Frequently changing schools can hurt the math grades, behavior and attention of low-income children, researchers say.
A Chicago-based study found that low-income kids who remained in the same school for five years had better thinking skills and superior performance in math compared to those who moved a lot.
“Simply stated, frequently changing schools is a major risk factor for low-income children’s school success,” said the study’s lead author, Allison Friedman-Krauss, of New York University in New York City.
The study, published Oct. 8 in Developmental Psychology, involved 381 public school children who were followed from preschool until fourth grade. All came from low-income families. After participating in the Head Start program, the children were enrolled in the city’s School Readiness Project. The researchers said 68 percent of the children were black, and 27 percent were Hispanic.
Math skills were assessed in preschool and in fourth grade. Working memory, attention and impulsivity were evaluated in preschool and again in third grade, the study authors said.
The researchers also analyzed parental information, and considered how often the students switched schools during the five-year study.
On average, the children moved 1.38 times between preschool and third grade. Only 14 percent stayed in the same school for all five years. And 10 percent switched schools three or four times, the investigators found.
Third-grade teachers reported that children who changed schools frequently were less likely to perform well on critical thinking tasks. This held even after the students’ preschool thinking and math skills were taken into account.
On average, scores on standardized math tests in fourth grade were acceptable. However, the frequent school changers were at greater risk of not meeting state math standards. These kids were predicted to score, on average, 10 points lower than their peers who didn’t move around, the study found.
“For children growing up in poverty in this urban Chicago sample, frequently changing schools is only one of many risks they face,” Friedman-Krauss said in a news release from the American Psychological Association.
The study doesn’t prove that switching schools contributed to the students’ decline. Still, if changing schools can’t be prevented, providing supports to make the transition to a new school less stressful and preparing students in advance may help mitigate the consequences, Friedman-Krauss added.
Study co-author Cybele Raver said “moving once or twice may not be extremely detrimental to the development of children who are already at risk.” However, “moving almost every year during elementary school increased the probability that students would face more difficulty in the long run,” according to Raver, who is a professor of applied psychology at NYU.
“This suggests the need for policies at the state, district and school levels to prevent school changes and to support students, families and teachers when children do change schools,” Raver said in the news release.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has tips on helping children succeed in school.