with higher overall levels of achievement. This suggests that further research is necessary that more closely examines the contextual effects of mobility.”

Voight, A., Shinn, M., & Nation, M. (2012). The longitudinal effects of residential mobility on the academic achievement of urban elementary and middle school students. Educational Researcher, 41(9), 385–392. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Residential stability matters to a young person’s educational development, and the present housing crisis has disrupted the residential stability of many families. This study uses latent growth-curve modeling to examine how changing residences affects math and reading achievement from third through eighth grade among a sample of urban elementary and middle-school students. Results show that residential moves in the early elementary years have a negative effect on math and reading achievement in third grade and a negative effect on the trajectory of reading scores thereafter. Further, there is a negative contemporaneous effect of mobility on math scores in third through eighth grade but no such contemporaneous effect on reading scores. Implications for research and practice are discussed.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Xu, Z., Hannaway, J., & D’Souza, S. (2009). Student transience in North Carolina: The effect of school mobility on student outcomes using longitudinal data (Working Paper 22). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper describes the school mobility rates for elementary and middle school students in North Carolina and attempts to estimate the effect of school mobility on the performance of different groups of students using student fixed effects models. School mobility is defined as changing schools at times that are non-promotional (e.g., moving from middle to high school). We used detailed administrative data on North Carolina students and schools from 1997 to 2005 and followed four cohorts of 3rd graders for six years each. School mobility rates were highest for minority and disadvantaged students. School mobility rates for Hispanic students declined across successive cohorts, but increased for Black students. Findings on effects were most pronounced in math. School mobility hurt the math performance of Black and Hispanic students, but not the math performance of white students. School mobility improved the reading performance of white and more advantaged students, but had no effect on the reading performance of minority students. ‘Strategic’ school moves (cross-district) benefitted or had no effect on student performance, but ‘reactive’ moves (within district) hurt all groups of students. White and Hispanic students were more likely to move to a higher quality school while Blacks were more likely to move to a lower quality school. The negative effects of school mobility increased with the number of school moves.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • student mobility academic achievement

  • student mobility attendance

  • student mobility educational policy

  • student mobility elementary education

  • student mobility learner engagement

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.