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Individual and School Structural Effects on African American High School Students' Academic Achievement

The research examining the correlates of academic achievement is immense. In particular, scores of studies have examined individual- and family-level variables that influence student achievement. Based upon Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological theory of human development, this study extends one step beyond previous studies and incorporates school-level characteristics into an investigation of the factors that influence adolescents' academic achievement. Using regression-based techniques that account for within-school clustering of students, this research examined the extent to which individual-level and school structural variables predict academic achievement among a sample of 10th grade African American students abstracted from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) database. The results suggest that individual-level predictors, such as student effort, parent-child discussion, and associations with positive peers, play a substantial role in increasing students' achievement. Further, the results also suggest that school climate, in particular the sense of school cohesion felt by students, teachers, and administrators, is important to successful student outcomes. Given these findings, the author suggests that an ecological approach which encompasses individual-, family-, and school-level variables be considered when examining predictors of academic achievement. Also, policy and interventions aimed at improving academic achievement need to take into consideration the impact of individual-level and school structural factors on students and their ability to succeed.