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Racial Group Discrepancies in Teacher-Student Relationships: Effects on Students’ School Bonding/Motivation Across the School Year

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

Integrative Statement

Positive student-teacher relationships are associated with greater academic engagement, motivation, and achievement (Battistich et al., 1995; Brewster & Bowen, 2004; Klem & Connell, 2004), with studies suggesting that teacher and student perceptions of their relationship quality may contribute uniquely to student outcomes (Hughes, 2011). Importantly, for students of color, when compared to their white classmates, positive student-teacher relationships may be more difficult to establish (Downey & Pribesh, 2004; Hughes & Kwok, 2007) yet more influential (Burchinal, Peisner-Feinberg, Pianta, & Howes, 2002; Meehan, Hughes, & Cavell, 2003). This suggests that racial/ethnic discrepancies in the quality of teacher-student relationships could contribute to racial/ethnic differences in student adjustment and achievement over time (Spilt et al., 2012). This study investigates this possibility at the classroom level by determining whether between-classroom differences in the magnitude of racial/ethnic discrepancies in teacher-child relationship quality predict changes in students’ sense of school bonding/motivation over time.
Data come from the Classroom Peer Ecologies Project, a study of students and teachers in first, third, and fifth grade classrooms in rural and urban elementary schools in the United States. A sample of 2,268 students (48.9% female) in 143 ethnically diverse classrooms were included in the present study: White (42.3%), Black (35%), Hispanic (8.8%), Asian (4.3%) or other (9.6%). Data were collected in three waves across a single school year. At each wave, school bonding/motivation was measured with a composite score based on three items measuring intrinsic motivation for learning (Ryan, 2001) and five items measuring school bonding (Murray & Greenberg, 2000; see Gest et al., 2014). Teacher-student relationship quality was measured with four teacher-rated items adapted from the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale ([STRS] Pianta, 2001); and with five student-rated items adapted from the STRS Closeness subscale (Madill, et al., 2014).
Within each classroom, two racial group discrepancy scores were calculated. For the teacher report measure, the average score for Black students was subtracted from the average score for White students: a positive score thus indicated that the teacher perceived greater closeness to White students than to Black students. A parallel racial group discrepancy score was computed for the student report measure. In preliminary analyses, longitudinal multilevel models predicted change in students’ reported school bonding/motivation across the school year from classroom-level discrepancies in Black and White students’ closeness with their teachers, with separate models for the two discrepancy measures. For the teacher-reported discrepancy model, results revealed a significant time*discrepancy*race interaction effect (b =- 0.18, p < .05) such that, in classrooms with larger discrepancies favoring teacher-reported closeness with White students, Black students report declines in school bonding/motivation over time compared to their White classmates. For the student-reported discrepancy model, a significant discrepancy*race interaction effect (b = -0.28, p < .001) indicated that in classrooms with larger discrepancies favoring White students, school bonding/motivation was lower for Black students compared to White students across the school year. Results are consistent with the view that between-classroom differences in racial group discrepancies in the quality of teachers-student relationships may contribute to racial/ethnic differences in bonding/motivation.


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