Research Article: Relationship among school socioeconomic status, teacher-student relationship, and middle school students’ academic achievement in China: Using the multilevel mediation model

Date Published: March 20, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Xin Xuan, Ye Xue, Cai Zhang, Yuhan Luo, Wen Jiang, Mengdi Qi, Yun Wang, Bing Hiong Ngu.


School socioeconomic status (SES) is studied primarily as a variable to explain academic achievement; however, few previous studies have investigated how SES can influence individual student’s academic achievement. The present study used a national representative sample of 10,784 grade 7 to 9 students (53.2% boys and 46.8% girls) in mainland China to examine the links between school SES and students’ math and Chinese achievements, including the math and Chinese teacher-student relationships as mediating factors. The parents provided family socioeconomic information and the students reported on their teacher-student relationships. Achievements in math and Chinese were assessed using standardized tests. Multilevel mediation analyses revealed that school SES was positively related to students’ math and Chinese achievements. Moreover, the link between school SES and students’ math achievement was partially mediated by students’ perception of the math teacher-student relationship. The Chinese teacher-student relationship had no mediating effect. This study indicated that school SES can influence individual student’s academic achievement via their perception of teacher-student relationship. The poverty and lack of resources is obvious, yet low SES schools could make efforts in improving teacher-student relationship’s quality to promote students’ academic performance. Meanwhile, low SES schools should receive more attention from policymakers to improve teaching quality and school climate. Furthermore, the study findings could be used for future research on the gap between low and high SES schools.

Partial Text

As a measurement of individual or collective social and economic status, socioeconomic status (SES) reflects existing or potential social resources such as wealth, power, and prestige [1]. School SES represents the average of each student’s family-based socioeconomic resources. It has attracted considerable attention since Coleman et al. [2] discovered the impact of ethnic and school socioeconomic composition on students’ academic achievement. Many studies have demonstrated that school SES is significantly related to students’ cognitive outcomes and academic achievement [3,4]. A meta-analysis including nearly 50 studies with samples of 6- to 18-year-old students indicated that both school and class SES have positive effects on students’ academic achievement in areas such as language, math, and science, with little difference in effect among the three subjects [5]. Furthermore, a study examining the changes in the relationship between school SES and 9-year-old students’ reading achievement in Sweden between 1991 and 2001 revealed that the positive effect of school SES on students’ reading achievement has been strengthened over time [6]. Palardy [7] conducted a longitudinal study with a nationally representative sample of American middle school students and examined the association between school SES and students’ achievement growth, revealing that high SES school students tend to have higher rate of achievement growth, even after controlling for an extensive set of students’ background characteristics and school inputs. Previous meta-analysis reviews and research from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global survey among OECD countries, found that school SES had a more significant effect on children’s academic achievement than that of family SES [4,8–11].

Using a multilevel mediation approach, the current study examined the mediating effect of teacher-student relationships between school SES and students’ academic achievement in math and Chinese. The findings indicated that school SES significantly predicted middle school students’ math and Chinese performance. The math teacher-student relationship partially mediated the relationship between school SES and math achievement, however, the mediating effect of Chinese teacher-student relationship was not significant.




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