This dissertation research study was designed to elucidate how social and/or economic disadvantage might have predictive potential for the academic/social outcomes of an adolescent's life, especially a person dealing with many of the usual characteristics commonly associated with socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. These characteristics include, but are not limited to family problems such as poverty, legal problems, and/or the absence of either the mother or the father in the home. The investigator sought to critically examine the knowledge base collected over the past century related to certain qualities, characteristics, and behaviors that individuals possessed or exercised, which contributed to their ability to preserve themselves in the face of adversity. It was hoped this knowledge base could be used to highlight how certain factors like supportive parental relationships, and/or the ability to solve problems sequentially, might play a role in the overall success of a sample of African American, marginalized youths (juvenile delinquents).
Participants included a sample of 52 male, African American delinquents who were mandated to attend school at an approved juvenile post-incarceration transitional facility. The data set included the findings related to a survey (n=52) that was administered to the participants along with the results related to a set of interviews (n=52). The independent variables (predictors) included age categories, measures of positive stress, negative stress, total stress, proximal stress, distal stress, and apathy. The primary dependent measure was academic achievement. Four research questions were addressed. Are there relationships among the major life events measures (occurrences in time), stress level measures (positive, negative, or no feelings), problem-solving measures, and the academic achievement measures? Do low life event stress scores (e.g., positive and/or negative changes in an adolescent's life, and or close occurrences in time) and high problem solving scores relate to high academic achievement? Does problem solving emerge as a moderator variable? Does problem solving demonstrate characteristics related to a stress-buffering role on cumulative grade point average? Multiple regression procedures were used to analyze the findings.
Taken together, the results of this study were found to be congruent to the results reported by other investigators who set out to document statistically significant relations between proximal correlates of socioeconomic and/or other environmental influences related to adolescent academic achievement among samples of low socioeconomic adolescent males. The findings provide support for the view that frequently occurring stressful life events promote psychological maladjustment across multiple domains (e.g., school and/or other settings requiring effective communication). As hypothesized, participant's for whom lower levels of life stress were reported had fewer adjustment problems in school than children living under more difficult, even more harmful life circumstances, especially when the accompanying stress was experienced longer than one year ago.
The findings related to this study suggest several avenues, which future educational researchers could take. Since the findings in the 2001 pilot study and the dissertation indicated that there were slight, albeit noteworthy differences in the outcome measures as a function of variables such as gender and age, it is recommended that researchers include a combination of demographic variables in the overall design of their studies to control for individual difference variability among their participants. A research program, which includes a fine-grained longitudinal investigation of the life stress and problem solving processes and their association with academic adjustment, would be a welcome contribution to this area of scholarship and the social adjustment knowledge base in general. To date, only a handful of investigators were successful in documenting the main and moderator effects of variables such as life stress and problem-solving skills on subsequent achievement outcomes. In addition, it is recommended that future researchers take into account some of the other, more proximal variables that might also serve protective or vulnerability functions between correlates of low socioeconomic status and academic achievement. For example, beliefs, social supports in the form of peers, parents, and/or families, were all identified as important individual resources that the participants used to perform optimally in school. Other variables such as motivation and personality might also be added to the mix of possible control and/or predictive variables with respect to future research efforts.