Daily Experiences with Diversity: Academic and Social Adjustment in High School
Co-Principal Investigator: Amy Bellmore (University of Wisconsin - Madison); Melissa Witkow (Willamette University)
Purpose: The purpose of the proposed study is to examine malleable factors that may allow schools and districts to parlay the increasing ethnic diversity of their student populations into positive academic outcomes for adolescents. Specifically, the research team will explore the relationship between diversity and the ability to think about situations from different perspectives (i.e., social-cognitive flexibility). Some studies have found that cognitive flexibility is crucial for learning, often reflecting creativity and problem-solving skills. The researchers in this study hypothesize that social-cognitive flexibility may be facilitated by interacting with peers from different ethnic backgrounds, and may in turn serve as a mediating factor for academic outcomes and achievement.
Project Activities: This study follows high school students longitudinally across grades 10–12 with three main aims. The first is to predict social-cognitive flexibility from ethnic diversity proximity (i.e., opportunities) and experiences (i.e., actual interactions with peers from ethnically diverse backgrounds). The second aim is to assess social-cognitive flexibility as a mediator in the association between diversity exposure and academic outcomes (grades, attendance). Thirdly, researchers will explore key factors—ethnicity, prior diversity experiences in middle school, and interethnic school climate—that may moderate these processes. The study relies on daily reports of group-level diversity exposure, a methodology expected to capture a reliable and valid assessment of students' actual social experiences on high school campuses.
Products: The researchers will produce preliminary evidence of potentially promising relationships among diversity, social-cognitive flexibility, and academic achievement. The research team will also produce peer-reviewed publications.
Setting: The research team will collect data from five public high school students in three states (California, Oregon, and Wisconsin). All participating schools enroll grades 10–12 and reflect ethnically diverse urban/ urban fringe populations.
Sample: The sample will include approximately 2,000 students with daily report and longitudinal data from 10th through 12th grade. The proposed study builds on an existing sample of students (N = 1,053) who were originally recruited when they were in 6th grade (middle school) for a separate study conducted by the PIs. The base sample reflects the participating schools' student body and is ethnically diverse. : 30% Latino/a, 31% white, 14% African American, 11% Asian, 2% Native American, and 12% multiethnic.
Intervention: The focal malleable factors for this study are students' social-cognitive flexibility and the diversity of their social and learning environments. The researchers will also explore the impacts of changes to either or both of these factors over time.
Research Design and Methods: The research team will collect new daily and longitudinal data across grades 10–12 (i.e., 3 years). Each year, students will complete one set of global measures about the social context and social-cognitive flexibility, as well as five daily reports that assess their daily diversity exposure at school and daily use of cognitive flexibility in response to social stress at school. Students will complete the global measures during school (approximately one class period) and the five daily reports online at home as students reflect on their experiences at school earlier that day. Each year, the researchers will collect grades and attendance from the school via report card data.
Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there is no control condition.
Key Measures: The team will gather data using an array of novel measures to address the constructs of interest, including daily self-reports, daily peer nominations/social networks, and mapping. In addition, the researchers will collect school record data (grades, attendance) to examine academic performance.
Data Analytic Strategy: The team will use a combination of structural equation and parallel process growth modeling (models that link two growth models) that employ best practices in model-building to model changes and relationships in diversity and social-cognitive flexibility. The researchers will use multigroup modeling to assess potential moderators. The researchers will also employ sociometric techniques to model students' social networks.