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Intersectionality-Based Approach to Understanding High School Dropout: Differences in Pathways Between Rural & Non-Rural Students

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

High school dropout continues to be a serious, and unresolved problem in the United States. Impoverished and minority students leave school prematurely at a much higher rate than others (NCES, 2015; 2017). Within the framework of Bronfenbrenner’s theory of child development and intersectionality theory (i.e., intersection between race, poverty, and gender), we developed an empirically informed moderated mediation model to understand how socioeconomic risk, academic disengagement (i.e., average number of days missed, suspension/expulsion, and ever failed a class), and community characteristics (i.e., rural v. non-rural) influence pathways to high school dropout. The data for this study were taken from the 1996–2012 Louisiana Department of Education administrative dataset (N=10,000). The primary predictor variable was socioeconomic risk, a composite score comprised of the following: low income, male, African American race, and being overage for one’s grade. The hypothesized path model examined the direct associations between all variables (i.e., socio-economic risk, academic disengagement) and dropout, as well as the indirect mediating effects of academic disengagement (i.e., the average number of days missed, number of suspensions/expulsions, and ever failed a class) on the relationship between socio-economic risk and school dropout. We also examined the moderating role of school location and tested for group invariance to compare direct and indirect relationships between rural and non-rural students. All modeled direct and indirect relationships examined were significant for the non-rural students. The only significant indirect effect of socio-economic risk on school dropout for rural students was through previously failing a class. When we examined the differences between rural and non-rural students, we found significant differences in groups on the path from socio-economic risk to number of days missed (t = -3.160, p < .01), and 2) socio-economic risk to school dropout (t = 2.410, p < .05). Though the impact of socio-economic risk on the average number of days missed was significant for non-rural students, it was not significant for rural students. Moreover, the impact of socio-economic risk on school dropout was greater for rural students than for non-rural students. Results are consistent with previous research, in that socio-economic risk and academic disengagement are significantly related to high school dropout. However, our results add to the extant literature by testing an empirical model of high school dropout with the moderating impact of school location. Our findings imply that there may be a different constellation of risk factors precipitating dropout for rural v. non-rural students. As such, results help to inform treatment and prevention efforts to reduce dropout rates.

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