Last year, Robbie Jordon Marsh, researcher and assistant professor at Mercer University, published an article in Intervention in School and Clinic promoting strategies to increase perceptions of school connectedness among students with emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD) classifications. To highlight the need for attention to such approaches, Marsh and a team of colleagues have now collaborated to examine the extent to which experiences of connectedness vary according to disorder designation.
The team found that, indeed, students with EBD classifications reported lower levels of connectedness than their general education peers. Lower ratings occurred across three of four facets of the questionnaire administered to students, including school bonding, school attachment, and school engagement.
“Students with EBD often experience multiple difficulties within the school environment. Recent data indicate that students with EBD exceed all other disability groups in incidents of school removal because of health-risk behavior,” they write. “It is important that educators understand variables that contribute to the challenging behaviors of students with EBD to prevent them from further developing serious problems related to health-risk behavior.”
According to Marsh and team, research examining student perceptions of school connectedness has historically focused on the general student population. Despite the availability of research demonstrating the importance of community, relationships with peers and school staff, and elements of school climate in students’ opportunities for success in school, exploration of connectedness in relation to disability classification or EBD is needed.
A complex interplay between student-, school-, and community-level characteristics may influence students’ experiences of belongingness and connection. Although every student enters school with a unique set of characteristics and needs, many school-level features (e.g., academic pressure, rigid structure, etc.) contribute to a spectrum of the emotional and behavioral challenges students face.
With mood disorders and anxiety on the rise in youth, and dimensions of school such as relationships and attendance suffering, as a result, it is important to consider ways to facilitate experiences of connection and community for all students. Identifying those in particular need of connection may be an appropriate place to start in remedying some of the major issues students experience in school. To identify trends, Marsh and colleagues set out to answer the following questions:
- Is there a significant difference in the levels of school bonding between students with EBD and those of their general education peers?
- Is there a significant difference in the levels of school attachment between students with EBD and their general education peers?
- Is there a significant difference in the levels of school engagement between students with EBD and their general education peers?
- Is there a significant difference in the levels of school climate between students with EBD and their general education peers?
The researchers recruited a sample of students and 30 teachers (22 teachers from programs for students with EBD classifications, and eight general education teachers), and 136 students (an even split of general education students and students with EBD classifications) from nine elementary schools, eight middle schools, nine high schools, and two therapeutic schools within a large urban school district. Teacher participants administered the questionnaire, and analyses were then conducted to examine student responses across the four areas outlined above.
“The results indicate that students with EBD experience these factors differently than their general education peers, especially in terms of school bonding. That is, general education students are more successful at creating, and ultimately experience, more meaningful relationships with their teachers and peers than do students with EBD.”
Findings suggest that, although both student groups reported high levels of school bonding, students with EBD classifications reported significantly lower levels of school bonding than their general education peers. Levels of engagement differed similarly (EBD ratings trending lower than those reported by students in general education), but differences were not found to be significant.
Ratings of school attachment fell within the moderate range for students with EBD classifications compared to overall high levels of school attachment among general education students. School climate ratings were similarly high between groups.
Although results indicated gaps in connectedness and perceptions of belongingness among students with EBD classifications, more research is needed to examine the reliability of Marsh and team’s results and to hone instruments used to assess school connectedness.
Marsh, R. J., Higgins, K., Morgan, J., Cumming, T. M., Brown, M., & Mccreery, M. (2019). Evaluating School Connectedness of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Children & Schools, 41(3), 153–160. (Link)