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Does the SES of the School Matter? An Examination of Socioeconomic Status and Student Achievement Using PISA 2003


by Laura B. Perry & Andrew McConney — 2010

Background/Context: It is well established in the research literature that socioeconomically disadvantaged students and schools do less well on standardized measures of academic achievement compared with their more advantaged peers. Although studies in numerous countries have shown that the socioeconomic profile of a school is strongly correlated with student outcomes, less is understood about how the relationship may vary if both individual student and school socioeconomic status (SES) are disaggregated.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study examines the relationship between school SES and student outcomes in more detail by asking two research questions. First, how does the association vary for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds? In other words, is the association stronger for students from lower SES backgrounds than for students from higher SES backgrounds? Second, how does the association vary across schools with different socioeconomic compositions? In other words, are increases in school socioeconomic composition consistently associated with increases in student academic achievement?

Population/Participants/Subjects: This study uses data from the Australian 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The sample includes over 320 secondary schools and more than 12,000 students from Australia.

Research Design: This study is a secondary analysis of data from the Australian 2003 PISA. Descriptive statistics are used to compare the average reading, mathematics, and science achievement of secondary school students from different SES backgrounds in a variety of school SES contexts.

Conclusions: The two main findings of the study are that increases in the mean SES of a school are associated with consistent increases in students’ academic achievement, and that this relationship is similar for all students regardless of their individual SES. In the Australian case, the socio-economic composition of the school matters greatly in terms of students’ academic performance.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 4, 2010, p. 1137-1162
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15662, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 1:04:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Laura Perry
    Murdoch University
    E-mail Author
    LAURA PERRY is a lecturer of education policy and the sociocultural foundations of education at Murdoch University. Her research examines the ways in which educational structures and policies pattern educational outcomes. Specific research interests include educational inequality, school social composition, and education policies for democratic societies. Her most recent publication is: Perry, L. B. (in press). Conceptualizing education policy in democratic societies, Educational Policy (also available as a prepublication through the online version of the journal).
  • Andrew McConney
    Murdoch University
    ANDREW MCCONNEY is senior lecturer of educational research and evaluation at Murdoch University. His research interests center on the development and application of mixed research and evaluation methods, particularly for the assessment of teacher, program, and school effectiveness. Recent illustrative publications include: Isaacs, M. L., Elliott E., McConney, A., Wachholz P., Greene, P., & Greene M. (2007). Evaluating quality methods of filling the “teacher gap”: Results of a pilot study with early career teachers. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 2(2); and McConney, A., Rudd, A., & Ayres, R. (2002). Getting to the bottom line: A method for synthesizing findings within mixed method program evaluations. American Journal of Evaluation, 23(2), 121–140.
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