05 SES 13, Poverty, Diversity and Aspirations among At-risk Students
The finding that children who come from poorer backgrounds perform significantly less well academically has been well established in the educational research literature (Sirin, 2005). Despite the strong association between socioeconomic status and academic achievement, not all children at risk of poverty perform poorly in school. For example, a study of reading standards among children attending primary schools in Ireland designated as disadvantaged found that between 3% and 4% of children were performing at or above the 90th percentile (Eivers, Shiel & Shortt, 2004). Also, results from PISA 2015 indicated that on average across OECD countries, 29% of students were experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage but also performed among the top third of students internationally (OECD, 2016). These children who ‘perform much higher than would be predicted by their background’ (OECD, 2010, p. 62) can be considered as demonstrating academic resilience. The study of academic resilience can help researchers, policy makers and educators understand why some children do well in school, while others from similar backgrounds, schools and home environments do not do well academically. As such, the study of academic resilience is relevant to current educational policy in countries throughout Europe.
Drawing on Bourdieu’s (1986) forms of capital, many researchers have explored the relationship between economic, cultural and social capital and educational outcomes (Kelleghan, 2001; Caro, Sandoval-Hernandez & Lüdtke; 2014; Behtoui & Neergaard, 2016). According to this theoretical framework, the educational outcomes of students depends not only on the amount of access to these various forms of capital but also on the extent to which these forms of capital are valued by the dominant culture. According to Kelleghan (2001), of these three types of capital ‘cultural capital seems to be the one most closely related to the cognitive competencies and dispositions involved in scholastic achievement’ (p. 8).
This paper aims to examine the relationship between factors conceptualised as cultural capital and academic resilience (i.e., high levels of academic performance) among children at risk of poverty. Using data from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, children who are deemed to be at-risk of poverty but who overcome the odds and perform better than is expected of them given the economic status of their families are identified as demonstrating academic resilience. GUI is a national longitudinal study of children in Ireland which studies the factors associated with the wellbeing of children in 21st century Ireland. The current study focuses on the child cohort of the GUI study and uses data collected for these children at nine years old.
Children at risk of poverty are defined as those who have access to a medical card in Ireland. Medical cards are issued by the Health Service Executive in Ireland and allow holders to receive certain health services free of charge. Eligibility for a medical card depends on an assessment of means and most families with school-going children that hold medical cards do so because of low income (Sofroniou, Archer & Weir, 2004). Medical card possession has also been found to be associated with poorer educational outcomes in Ireland (Eivers et al., 2004). Reading and mathematics achievement were measured using the Drumcondra reading and mathematics (DPRT-R and DPMT-R) test scores. The DPRT-R and DPMT-R are norm-referenced tests which sample the types of content and skills that characterise the 1999 primary schools English and mathematics curricula in Ireland, so teachers can compare the performance of an individual pupil in their class with that of other pupils nationally. Economic capital is measured using a families mean equivalised income (taking household size and structure into account). Cultural capital is measured using three variables: the occupation of children’s parents, the education level attained by parents and how far their parents expect their children to go in education. Using descriptive analysis, children classified as being at risk of poverty (i.e., with access to a medical card) were compared to other children in terms of their reading and mathematics performance and their family’s income (economic capital) to test the assumption that these children have access to less family income and are under-performing academically relative to national means. Academically resilient children are those whose families are at risk of poverty (i.e., with access to a medical card) and whose scores on tests of reading and mathematics are at least half a standard deviation above the mean performance of all children. The benchmark of half a standard deviation above the mean is also used in identifying higher achieving students in national standardised assessments of achievement in Ireland. A comparison group of academically vulnerable children (children who are at risk of poverty and whose reading and mathematics scores are at the average for at-risk children or below) were also identified. Academically resilient and vulnerable children are compared in terms of their economic capital and logistic regression analyses were used to examine the extent to which three indicators of cultural capital distinguish between academic resilience and vulnerability.
Twenty-eight percent of children were identified as being at risk of poverty in Ireland. Of these, 11% were found to demonstrate academic resilience (3% of all children) and 37% were considered to be academically vulnerable (10% of all children). Children who displayed greater levels of academic resilience not only significantly outperformed more vulnerable children on tests of reading or mathematics but also obtained significantly higher mean scores than children whose families are not considered to be at-risk of poverty, indicating that these children are among the highest achieving children nationally and not just among children from poorer backgrounds. Parental occupation, education level and educational expectations significantly distinguished between academic resilience and vulnerability, indicating that a child’s cultural capital is associated with their academic resilience. Gender was also associated with academic resilience, with boys more likely than girls to be classified as academically resilient.
Behtoui, A. & Neergaard, A. (2016) Social capital and the educational achievement of young people in Sweden. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37, 947-969. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J.E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory of research for the sociology of education (pp. 241 – 258). Westport CT: Greenwood Press. Caro, D. H., Sandoval-Hernández, A., & Ludtke, O. (2014). Cultural, social, and economic capital constructs in international assessments: an evaluation using exploratory structural equation modeling, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 25, 433 – 450 Eivers, E., Shiel, G., & Shortt, F. (2004). Reading literacy in disadvantaged primary schools. Dublin: Educational Research Centre. Kellaghan, T. (2001). Towards a definition of educational disadvantage. Irish Journal of Education, 32, 3-22. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2010). PISA 2009 results: Overcoming social background – Equity in learning opportunities and outcomes (Volume II). Paris: Author. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2016). PISA 2015 results: Excellence and equity in education (Vol. 1). Paris: OECD Publishing. Sirin, S. (2005). Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Review of Educational Research, 75, 417 – 53. Sofroniou, N., Archer, P., & Weir, S. (2004). An analysis of the association between socioeconomic context, gender and achievement. Irish Journal of Education, 35, 58 – 72.
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