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Traumatic Stress, Socioeconomic Status, and Academic Achievement Among Primary School Students

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Students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) families continue to underachieve within the educational setting; however, little research has examined how psychological trauma may be related to this problem. Using a sample of 5th-grade students from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 database, we used regression analyses to determine whether traumatic stress and SES influenced achievement. Results showed that low SES and traumatic stress predicted lower educational outcomes. This study has implications for counselors and educators because trauma is often overlooked or misunderstood in children. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Traumatic Stress, Socioeconomic Status, and Academic Achievement
Among Primary School Students
Rachael D. Goodman
George Mason University
M. David Miller and Cirecie A. West-Olatunji
University of Florida
Students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) families continue to underachieve within the educa-
tional setting; however, little research has examined how psychological trauma may be related to this
problem. Using a sample of 5th-grade students from the nationally representative Early Childhood
Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998 –99 database, we used regression analyses to determine
whether traumatic stress and SES influenced achievement. Results showed that low SES and traumatic
stress predicted lower educational outcomes. This study has implications for counselors and educators
because trauma is often overlooked or misunderstood in children.
Keywords: traumatic stress, academic achievement, socioeconomic status, students
The impact of trauma on children and adolescents is now well
documented. Indeed, researchers have noted the multitude of effects
that trauma can have on children in terms of their social, psycholog-
ical, and academic functioning (Boney-McCoy & Finkelhor, 1995;
Graham-Bermann & Levendosky, 1998; Kaplan, Pelcovitz, &
Labruna, 1999). Only recently has the prevalence of trauma been
acknowledged, engendering a need for all service providers working
with children to be aware of the importance of addressing this com-
plex issue with their clients. Mental health professionals and educators
who are unaware of a child’s trauma history or its impact may
aggravate the situation by holding a child to unrealistic expectations
or misinterpreting the child’s symptoms as indicative of bad conduct
or another disorder (Levine & Kline, 2007; van der Kolk, 2005).
It is clear that marginalized individuals and communities are
often at higher risk for trauma-causing events (Farquhar & Dob-
son, 2004), but psychological trauma is often overlooked in chil-
dren (Levine & Kline, 2007), leading counselors and educators to
fail to address this potentially important factor in psychological
and academic development. In particular, the academic under-
achievement of students from lower socioeconomic status (SES)
backgrounds is an ongoing and unresolved concern, as these stu-
dents continue to be significantly less successful academically than
their middle and upper class peers (Sirin, 2005; Von Secker, 2004).
Over the years, there has been considerable research on how to
address disparities in academic achievement of students (Ford &
Grantham, 2003). The majority of this research has been guided by
a deficit-oriented approach, especially for socially marginalized
students (Rodriguez & Morrobol, 2002). Such deficit-oriented
approaches have not succeeded in improving the academic out-
comes of students and may actually contribute to the problem
(Ford, Harris, Tyson, & Trotman, 2002). Using the lens of psy-
chological trauma, we sought to further the understanding of
trauma among lower SES students and their academic functioning
to provide a non– deficit-oriented approach to this issue. The
purpose of this study was to explore whether SES and traumatic
stress predict academic achievement for fifth-grade students.
Review of the Literature
Academic Achievement
Educational research has consistently found that SES has a
significant impact on student academic achievement (Sirin, 2005).
According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Prog-
ress, 17% of fourth-grade public school students eligible for free or
reduced lunch (FRL) were found to be at or above proficient in
reading achievement, whereas 45% of students not eligible for
FRL tested at or above proficient (National Center for Education
Statistics, 2009b). In mathematics, the gap was similar, with only
22% of students eligible for FRL at or above proficient, whereas
54% of ineligible students were in this same category (National
Center for Education Statistics, 2009a). Schools with a high per-
centage of FRL-eligible students also have lower graduation rates
than schools with a low percentage of FRL students (Orfield,
Losen, Wald, & Swanson, 2004).
Students from lower SES backgrounds face additional barriers
to academic achievement. Across the United States, states spend
an average of $900 less per student each year in school districts
with the most poor students versus districts with the fewest poor
students (Education Trust, 2005). At the secondary level, an av-
erage of 24% of teachers lack either a major or minor in their
subject area; in high poverty schools, this number increases to
This article was published Online First August 22, 2011.
Rachael D. Goodman, Counseling and Development Program, College
of Education and Human Development, George Mason University; M.
David Miller, Research Methods and Evaluation, Collaborative Assess-
ment and Program Evaluation Services, School of Human Development
and Organizational Studies in Education, University of Florida; Cirecie A.
West-Olatunji, Counselor Education Program, School of Human Develop-
ment and Organizational Studies in Education, University of Florida.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rachael
D. Goodman, Counseling and Development Program, College of Education
and Human Development, George Mason University, Krug Hall 201C,
Mail Stop 1F5, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030. E-mail:
rgoodma2@gmu.edu
Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy © 2011 American Psychological Association
2012, Vol. 4, No. 3, 252–259 1942-9681/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0024912
252
34%, putting low-income students at greater risk for underachieve-
ment due to poor teacher quality (Jerald, 2002). For students, the
results of academic underachievement reach beyond the educa-
tional setting, often leading to deviant behaviors, fewer opportu-
nities in life, and difficulty earning a living wage (Masten &
Coatsworth, 1998; Orfield et al., 2004).
Traumatic Stress
Symptoms of traumatic stress in children differ from those in
adults, causing them to be overlooked, misinterpreted, or mistaken
for other disorders (DeVoe, Klein, Bannon, & Miranda-Julian,
2010; Halpern & Tramontin, 2007). Often traumatic stress symp-
toms are evident in classroom behaviors, but they are likely to be
mislabeled as attention or conduct problems (Goodman & West-
Olatunji, 2010; Levine & Kline, 2007). Empirical studies on
trauma among children and adolescents have found five common
symptoms of traumatic stress for this population: reexperiencing,
avoidance, arousal, internalizing behaviors, and externalizing be-
haviors (Boney-McCoy & Finkelhor, 1995; Briscoe-Smith & Hin-
shaw, 2006; Schuster et al., 2001; Vernberg, La Greca, Silverman,
& Prinstein, 1996; Wozniak et al., 1999). Reexperiencing is char-
acterized by flashbacks, nightmares, or psychological reactivity
(American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000). Emotional de-
tachment, diminished affect and interests, and evading possible
traumatic reminders are features of avoidance (APA, 2000).
Arousal is characterized by difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity
and restlessness, and irritability (APA, 2000; Elliot, 1997). Prob-
lem behaviors including aggression, delinquency, and acting out
are known as externalizing behaviors (Graham-Bermann & Lev-
endosky, 1998). Internalizing behaviors include anxious or de-
pressed mood, withdrawal, and somatic complaints (Graham-
Bermann & Levendosky, 1998).
Identification of traumatic stress is complicated by the similarity
between these symptoms and other disorders, including depres-
sion, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (APA,
2000). Furthermore, similar behaviors have been found to be
common among underachieving students in school settings, in-
cluding aggression, low self-esteem, lack of attention, and hyper-
activity (Arnold et al., 1999). Research in the field of trauma
indicates that there are significant neuropsychological impacts
related to this experience, including the reduction in size of the
hippocampus (Lindauer et al., 2004; Vythilingam et al., 2005), the
area of the brain that helps regulate emotion and memory. Studies
of trauma and brain development in children are more recent, but
indicate disruptions in developmental experiences that may lead to
psychological, behavioral, and cognitive difficulties; for children,
the neuropsychological response to trauma has been linked to
compromised abilities in cognitive functioning as well as attention
and emotional regulation (Wilson, Hansen, & Li, 2011).
Children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds may be at greater
risk of experiencing traumatic stress because of to the vulnerability
of marginalized groups (Burstow, 2003; Farquhar & Dobson,
2004). As such, it is important to ascertain whether students from
lower SES backgrounds exhibit more symptoms of traumatic
stress. Traumatic stress theory allows for ecosystemic factors to be
included in an understanding of academic achievement, which
engenders a strength-based view of students (Carlson, 1997; Good-
man & West-Olatunji, 2008). Therefore, we used a large-scale
nationally representative data set to conduct an exploratory study
that examined a cluster of traumatic stress-related symptoms and
the relationship with SES and several academic achievement mea-
sures. We used traumatic stress theory to investigate the question,
“Do traumatic stress and SES predict academic achievement?”
Method
Data Source
Data for this study were drawn from the Early Childhood Longi-
tudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998 –99 (ECLS-K), a data set
collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES;
Tourangeau, Nord, Leˆ, Pollack, & Atkins-Burnett, 2006). ECLS-K is
a nationally representative, longitudinal study designed to measure
children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, as
well as children’s home and school environments, curriculum, and
teacher qualifications. This study used data from direct child assess-
ments, parent interviews, and teacher assessments. Data were col-
lected in the following intervals: fall and the spring of kindergarten
(1998 –1999), fall and spring of first grade (1999 –2000), spring of
third grade (2002), spring of fifth grade (2004), and spring of eighth
grade (2007). This study used data from the fifth-grade data collec-
tion, which has an unweighted sample size of 11,820 students.
Measures
Indicators for SES, traumatic stress, and academic achievement
were identified from the ECLS-K 1998 –99 longitudinal study.
Names for each variable are shown in parentheses. SES was
measured through the composite variable of parents’ occupation,
parents’ education level, and household income (W5SESQ5). The
latent independent variable, traumatic stress, was determined to be
present through identification of the following symptoms of trau-
matic stress: (a) reexperiencing, (b) avoidance, and (c) arousal, as
well as either (d) internalizing behaviors or (e) externalizing be-
haviors. Reexperiencing was indicated if the child had difficulty
with self-control in relationships with peers (T6CONTRO). Avoid-
ance was indicated by any of the following: the child had trouble
making friends (C6SDQPRC), the child had trouble relating to
other children (P6BEHAVE), or the child had trouble getting along
with others and forming and maintaining friendships (T6INTERP).
Arousal was indicated if the child was more active than other
children (P6ACTIVE) or had trouble paying attention
(P6ATTENI). Internalizing behaviors were indicated if the child
appeared to be sad, lonely, or anxious (C6SDQINT). Externalizing
behaviors were indicated if the child fought, argued, or disturbed
others (C6SDQEXT). The reliability scores for the scales used
ranged from .77 to .89 (Tourangeau et al., 2006). A dichotomous
indicator of traumatic stress was created from these measures:
Traumatic stress (T6CONTRO 3) &
[(C6SDQPRC 3) or (P6BEHAVE 2) or
(T6INTERP 3)] & [(P6ACTIVE 2) or
(P6ATTENI 2)] & [(C6SDQEXT 2) or
(C6SDQINT 2)].
253
TRAUMA, SES, AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
Detail on the measures used is presented in Table 1. Thus,
traumatic stress was defined when the child met the high-stress
condition on four variables: reexperiencing, avoidance, arousal,
and internalizing or externalizing behaviors.
The latent dependent variable, academic achievement, was mea-
sured by three observed dependent variables: (a) reading cognitive
achievement, (b) mathematics cognitive achievement, and (c) sci-
ence cognitive achievement. The study also examined the relation-
ship between two related academic indicators: low-ability tracking
(Townsend, 2000) and disengagement from school (Alexander,
Entwisle, & Horsey, 1997). Reading, mathematics, and science
cognitive achievement were scaled using item response theory
(IRT) on the cognitive assessments for reading (C6R3RSCL),
mathematics (C6R3MSCL), and science (C6SR1SSCL), respec-
tively. Low-ability tracking was indicated if the student had an
individual education plan (IEP) on file (U6RIEP). Disengagement
was measured by total absences (U6ABSTOT).
The questions for the cognitive assessments were developed
through consultation with experts in the field of education to
determine questions that reflect content areas that are typically
taught and developmentally important, which provided content
validity (Pollack, Atkins-Burnett, Najarian, & Rock, 2005;
Tourangeau et al., 2006). The reliability scores for the reading,
mathematics, and science assessments were .93, .94, and .87,
respectively (Tourangeau et al., 2006).
Weights
A series of design weights were included to account for the
multistage stratified sampling design used in the ECLS-K. Longi-
tudinal NCES studies, including the ECLS-K, require the use of
weights to compensate for both unequal probabilities of selection
and nonresponse effects. The researchers weighted all of the anal-
yses using the child–parent–teacher base weight (C6CPTR0) and
Table 1
Traumatic Stress Indicators With Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998 –99 (ECLS-K) Detail
Traumatic stress symptom
ECLS-K variable
(instrument) Scale/question information Response scale
Traumatic stress
present for
responses
Reexperiencing (Boney-McCoy &
Finkelhor, 1995)
T6CONTRO (SRS) Four items that indicate the child’s ability to
control behavior by respecting the
property rights of others, controlling
temper, accepting peer ideas for group
activities, and responding appropriately to
pressure from peers.
1. Never
2. Sometimes
3. Often
4. Very often
3
Avoidance (Schuster et al., 2001) C6SDQPRC (SDQ) Six items on how easily the child makes
friends and gets along with children as
well as her/his perception of her/his
popularity.
1. Never
2. Sometimes
3. Often
4. Very often
3
P6BEHAVE (PI) CHQ.325 Would you say [child] behaves
and relates to other children and adults
. . . [compared with others]?
1. Better than
2. As well as
3. Slightly less well
4. Much less well
2
T6INTERP (SRS) Five items that rate the child’s skill in
forming and maintaining friendships;
getting along with people who are
different; comforting or helping other
children; expressing feelings, ideas, and
opinions in positive ways; and showing
sensitivity to the feelings of others.
1. Never
2. Sometimes
3. Often
4. Very often
3
Arousal (Streeck-Fischer & van
der Kolk, 2000)
P6ACTIVE (PI) CHQ.080 Thinking about [child’s] overall
activity level, would you say [he/she] is
. . . [compared with others]?
1. Less active
2. About as active
3. Slightly more active
4. A lot more active
2
P6ATTENI (PI) CHQ.020 Does [child] pay attention . . .
[compared with others]?
1. Better than
2. As well as
3. Slightly less well
4. Much less well
2
Internalizing (Graham-Bermann &
Levendosky, 1998)
C6SDQINT (SDQ) Eight items on child’s internalizing problem
behaviors such as feeling sad a lot of the
time, feeling lonely, feeling ashamed of
mistakes, feeling frustrated, and worrying
about school and friendships.
1. Never
2. Sometimes
3. Often
4. Very often
2
Externalizing (Graham-Bermann
& Levendosky, 1998)
C6SDQEXT (SDQ) Six items on child’s externalizing problem
behaviors such as fighting and arguing
with other children talking and disturbing
others, and problems with distractibility.
1. Never
2. Sometimes
3. Often
4. Very often
2
Note. SRS Reading Teacher Social Rating Scale; SDQ Direct Child Assessment Self-Description Questionnaire; PI Parent Interview on Child
Health and Well-Being.
254 GOODMAN, MILLER, AND WEST-OLATUNJI
replicate weights (C6CPTR1–C6CPTR90), normalized to preserve
the nationally representative sample size for statistical testing.
Data Analysis
SPSS version 11.5 was used for data management and AM
version 0.06 was used for data analysis. To account for missing
data, we performed imputation using NORM version 2.03. Anal-
ysis began by reporting descriptive statistics for all variables. Next,
ttests were conducted to ascertain whether the presence of trau-
matic stress symptoms differed by SES. Finally, linear regressions
were performed for the continuous dependent variables: absences
and academic achievement in mathematics, reading, and science. A
logistic regression was performed for the dichotomous dependent
variable: low-ability tracking. The model used was as follows:
Y(Reading IRT) B0B1Traumatic Stress B2SES E.
Results
Descriptive Statistics
The total weighted sample size was 3,387,565 fifth-grade stu-
dents. White students made up 58.9% of the sample, with African
American, Latino American, and Asian students making up 14.4%,
19.3%, and 2.9%, respectively. The remaining 4.5% of students
identified as Native American, Pacific Islander, or multi-cultural.
Boys were 50.4% of the sample. Percentages of students in each of
the five SES categories were as follows: low SES, 16.9%; mid-low
SES, 19.2%; mid SES, 21.4%; mid-high SES, 21.2%; and high
SES, 21.3%. An IEP was on file for 11.8% of the students. Yearly
absences, measured in whole and partial days, among the sample
of students were as follows: 17.6% had less than one absence,
11.3% had one to fewer than two absences, 26.4% had two to
fewer than five absences, 24.9% had five to fewer than 10 ab-
sences, and 19.8% 10 or more absences.
Analysis of the data found that the percentage of students who met
the criteria for traumatic stress generally decreased as SES increased:
16.1% of low-SES students had traumatic stress, 10.6% of mid–low-
SES students, 11.2% of mid-SES students, 8.1% of mid– high SES
students, and 6.9% of high-SES students (see Figure 1). Significant
differences were found between the percentage of students with
traumatic stress in the low-SES category versus students in all
other SES categories: low SES, p.006; mid-low SES, p.036;
mid SES, p.001; mid-high SES, p.001; and high SES, p
.000 (see Table 2). The differences between the percentage of
students with traumatic stress in mid SES and high SES were also
significant (p.027).
Mean IRT scale scores were lower for students with traumatic
stress than students without traumatic stress. The average reading
IRT scale score was 142.4 for students without traumatic stress,
whereas for students with traumatic stress it was 127.6, a signifi-
cant difference (p.001). In mathematics, students without
traumatic stress had an average IRT scale score of 116.3, signifi-
cantly different from the 103.0 average of students with traumatic
stress (p.001). The science IRT scale scores were also signif-
icantly different for students with traumatic stress versus students
without: 59.0 versus 51.5, respectively (p.001). Of the students
without an IEP on file, only 10.0% met the criteria for having
traumatic stress, whereas 26.6% of students with an IEP met the
criteria. This difference was statistically significant (p.001).
In examining the academic indicators for disengagement and
low-ability tracking, traumatic stress was a significant factor. The
percentage of students with traumatic stress generally increased as
the number of absences increased (see Figure 2). The percentages
of students with traumatic stress by absence are as follows: 6.9%
of students with less than one absence, 10.6% of students with one
to fewer than two absences, 11.3% of students with two to fewer
than five absences, 9.8% of students with five to fewer than 10
absences, and 12.5% of students with 10 or more absences. In
terms of the absence rates, the only significant differences were
between students with less than one absence and the following two
groups: (a) students with two to less than five absences (p.007)
and (b) students with 10 or more absences (p.006). Whereas
only 8.6% of students without an IEP on file had traumatic stress,
23.4% of students with an IEP on file had traumatic stress. This
difference was significant (p.001).
Regression Analysis
Linear regression analyses showed that SES positively predicted
the academic achievement indicators, whereas traumatic stress was
a negative predictor (see Table 3). A 1-point increase in SES
corresponded to an increase of 6.810 on reading IRT scale score
(p.001). Children with traumatic stress had a mean reading
achievement that was 11.932 points lower than students without
traumatic stress (p.001). In mathematics, a 1-point increase in
SES corresponded to a 5.800 increase in the scale score (p
.001). Children with traumatic stress scored an average of 10.883
scale score points lower on mathematics achievement (p.001).
In science achievement, a 1-point increase in SES corresponded to
a 4.362 increase in science IRT scale score (p.001). The mean
science achievement was 5.689 points lower for students who had
experienced traumatic stress (p.001).
Regression and logistic regression analyses of academic engage-
ment and low-ability tracking had similar results (see Table 3). An
increase of 1-point in SES corresponded to a decrease of 0.094 in
absences (p.001). However, traumatic stress was not a signif-
icant predictor of absences, with an estimate of 0.167 and p
8.1% 6.9%6.9%
10.6% 8.1%
91 9% 93.1%
91 9% 93.1%
89.4% 88.8%
91.9%91.9%
88.8%
Percentage of Students with Traumac Stress by
SES Level
100%
6.9%
10.6% 11.2%
8.1%
11.2%
95%
16.1%
90%
93.1%
91.9%
85%
89.4% 88.8%
80% 83.9%
75%
Low SES Mid-Low SES Mid SES Mid-High SES High SES
Low - -
Ti
Low - --
No Traumac Stress Traumac Stress
Figure 1. Percentage of students with traumatic stress by socioeconomic
status (SES) level in fifth-grade students from the Early Childhood Lon-
gitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998 –99 (ECLS-K) database.
255
TRAUMA, SES, AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
.084. The logistic regression performed to assess low-ability track-
ing found that SES had a negative relationship with having an IEP
on file (p.001). The estimate of 1.111 for an IEP on file (p
.001) translates into an odds ratio of 3.03. Consequently, the odds
of having an IEP on file was more than three times as large when
the students had experienced traumatic stress.
Discussion
Academic Achievement and Socioeconomic Status
Results of the study showed that academic achievement scores,
as measured by IRT scale scores, were significantly lower for
lower SES students. Furthermore, regression analyses found that
SES positively predicted IRT scale scores. As such, it appears that
higher SES students have greater success with standardized testing
in schools. In terms of low-ability tracking, regression analysis
found that SES had a negative relationship with having an IEP on
file, indicating the low-SES students are more likely to be diag-
nosed with a learning disability or behavior disorder. An increase
in SES predicted a decrease in absences, suggesting that higher
SES students are more engaged in education, perhaps because of
fewer economic barriers to attending school. Finally, the results of
this study indicate that the rate of traumatic stress is significantly
higher among lower SES students, suggesting that low-SES stu-
dents experience trauma at a higher rate or have fewer resources
with which to ameliorate the effects of trauma.
Academic Achievement and Traumatic Stress
The IRT scale scores of students exhibiting traumatic stress
symptoms were significantly lower than those of students without
traumatic stress. Furthermore, regression analysis showed that
traumatic stress negatively predicted these scores. These results
indicate that traumatic stress impairs student performance on stan-
dardized tests. Among students experiencing traumatic stress, the
percentage of students with an IEP was more than double that of
students not experiencing traumatic stress. Logistic regression
showed that the odds of a student having an IEP were more than
three times as large if the student had traumatic stress symptoms.
The implication of these significant results is that students exhib-
iting symptoms of traumatic stress are at risk for being labeled
with a learning disability or a behavior disorder. Although this may
be accurate for some students, there is concern that students may
be incorrectly diagnosed and therefore may not receive the appro-
priate services.
The results for the analysis of traumatic stress and school
disengagement, as measured by absences, were somewhat mixed.
As absences increased, the rate of traumatic stress generally in-
creased, although results were only significant when comparing
students with less than one absence and students with between two
and five or students with 10 or more absences. In addition, regres-
sion analysis found that traumatic stress was not a significant
predictor of absences. This suggests that more research is needed
to determine factors influencing absences and other school disen-
gagement behaviors to ascertain the impact of traumatic stress.
Implications for Practice
The results of this study indicate that traumatic stress appears to
be a significant factor in academic achievement, broadening the
discussion about the need for counseling interventions in schools
and alternative perspectives on the deficit-oriented view of low
achievement among marginalized students. Using the results of
this exploratory study, counselors and other clinicians working
with schoolage children can incorporate screening for psycholog-
ical trauma, particularly when working with lower SES students
and students who are having academic difficulties. Awareness that
children exhibiting certain behaviors, such as acting out or disen-
gaging from activities, may actually be symptoms of traumatic
stress can enable counselors and educators to make more accurate
assessments of children’s abilities and needs that do not mistak-
enly attribute all academic problems to low ability or behavior
problems. Indeed, traumatic events are frequent in individual’s
lives, and counselors in all settings must develop an understanding
and ability to treat these issues (Gold, 2008). Counselors with
competence related to psychological trauma can provide children
with appropriate interventions that ameliorate the effects of trau-
matic stress and ideally improve academic performance.
Counselors working in schools need to develop treatments that
ameliorate traumatic stress within school settings, as these are the
most likely intervention point for students, particularly those who
may not have resources to obtain outside psychological assistance.
Figure 2. Percentage of students with traumatic stress by number of
yearly absences in fifth-grade students from the Early Childhood Longi-
tudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998 –99 (ECLS-K) database.
Table 2
Significant Differences in Percentage of Students With
Traumatic Stress by Socioeconomic Status (SES)
SES
level
Students with
traumatic stress
(%)
SES
level
Students with
traumatic stress
(%) p
Low 16.1 Mid-low 10.6 .006
ⴱⴱ
Low 16.1 Mid 11.2 .036
Low 16.1 Mid-high 8.1 .001
ⴱⴱ
Low 16.1 High 6.9 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Mid 11.2 High 6.9 .027
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
256 GOODMAN, MILLER, AND WEST-OLATUNJI
There are a number of school-based interventions for mental health
issues, including traumatic stress and depression, that have been
found to be effective (Layne et al., 2008; Shirk, Kaplinksi, &
Gudmundsen, 2009). In fact, interventions such as cognitive–
behavioral intervention for trauma in schools have decreased
symptoms and increased adaptive coping (Goodkind, LaNoue, &
Milford, 2010), critical outcomes for students to be able to engage
in the learning environment and succeed academically, socially,
and psychologically.
Counselors in schools will most often be alerted to a student
who is disrupting the classroom through behaviors such as hyper-
activity and aggressiveness with peers. In response to requests
from teachers or administrators to assist with such a student,
counselors can screen for the presence of traumatic stress before
moving to behavioral solutions to improve classroom behavior.
Included should be an understanding of the neuropsychological
effects of trauma on children based specifically on their develop-
ment level (Wilson et al., 2011). If traumatic stress is present, the
counselor can then provide trauma counseling or make an appro-
priate referral. Students with traumatic stress who exhibit behav-
iors such as withdrawal or sadness may not be as likely to cause
problems in a school setting. Therefore, counselors and other
supportive adults should be aware of any changes in behaviors and
also refer for appropriate screening and treatment.
Furthermore, this study raises concerns about the appropriate
placement of students in low-ability programs; the neuropsycho-
logical impact of trauma must be differentiated from actual cog-
nitive ability (Wilson et al., 2011). As such, it is critical that the
expertise of counselors in traumatic stress and psychological
health be used in such decisions. Counselors need to insert them-
selves into the process whereby students are tracked for low-ability
placement to provide information and advocacy for students.
School personnel need education about the similarity of psycho-
logical trauma and the many other issues or diagnoses that they
might encounter in the school setting. Screening is needed before
students are given an IEP so that there can be a differential
diagnosis for traumatic stress.
Given the higher rate of traumatic stress among lower SES
students found in this study, counselors need to be proactive in
indentifying symptoms of traumatic stress for these students. As
mentioned, the increased risk for low-SES students and the limited
economic resources of their families make it critical that counsel-
ors serve as advocates so that low-SES students receive the ap-
propriate services. Counselors can offer group interventions for
students exhibiting symptoms of traumatic stress within the school
setting, particularly for students whose families may not be able to
obtain outside services. Counselor education programs can train
counseling students to be able to deliver such interventions, as well
as to identify traumatic stress and to serve as advocates for mar-
ginalized, low-SES students.
Implications for Policy
Policymakers may have an interest in the results of this study as
it can potentially have an impact on how standards and account-
ability are viewed, particularly in low-resourced schools that so
often serve low-SES as well as culturally diverse students (Lip-
man, 2006). Moreover, policymakers may wish to contextualize
disproportionate educational outcomes with historical inequities in
economic spheres when reconsidering allocation of resources
(King, 2005). Central to the issue of educational policy is the
concern for social justice and advocacy in which policymakers
ensure that public interests align with student needs (Gillborn,
2006). Assessment of low-income and culturally diverse students
is often informed by poor conceptualization because of lack of
familiarity with diverse groups of people. Policymakers can be-
Table 3
Regressions Analyzing Prediction of Academic Achievement Indicators From Socioeconomic
Status (SES) and Traumatic Stress
Parameter name Estimate SE t p
Regression 1: dependent variable reading IRT scale score
R
2
.223
SES 6.810 0.324 21.035 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Traumatic stress 11.932 1.563 7.635 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Regression 2: dependent variable math IRT scale score
R
2
.191
SES 5.800 0.312 18.570 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Traumatic stress 10.883 1.625 6.699 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Regression 3: dependent variable science IRT scale score
R
2
.213
SES 4.362 0.231 18.879 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Traumatic stress 5.689 1.099 5.175 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Regression 4: dependent variable total absences
R
2
.012
SES 0.094 0.016 5.975 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Traumatic stress 0.167 0.095 1.746 .084
Logistic regression 5: dependent variable IEP on file
SES 0.185 0.05 3.703 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Traumatic stress 1.111 0.177 6.273 .000
ⴱⴱⴱ
Note. IRT item response theory; IEP individual education plan.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
257
TRAUMA, SES, AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
come better informed by relevant research when taking action to
ensure high-quality education for underperforming students. Coun-
selors can serve as social justice advocates within schools and
community agencies to promote education policies that are in the
best interest of marginalized students.
Limitations
This study used a nationally norm-referenced data set compiled
by the NCES. Therefore, the findings are generalizable from the
sample to the population. However, there are limitations concern-
ing validity due to the use of precollected data for ad hoc analyses
in which the variables measured were indicators of traumatic stress
symptoms, not a measure of trauma exposure. First, construct
underrepresentation needed to be addressed to ensure that trau-
matic stress is indeed measured by the variables selected from the
database. Second, the variables may be vulnerable to the problem
of construct irrelevant variance if they contain content that they are
not intended to measure. To address these validity concerns, the
items were examined in relation to the literature on traumatic stress
and achievement in order to deem them appropriate (see Table 1).
Future Research
Research is needed that examines additional factors influencing
traumatic stress and academic achievement. Different grade levels
could be examined to further the understanding of how learning
deficits might change over time due to cumulative or continued
traumatic stress for developing children and adolescents. Addi-
tional factors might include culture/ethnicity and gender, as both
culturally diverse and female individuals are vulnerable to trauma
(Breslau et al., 1998; Burstow, 2003). Furthermore, culturally
diverse students, in particular African American, Latino American,
and Native American students, continue to underachieve as com-
pared with their White counterparts despite decades of efforts to
address this issue (Orfield et al., 2004). In addition to analysis of
gender and culture, analysis of the intersection of gender, culture,
and SES is needed so that these identities are not essentialized but
understood as multidimensional and interconnected parts of an
individual’s life experiences. Large-scale, nationally representa-
tive data sets such as the ECLS-K can be used to perform quan-
titative analysis to further the understanding of traumatic stress for
students who are marginalized because of gender and culture, as
well as SES.
Qualitative research is needed to develop greater understanding
of how schoolage children experience traumatic stress. As tradi-
tional trauma has focused on one-time, identified events, research
into the impact of long-term, systemic trauma, such as systemic
oppression and transgenerational trauma, is needed among this
population (Carter, 2007; Goodman & West-Olatunji, 2008). Stu-
dents may also experience traumatic stress within the school
setting, which requires further research to ascertain how these
experiences impact school performance and engagement. The
voices of lower SES students, as well as other socially marginal-
ized students, need to be heard so that counselors can provide
preventive and remedial interventions for these students that ad-
dress their unique concerns and experiences.
Finally, studies of counseling interventions and programs
should be developed to determine effective trauma treatments.
Such interventions can be evaluated using outcome measures of
academic achievement as well as measures of psychological well-
being. For socially marginalized students, it is critical that inter-
ventions be created and evaluated using culturally appropriate
methods that incorporate the lived experiences and intersecting
identities of these individuals. Research in this area can provide
counselors with effective, evidence-based practices, which coun-
selor educators can incorporate in counselor training. Building on
already effective interventions (Goodkind et al., 2010), and the
emergent knowledge of the neuropsychological impact of trauma
(Wilson et al., 2011), intervention research can help counselors
develop expedient, holistic, and effective school-based treatments.
In summary, the researchers’ investigation found that traumatic
stress and SES impact the academic achievement of primary
school students. The results show that lower SES students are at
greater risk for traumatic stress and academic underachievement,
and that traumatic stress itself predicts underachievement. Impli-
cations of this study are that counselors need to develop interven-
tions to ameliorate the effects of traumatic stress in order to
improve the educational success of low-SES students. Further-
more, counselors can serve as advocates for students to ensure that
differential diagnoses for educational problems include traumatic
stress and that marginalized student receive the necessary services.
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TRAUMA, SES, AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
... For instance, ACEs increase the risk for lifetime health problems including psychiatric disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder), alcohol abuse, drug dependencies, high-risk sexual behaviors, and chronic diseases (e.g., obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cancer) (Anda et al., 2008;Felitti et al., 2019;Mersky et al., 2013). In addition to health outcomes, ACEs can lead to poor academic performance, inappropriate behavior in the classroom, and difficulties forming relationships in school (Cole et al., 2013;Goodman et al., 2012;Groves, 2003;Wolpow et al., 2011). Trauma interferes with organizing and remembering information, hinders ability to concentrate on classroom tasks, restricts appropriate expressions of feelings, delays age-appropriate social skills, and leads to distrust of school staff and peers (Cole et al., 2013;Goodman et al., 2012;Groves, 2003;Wolpow et al., 2011). ...
... In addition to health outcomes, ACEs can lead to poor academic performance, inappropriate behavior in the classroom, and difficulties forming relationships in school (Cole et al., 2013;Goodman et al., 2012;Groves, 2003;Wolpow et al., 2011). Trauma interferes with organizing and remembering information, hinders ability to concentrate on classroom tasks, restricts appropriate expressions of feelings, delays age-appropriate social skills, and leads to distrust of school staff and peers (Cole et al., 2013;Goodman et al., 2012;Groves, 2003;Wolpow et al., 2011). Consequently, ACE-impacted children are more likely to fail a grade, score lower on standardized tests, receive suspensions or expulsions, and be referred to special education (Goodman et al., 2012;Wolpow et al., 2011). ...
... Trauma interferes with organizing and remembering information, hinders ability to concentrate on classroom tasks, restricts appropriate expressions of feelings, delays age-appropriate social skills, and leads to distrust of school staff and peers (Cole et al., 2013;Goodman et al., 2012;Groves, 2003;Wolpow et al., 2011). Consequently, ACE-impacted children are more likely to fail a grade, score lower on standardized tests, receive suspensions or expulsions, and be referred to special education (Goodman et al., 2012;Wolpow et al., 2011). ...
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Students of color are disproportionately affected by exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), racial trauma, and traumatic stress. Trauma-informed interventions in schools can promote healing among ACE-impacted students of color. These interventions require collaboration with family members to decide upon services and referrals; however, educators commonly face challenges with engaging families. The study purpose is to understand barriers and facilitators to engaging families in trauma-informed mental health interventions for ACE-impacted students of color. As part of a larger school-based trauma-informed trial (Link for Equity), 6 focus groups were conducted with parents/guardians of color and school staff (n = 39) across 3 Midwestern school districts. Participants were asked open-ended questions about trauma, discrimination, school supports, and family engagement. Transcripts were coded by two team members, and thematic analysis was used to identify barriers/facilitators to family involvement. Results indicated that families of ACE-impacted students of color commonly experienced racism including microaggressions and stereotypes from the school community, which deterred engagement and prevented trusting relationships between families and school staff. Parents highlighted feeling excluded from decisions related to their child’s education and that their voices were not heard or understood. Participants discussed the need for schools to consider how family obstacles (such as mental health and trauma) may prevent families from engaging with staff, and they recommended structural changes, such as anti-racism trainings for educators. Findings highlight the need for anti-racist work that addresses interpersonal and structural racism in schools, in order to promote family engagement in trauma-informed mental health interventions.
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... Capitals are reproduced and inherited by further generations in the form of family educational views and values and may further affect cultural and educational environment and atmosphere for children (Fan, 2014). Although adolescents with disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience poorer academic achievement and educational outcomes (Ferguson et al., 2007;Goodman et al., 2012), having a source of schoolwork support inside and/or outside of the family may help them prevent negative repercussions and improve their school satisfaction. Moreover, support with schoolwork from the inside and outside of the family may help to prevent the intergenerational transfer of socioeconomic disadvantages. ...
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Masculine ideology and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with student risk behaviors. With data from a sample of eighth-grade students, this study used hierarchical linear regression to examine the relationships between household ACEs, masculine ideology, and teacher-reported student risk behaviors. Results indicated that household ACEs were associated with higher academic and social risk behavior, while greater endorsement of masculine ideology was associated with higher academic risk behavior. We discuss implications for research and practice.
Chapter
Childhood trauma is as American as apple pie. The statistics are sobering. In 2018, more than 673,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect. This chapter will explore adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in detail, relating how these past experiences could affect current student behavior. A case study will be used to illustrate the issues that teachers face in their classrooms. Research shows that trauma affects the brain and subsequently how people act and/or react. Emotional regulation, behavioral control, and cognitive processes that are affected by trauma will be explored. Further, this chapter will raise the issues of racial disproportionality in identification and labeling of behavioral disorders and recommendations for special education among students who may have been exposed to trauma. Lastly, recommendations for best practice will be outlined to support educators in the field.
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This paper examines the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on adult entrepreneurial behaviors. By adopting the data from China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), we exploited the instrumental variable (IV) methods and found that the shadow of ACEs is significantly detrimental to entrepreneurship in adulthood, and this result proved robust across several methods. Mechanism tests indicated that the negative impacts of ACEs on entrepreneurship can be explained by losses in human capital, physical capital, and social capital, and developing a risk-averse personality. Further, heterogeneity results showed that the negative impact of ACEs from parents is greater, and the negative effect of ACEs on entrepreneurship is only valid for young and female and rural residents. This study enriches the discussion on ACEs and entrepreneurial behaviors in adulthood via better causal identification, and it provides important insights for other developing countries.
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At the center of therapeutic work with terrified children is helping them realize that they are repeating their early experiences and helping them find new ways of coping by developing new connections between their experiences, emotions and physical reactions. Unfortunately, all too often, medications take the place of helping children acquire the skills necessary to deal with and master their uncomfortable physical sensations. To "process" their traumatic experiences, these children first need to develop a safe space where they can "look at" their traumas without repeating them and making them real once again.15.
Conference Paper
A random sample of 724 individuals across the United States were mailed a questionnaire containing demographic information, an abridged version of the Traumatic Events Survey (D. M. Elliott, 1992), and questions regarding memory for traumatic events. Of these, 505 (70%) completed the survey. Among respondents who reported some form of trauma (72%), delayed recall of the event was reported by 32%. This phenomenon was most common among individuals who observed the murder or suicide of a family member, sexual abuse survivors, and combat veterans. The severity of the trauma was predictive of memory status, but demographic variables were not. The most commonly reported trigger to recall of the trauma was some form of media presentation (i.e., television show, movie), whereas psychotherapy was the least commonly reported trigger.
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The authors used an integrative conceptual model to examine the emergence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in 568 elementary school-age children 3 months after Hurricane Andrew. The model included 4 primary factors: Exposure to Traumatic Events, Child Characteristics, Access to Social Support, and Children's Coping. Overall, 62% of the variance in children's self-reported PTSD symptoms was accounted for by the 4 primary factors, and each factor improved overall prediction of symptoms when entered in the analyses in the order specified by the conceptual model. The findings suggest that the conceptual model may be helpful to organize research and intervention efforts in the wake of natural disasters.
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As disasters increase worldwide, there is greater need for effective and expedient disaster mental health response. The purpose of this paper is to present the etiology of transgenerational trauma to advance mental health counselors' understanding of the complex issues associated with trauma and disaster. The authors have woven literature from the field of trauma counseling with their own clinical experiences during deployment in post-Katrina New Orleans. The authors assert that mental health counselors can enhance clinical practice by using transgenerational trauma assessment and interventions as well as historical and contextual knowledge. A case example and recommendations are provided to demonstrate how to incorporate transgenerational trauma and resilience into clinical practice when working with disaster survivors.
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Marginalized groups that are traditionally excluded from policy and decision-making are often also disproportionately affected by the hardships of natural disasters. By including community residents in research and planning, public health practitioners and researchers can create programs that have immediate relevance and policy implications. This article describes a case study of the formation of a community-uniStephanie Farquhar is Assistant Professor, Portland State University, School of Community Health, 450F Urban Center, 506 Mill Street, Portland, OR 97207-0751. At the time of the study, Dr. Farquhar was a W.K. Kellogg Postdoctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Noelle Dobson is Program Manager, Active Living by Design, American Heart Association, Pacific Mountain Affiliate, Portland, OR. Address correspondence to: Stephanie Farquhar, PhD (E-mail: farquhar@pdx.edu). Portions of this article were adapted with permission from a book chapter written by Farquhar, S.A., and Wing, S. (2002). Methodological and ethical considerations of community-driven environmental justice research: Examination of two case studies from rural North Carolina. In M. Minkler & N. Wallerstein (Eds.), Community-based participatory research for health (pp. 221-241). New York: Jossey Bass. This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. versity partnership and a community-based participatory research project conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd. The description of methods used and the implications for practice will highlight the importance of including those most affected by a natural disaster. Members of several groups worked collaboratively to define the social and public health concerns of a rural North Carolina community and to create changes in disaster-recovery policy and practice.
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Substantial gaps in achievement of groups of individuals of varying social status are well documented, but there are no conclusive explanations for them. The author integrated psychological and educational perspectives to scrutinize the effects of 4 protective factors believed to promote academic resilience of students at risk because of low socio-economic status, minority status, or gender. The analysis was based on data collected from national samples of students in Grades 4, 8, and 12 as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress 1996 science main assessment. The hierarchical linear models used in this study provided reliable estimates of the sources of achievement gaps and the conditions that contributed to resilience of individuals with high statistical probabilities of academic risk.
Article
The purpose of this article is to help pave the way for more radical counseling with trau- matized individuals, communities, and nations. The author critiques the post-traumatic stress disorder conceptualization and psychiatry fundamentally, builds on and critiques feminist and other radical contributions to trauma theory, suggests directions for femi- nists, theorizes trauma from a radical perspective, and draws implications for practice. Conclusions include the following: A deficit trauma model is inappropriate; institutions of the state must be seen as critical in the creation of trauma; there must be a fundamental break with psychiatry; and trauma work should move in the direction of radical adult education. With the emergence of feminist therapy, trauma became a central framework through which professional helpers view violence against women, with one consequence being a shift in trauma the- ory. Women survivors, feminist therapists, and other feminist the- oreticiansargued that women are traumatized by everyday vio - lence against women just as men are traumatized in combat, and they progressively used and adapted the term trauma. Feminists such as Herman (1981), Russell (1984), Burstow (1992), and Brown and Root (1990) pioneered new understandings of trauma. Although some feminist practitioners saw psychiatry as inher- ently problematic and viewed the feminist theorizing as a sort of counterdialogue, the more influential—Herman (1992), for example—largely accepted psychiatric underpinnings, while seeing psychiatric conceptualizations as simply restrictively androcentric or otherwise privileged. Correspondingly, feminist practitioners lobbied for and in some cases succeeded in getting
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This report has a state-by-state analysis of the new 1999-2002 Schools and Staffing Survey data on the percentage of core academic secondary school classes taught by a teacher without major or minor in the subject. The report documents the huge and growing problem of disproportionate numbers of classes in high-poverty and high-minority secondary schools being taught by out-of-field teachers. The report also includes a list of recommendations which states, districts and schools can act on immediately to help reduce out-of-field teaching.
Article
The current study evaluated cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for adolescent depression delivered in health clinics and counseling centers in four high schools. Outcomes were benchmarked to results from prior efficacy trials. Fifty adolescents diagnosed with depressive disorders were treated by eight doctoral-level psychologists who followed a manual-guided, 12-session, individual CBT protocol. Referred adolescents presented with high rates of comorbidity, traumatic experiences, and prior suicide attempts. Posttreatment response to school-based CBT (64%) was comparable to results obtained in efficacy trials. On average, symptom reduction in this school-based study was similar to prior efficacy trials, exceeded results from an efficacy trial using the original manual, and exceeded results from a prior school-based CBT trial. Examination of predictors of symptom change and treatment response showed that life stress, trauma history, and depressive symptom severity were negatively associated with outcomes. Results suggest that school-based CBT is a relatively robust treatment for adolescent depression across gender, age, and ethnic groups as well as for adolescents with varied patterns of comorbidity.