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Published in Print: June 10, 1998, as Research Notes

Research Notes

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1ST GRADE FALLOUT

A disorderly 1st grade classroom may well be a training ground for boys who become troublemakers in middle school, a group of Johns Hopkins University researchers has concluded.

Dr. Sheppard G. Kellam and colleagues from the university's school of public health in Baltimore followed 680 children in that city who entered 1st grade in 1985.

Half the pupils were in classroom environments that the researchers considered disruptive because teachers were unable to maintain order. The rest were randomly assigned to classrooms considered to be more orderly.

In those rooms, teachers used a behavior-management strategy known as the "Good Behavior Game." The system, developed in the 1960s, uses peer pressure and rewards to coax children to cooperate.

The two groups of children remained in their respective classrooms for two years. Afterwards, school officials went back to their usual procedures for making classroom assignments.

When the students reached 6th grade, the researchers checked back in on the children from both kinds of classrooms who had behaved disruptively in 1st grade. They found that boys from disorderly 1st grade classrooms were more likely to continue acting up in middle school than were boys from better-managed classrooms.

"If you were an aggressive, disruptive 1st grader and you were in a poorly managed classroom, the risk of being aggressive later on was 59 times that of average kids," Dr. Kellam says. "In well-managed classrooms, the same kid's risk would be three times that of the average child."

The problem, Dr. Kellam believes, is that disorderly classrooms never quite come together as learning environments.

"And poor academic achievement reinforces students' aggression, so they have careers of aggressive behavior," he says. "And aggressive behavior gets reinforced by other children who are also disruptive."

The study was published in the spring issue of the journal Development and Psychopathology.

TRANSITIONAL 1ST GRADES

Nearly three out of four U.S. elementary schools use transitional or developmental 1st grades as a way to give slow-maturing kindergartners more time to get ready for regular 1st grade.

But a study published last month in the Journal of Educational Psychology suggests that whether a child gets referred to a transition room depends on more than the child's skill or maturity level. A complex web of other forces, such as the teacher's years of experience or style of teaching, also plays a role.

Panayota Y. Mantzicopoulos, an associate professor of educational psychology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, studied 223 kindergartners from two schools in a suburban Midwestern district--50 of whom were later assigned to a transitional 1st grade program.

As might be expected, the children who were referred were an average of three months younger than their classmates, scored lower on developmental tests, and were less confident of their academic abilities.

But they also tended to have teachers who favored lecture-style teaching over more hands-on, child-centered instruction. Teachers also perceived the parents of the transition-bound children to be less involved in their children's schooing than other students' parents.

And teachers with more than 15 years' teaching experience referred fewer pupils to the extra-year program than less experienced teachers did.

"We have tended to overfocus on children's skills, but the issue is not only children's skills, it's other things in the family and school context," Ms. Mantzicopoulos says. With different instruction or different teachers, she wonders, would some of the children have been spared a transitional placement? "Are we doing kids a favor, or are we just doing early tracking?"

PARENTAL EXPECTATIONS

Parents from different racial and ethnic groups have different beliefs about rearing children and about what they expect from their youngsters in school, a study in the spring issue of the American Educational Research Journal concludes.

The authors of the study, Lynn Okagaki, a Purdue University associate professor of child development and family studies, and Peter A. Frensch, a senior research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, five years ago surveyed 670 parents of 4th and 5th graders from a suburban California district. The parents represented three different racial or ethnic groups--Hispanic, Asian-American, and white or European-American.

Of the groups, the Asian-American parents had the highest educational aspirations for their children and were least satisfied with grades of B's and C's. Latino parents rated most highly the importance of teaching their children to listen to their teachers, to think independently, and to develop other such character traits and behaviors. And white parents stood out for their confidence in their ability to help their children succeed in school. But there were also some subtle differences among the groups. Asian-American parents, for example, had high educational expectations regardless of how their children had fared in school previously.

With other groups, parents' expectations were tempered by their children's prior academic records. What is more, having high educational aspirations was positively related to achievement in Asian-American families but not in Latino families.

The bottom line, Ms. Okagaki says, is that what works for one group might not work for another.

"Consequently, as educators we have to become cognizant of those different perspectives which parents have," she adds. "It's not simply enough to say, 'Spend more time with your kids on homework.'"

—Debra Viadero dviadero@epe.org

Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 30

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