Monday, January 10, 2022

Recent Papers on Socio-Economic Status and Student Achievement: Marks and O'Connell

I received the message below from Michael O'Connell, University College Dublin, and Gary Marks, University of Melbourne. 

See also this recent post: Social and Educational Mobility: Denmark vs USA (James Heckman), and links therein. 
Dear Scholar, 
There is a widely-held perception that many of life’s key outcomes are fundamentally driven by people’s socio-economic status (SES). More specifically, there is a view that children’s educational attainment is largely a by-product of their familial SES. As a consequence of this pervasive paradigm, much of the energy in seeking to ameliorate or resolve poor educational attainment is based around trying to use SES as a social lever. 

However, in the six papers listed below, published between 2019-2022, evidence has been gathered demonstrating that SES is only very modestly correlated with educational attainment. Furthermore, once a child’s cognitive ability is taken into account, even the modest link between SES and attainment diminishes to slight influence. This is true of datasets drawn from international groups of young people, as well as those from the US, UK, or Ireland. Future attempts to aid and study young people experiencing difficulty with educational attainment should be built on an awareness of the limited role of SES. 

Gary N Marks   Michael O’Connell 

1. O’Connell, M. and Marks, G.N. (2022) 
Cognitive ability and conscientiousness are more important than SES for educational attainment: An analysis of the UK Millennium Cohort Study
Personality and Individual Differences, 188 
Highlights Antecedents of educational attainment of great interest Dominant paradigm focuses on SES of children. Cognitive ability and conscientiousness have stronger record in research findings. Using new UK MCS longitudinal survey data, GCSE state exam performance assessed Cognitive ability and conscientiousness explained far more than SES measures 


2. Marks, G. N. (2021) 
Is the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and student achievement causal? Considering student and parent abilities
Educational Research and Evaluation, 10.1080/13803611.2021.1968442: 1-24. 
Abstract Most studies on the relationship between students’ socioeconomic status (SES) and student achievement assume that its effects are sizable and causal. A large variety of theoretical explanations have been proposed. However, the SES–achievement association may reflect, to some extent, the inter-relationships of parents’ abilities, SES, children’s abilities, and student achievement. The purpose of this study is to quantify the role of SES vis-à-vis child and parents’ abilities, and prior achievement. Analyses of a covariance matrix that includes supplementary correlations for fathers and mothers’ abilities derived from the literature indicate that more than half of the SES–achievement association can be accounted for by parents’ abilities. SES coefficients decline further with the addition of child’s abilities. With the addition of prior achievement, the SES coefficients are trivial implying that SES has little or no contemporaneous effects. These findings are not compatible with standard theoretical explanations for SES inequalities in achievement. 


3. Marks, G. N. and O’Connell, M. (2021) 
No Evidence for Cumulating Socioeconomic Advantage. Ability Explains Increasing SES Effects with Age on Children’s Domain Test scores 
Intelligence, 88 
Highlights Data analysed for five domains for children of the NLSY79 mothers study. SES effects increase for only some domains and not substantially. No increase in SES effects when considering mother's or children's prior ability. Effects of child's prior ability on test scores increase substantially with age. SES effects are small net of mother's ability. 
4. Marks, G. N. and O'Connell, M. (2021) 
Inadequacies in the SES–Achievement model: Evidence from PISA and other studies 
Review of Education, 9(3): e3293. 
Abstract Students’ socioeconomic status (SES) is central to much research and policy deliberation on educational inequalities. However, the SES model is under severe stress for several reasons. SES is an ill-defined concept, unlike parental education or family income. SES measures are frequently based on proxy reports from students; these are generally unreliable, sometimes endogenous to student achievement, only low to moderately intercorrelated, and exhibit low comparability across countries and over time. There are many explanations for SES inequalities in education, none of which achieves consensus among research and policy communities. SES has only moderate effects on student achievement, and its effects are especially weak when considering prior achievement, an important and relevant predictor. SES effects are substantially reduced when considering parent ability, which is causally prior to family SES. The alternative cognitive ability/genetic transmission model has far greater explanatory power; it provides logical and compelling explanations for a wide range of empirical findings from student achievement studies. The inadequacies of the SES model are hindering knowledge accumulation about student performance and the development of successful policies. 
5. O'Connell, M. and Marks, G. N. (2021) 
Are the effects of intelligence on student achievement and well-being largely functions of family income and social class? Evidence from a longitudinal study of Irish adolescents
Intelligence, 84: 101511. 10.1016/j.intell.2020.101511 
Highlights Power of cognitive ability and social class contrasted. Large representative sample from longitudinal study, waves 1–3, of 6216 children Outcomes were attainments, difficulties and relationships. Cognitive ability explained large amounts of variance. Social background only minor effects 
6. O'Connell, M. (2019) 
Is the impact of SES on educational performance overestimated? Evidence from the PISA survey 
Intelligence, 75: 41-47 
Highlights Policy-makers overly attribute differences in educational performance to SES. PISA survey used to assess roles of parental education and household income. Combining them concealed differences in outcomes between rich and poor countries. Household income important in poor countries, parental education in rich countries.

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