Classroom Quality Buffers Associations between Behavioral Risk and Poor School Adjustment among Elementary Students

Griggs, Marissa Swaim, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Children with behavior problems are at risk for poor school adjustment. Ameliorating these problems has become a large focus among educators; however, associations between specific behavioral risks (i.e., primarily externalizing risk, primarily internalizing risk, comorbid externalizing and internalizing risk) and key behavioral and social adjustment outcomes are not clearly understood. Another important question is whether aspects of the classroom environment, specifically the emotional, organizational, and instructional quality, have different implications for children's outcomes based on children's patterns of behavioral risk. Teacher ratings of children's fall externalizing and internalizing behavior problems represented children's behavioral risk at the beginning of the school year. Behavioral risk scores were used to predict children's teacher-rated externalizing problems, internalizing problems, peer rejection, and peer acceptance, as well as their observed classroom behavioral engagement in the spring of the same school year, after statistical control of fall levels of each of these outcomes. Results suggested the stability of children's externalizing problems, internalizing problems, behavioral engagement, peer rejection, and peer acceptance across the school year. However, there was a statistical interaction such that the stability of internalizing problems from fall to spring was accentuated if children also had comorbid externalizing problems in the fall. Children's fall internalizing problems predicted poorer behavioral engagement, and fall externalizing and internalizing problems each independently predicted poorer peer acceptance in the spring. CLASSROOM QUALITY AND BEHAVIORAL RISK II Next, observations made across three time points of the school year (fall, winter, and spring) were aggregated to indicate classroom quality according to three empiricallysupported domains: emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. The moderating effects of the classroom quality domains on associations between children's fall behavioral risk and their spring school adjustment outcomes were tested. Results indicated that the stability of children's internalizing problems was attenuated when in classrooms high in emotional support. In addition, emotional support and classroom organization appeared to buffer associations between fall externalizing problems and spring internalizing problems. The current findings advance understanding regarding how behavioral risk factors influence children's subsequent behavioral and social adjustment at school, and suggest how empirically-supported aspects of classroom quality differentially affect elementary children's risk-adjustment trajectories across a single academic year.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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