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In todays society, grades are more important than ever. Emphasis is put on achieving academic success starting in elementary school and children are encouraged to think about their college education as early as seventh grade. While grades are not always an indication of what or how well a person is learning, they do play an important role in determining the course of academic career. With the right grades, students can get into the university or graduate school of their choice and can also earn scholarships which helps relieve the financial burden of higher education. Since grades play such an important part in our society it is important to study factors that may contribute to academic success or predict academic failure. The purpose of this study is to examine if (1) the level of perceived child-parent conflict has an effect on student’s grades and (2) to see if there are any differences between genders and different ethnicities on the grades they earn. Practitioners who are interested in distinguishing factors that may contribute to academic success can benefit from the results of this study.
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Gender and Grades
In K-12 education, research has shown that females receive higher grades than males across all subjects (Duckworth & Seligman, 2006; Pomerantz, Altermatt, & Saxon, 2002) and even in college they continue to outperform men (Mau & Lynn, 2001). While women receive higher grades, they do not score higher on IQ or standardized tests (Mau & Lynn, 2001); one possible explanation for this is that men are expected to score higher on standardized tests so women experience stereotype threat (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999) which leads to test performance interference. Knowing this, it is hypothesized that there will be a significant difference between genders on grade performance.
Ethnicity and Grades
Statistical research has shown that Caucasians have higher grades than Latinos or African Americans (Campbell, Pungello, Miller-Johnson, Burchinal, & Ramey, 2001). According to data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (2002), statistics collected in 1994 and in 2001 both showed the same ordinal sequence; Caucasians scoring highest, followed by Asians/Pacific Islanders, then Latinos and finally African Americans/Blacks. Hence, it is hypothesized that this study will find a similar trend.
Child-Parent Conflict and Grades
One of the greatest sources of conflict between parents and children is academic achievement (Dotterer, Hoffman, Crouter, & McHale, 2008). According to Montemayor (1983), school related issues were the most common causes of arguments between parents and children. Allison and Schultz (2004) found that arguments between parents and children were more intense than arguments over other issues such as chores. Additionally, Dotterer et al. (2008) found that lower grades predicted a rise in parental conflict over time. Subsequent to this information, it is hypothesized that there will be an inverse relationship between the level of child-parent conflict and grades; as grades drop, conflict escalates and vice versa.
A self-report, paper and pencil survey was used to conduct this correlational, causal comparative research. Student researchers took a convenience sample from a subject pool of two lower-division psychology classes at a university in Southern California. Participants were required to participate for class credit, with an additional inclusionary criterion of an age range of 18 to 25. Data were collected, coded, entered and verified by trained upper-division psychology students.
Data from 322 lower division psychology students from one Southern California University were used for this study. In this sample, ages ranged from eighteen to twenty-five years old (M = 19.94), and 67% were female. 57% of students in this sample were underclassmen. The majority (87%) of the adolescents were themselves born in the United States (i.e., second or third generation Americans) but there were participants from twenty-two other countries as well. 40% of participants identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino, 20% as Caucasian, 19% as Asian, 13% as Persian/Middle Eastern/Armenian and 8% identified themselves as African American/Black.
A self- report survey was used to measure all variables. Demographic variables (age, ethnicity, gender etc.) were assessed using a standard fact sheet while other factors such as child-parent conflict and grades were measured using previously established scales.
Gender. Gender was determined through use of a standard fact sheet. Participants were asked to identify themselves as either Female (1) or Male (2).
Ethnicity. Ethnicity was also determined using a standard fact sheet. The response choices are as follows: 1 = African American/Black, 2 = Asian, 3 = Caucasian, 4 = Hispanic/Latino, 5 = Native American, 6 = Other/mixed, 7 = Persian/Middle Eastern, and 8 = Armenian. Variables were dummy coded as follows: 1 = African American/Black, 2 = Asian, 3 = Caucasian, 4 = Hispanic/Latino, and 7 = Persian/Middle Eastern/Armenian. Groups 5 (Native Americans) and 6 (Other/mixed) were excluded due to lack of data.
Child-Parent Conflict. Child-Parent conflict was assessed using the revised version of the Parent-Adolescent Conflict Scale (Thayer, 2005) which consists of 15 items. The response choices are as follows: 1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4= often, and 5 = most of the time. Item example: “How frequent are the disagreements you have with your parents on the following items?” and then lists 15 different examples such as “chores”. Each items score was averaged to create a scale score. A Cronbach’s Alpha of .81 was found.
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Grades. Grades were measured with a single item that asked participants to identify what kind of grades they were receiving in school (Plunkett et al., 2009). The responses are as follows: 1 = mostly F’s, 2 = D’s and F’s, 3 = mostly D’s, 4 = C’s and D’s, 5 = mostly C’s, 6 = B’s and C’s, 7 = mostly B’s, 8 = A’s and B’s, and 9 = mostly A’s.
T-Test Examining Differences Between Genders on Grades
Gender differences were analyzed using independent samples t-tests. There were no significant differences between genders; t = 2.097, p = .145.
ANOVA Examining Differences Between Ethnic Groups on Grades
Differences between ethnic groups were examined using one-way ANOVA with Tukey post hoc analyses. Significant differences were found between ethnic groups; F(298) = 2.991, p = .019. Post hoc analysis revealed that differences were only significant between groups 1 (African Americans/Blacks) (M = 7.040, SD = 1.2410), and 3 (Caucasians) (M = 7.805, SD = .8711) with p = .033.
Pearson Correlations Examining Bivariate Relationships Between Child-Parent Conflict and Grades
Bivariate correlations were conducted to examine the strength and the direction between the level of child-parent conflict and grades. The correlations indicated that child-parent conflict was negatively and significantly related to their grades (r = -.118, p = .017). See Table 1.
The purposes of this study were to (1) see if there are any differences between genders and different ethnicities on the grades they earn and (2) to examine if the level of perceived child-parent conflict has an effect on student’s grades. The results revealed no differences between genders on grades, although the results were concurrent with previous research (Duckworth & Seligman, 2006; Pomerantz et al., 2002; Mau & Lynn, 2001); females did have higher grades than males but the results were not significant. This study did find significant differences between ethnicities on grades. However, while the ANOVA found significant differences between ethnicities, I believe it is due to the small sample size of the study and should be contributed to type I error; for instance, the significance was found between group 1 (African Americans/Blacks) and group 3 (Caucasians); group 3 (N = 59) has over twice as many participants as group 1 (N = 25). The results also followed the same ordinal sequence that the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (2002) had statistically reported (see Figure 1). A similar inverse relationship between the level of child-parent conflict and grades that Dotterer et al. (2008) discovered was also confirmed by this study.
Limitations and Research Implications
Unfortunately there are some flaws in this research design, the biggest being that the data was only collected from one university; this does not allow for generalization to the general population. The second limitation to this study was the use of the self-report survey. Self-report may not accurately reflect the relationship between the participant and their parents, which in turn may skew the results of the study. This research was also limited by using a cross-sectional design rather than a longitudinal design. Cross-sectional studies are not as powerful as longitudinal studies because it does not allow the researcher to account for individual differences over time. Lastly, the study had too small of a sample size and resulted in a possible type I error when ethnicity and grades were compared in an ANOVA. In order to receive a more accurate and generalizable picture of the relationship between gender, ethnicity, grades and child-parent conflict future studies should seek a wider, more numerous population range, involve parents to get a better idea of the actual level of child-parent conflict, and use a longitudinal design for more power. Future studies should also use actual grade data (i.e. GPA) instead of a generalized scale to draw conclusions.
Implications for Practice
Implications for practice include educating school counselors, teachers and family life educators about how a decline in academic achievement can have a negative effect and become a source of conflict between parents and children. Additionally, it is equally important to make it known to the parents how the amount of conflict can impact their child’s level of academic success. School counselors and teachers can help both parents and students to form realistic expectations and effective strategies for achieving and maintain a level of academic excellence, which in turn will help facilitate less conflict between parents and children.
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