Factors in High School Students' Success

Michele Meleen
Throwing graduation hats in the air

There are many factors that contribute to a student's drive, motivation, and work ethic regarding academic achievement. Teachers, parents, peers, and community members who are knowledgeable about these factors can best help each high school student succeed.

Personal Factors

The state of a student's personal life can have a positive or negative impact on achievement in high school. Family, home life, and friendships play important roles in helping teens develop into successful adults.

Personality

Measurements of intelligence have been widely used to predict academic success. Recent research now suggests that personality traits may better indicate academic achievement. Leading Psychologist, Arthur E. Poropat, suggests conscientiousness, being open, and having emotional stability better predict high school success than intelligence tests. To foster these specific traits, adults can:

  • Teach and encourage persistence and follow-through.
  • Challenge students to beat previous test scores and offer incentives.
  • Assign projects that require imagination and discovery.
  • Create an environment where teens feel comfortable sharing emotions. Use these moments to teach skills in emotional control.
  • Engage students in discovering new topics and ideas through fun, hands-on learning experiences.

It is not always easy to calculate the amount of change made in personality development, nor is it always possible to change a teen's personality. The key here rests largely upon applauding effort. Teens who put in a diligent effort to display aspects of these personality traits should be praised for trying, even if the specific task is not completed.

Social Circles

Friendships and social life are at the forefront of the teenage mind. Peer influences can be positive or negative and impact academics along with attitudes and behaviors. If your teen has one friend who displays negative behaviors, this may not be as big a problem as teens whose circle of friends have a lackadaisical attitude toward educational achievement. Dr. Wilda Heard, an expert on educational leadership, suggests social circles are susceptible to a "social contagion." Like spreading germs, teens can spread positive or negative behaviors throughout their group of friends very rapidly. Students whose friends have a higher average GPA are more likely to improve grades.

Parents may intrinsically feel the need to demand their teen unfriend someone who might be a bad influence. However, this type of demand can cause major issues in the parent-child relationship. Instead of dictating friendship circles, adults can encourage teens to become involved in more positive social experiences such as:

  • Church youth groups
  • Local leadership training programs
  • Volunteer organizations
  • Sports teams
  • Educational clubs

While your teen may have friends that could be a negative influence, it is also possible in that scenario that your teen could be the only positive influence in the other child's life. A teen's social life is sacred and parents should take care to encourage positive experiences for their children and their children's friends.

Family-Related Factors

A teenager's family of origin and current living arrangements can impact school attendance, attentiveness, and attitudes. Providing a comfortable, safe, and nurturing environment can help students succeed in high school

Socioeconomic Status

A family's socioeconomic status is based on the education level, employment status, occupation, and income level of the parents. Children of all ages learn from what values and behaviors their caregivers model. The Educational Testing Service shares that poverty is the biggest predictor of high school dropout rates. Generally, there is either a lack of motivation or no value placed on education by caregivers within families living in poverty. This attitude is then passed on to children.

While changing the occupational and educational values of parents may not be possible, there are ways to help students overcome the challenges associated with living in a low-income family.

  • Provide the family with resources and opportunities to change their financial situation.
  • Link the teen with community resources like public transportation, library hours and services, and mentoring programs.
  • Offer before and after school help in specific subjects or simply a quiet, organized place to work.
  • Discuss effects of higher levels of education on career and income levels with the teen.
  • Encourage teens to choose their life path, which can be different from that of their caregivers.
  • Tap into the teen's strengths and interests and capitalize on opportunities for them to succeed in those areas.

Parental Involvement

Parental involvement in a child's life and academic career has repeatedly been shown to positively impact school success. The Harvard Family Research Project shares that some forms of parental involvement may be more influential than others. Parental expectations are one of the leading forms of parental involvement that correlate to higher academic achievement in students. Activities that require a large investment of time on the part of parents, such as active and regular communication with a child, are more helpful than simply attending a school function.

This information is common knowledge amongst educators, but it is a difficult factor to influence. Parents have to want to be intrinsically connected to their child and willingly make the everyday efforts to engage. Parental involvement programs can be helpful for some families, but tend to focus on parental attendance at school functions. To help foster parental involvement, students and teachers can try many techniques.

  • Encourage students to put forth the effort in engaging their parents in important conversations. Some adults are not equipped to parent in a nurturing way and may be more willing to open up if their child expresses an interest in that type of exchange.
  • Help teens realize it is not their fault if a parent is uninvolved.
  • Hold regular parent-teacher conferences to keep parents informed.
  • Assign homework that involves teens and their parents discussing academic expectations and values.
  • Link teens with successful adult mentors.

Home Environment

The environment a student spends time in can greatly impact success in high school. Everything from the cleanliness and organization of living spaces to the ability to get enough sleep is important. Students may not be able to change a lot about their living situation, but any improvement can make a difference. The pediatric experts at Healthychildren.org suggest several elements of a teen's home environment can make a positive impact on school success.

  • Older teens need more sleep than younger teens. Encourage students to prepare for school the night before by packing their backpack, selecting clothes, and finishing homework. This will give them the opportunity to sleep in a bit longer.
  • A permanent home workspace that is properly equipped can help with organizational skills. If there is not a shared space that works, teens can create a workspace in their bedroom, make plans to stay after school every day, or go to the public library to work.
  • Children who read more do better on verbal skills and mathematics tests. Encourage reading by choosing it as your hobby or by suggesting books that fit with the teen's interests.
  • Teens who have a job should be limited to working 20 hours per week at the very most. Working too many hours can cause stress, school attendance issues, and lower grades.

School-Related Factors

Factors directly related to the school environment for teens can also impact academic achievement. There is no one person, organization, or factor to place blame or praise upon in terms of each student's success. Each of these factors can contribute to student confidence and motivation levels.

Teacher and School Engagement

Just as parent involvement is important in student development, so is teacher involvement. All the adults in a teen's life take part in shaping her values, beliefs, and achievements. Teens spend 6-8 hours a day with teachers and inside the school building, so it should come as no surprise that a positive and encouraging school environment can positively impact student achievement. There are many ways teachers and the school district can demonstrate the value of education, a desire to help all students succeed, and positive adult role models.

  • Regularly invite parents to individual conferences along with district-wide events like board meetings and family fun nights.
  • Administrators and teachers can spend transition times in the hallway to connect with students and parents on a daily basis.
  • Publicly share teacher successes in educational achievements and extra-curricular activities.
  • Display school expectations and spirit in common areas.
  • Offer a variety of lesson plan techniques to appeal to the different interests and learning styles of students within a class.
  • Engage students in field trips and hands-on experiences to foster a sense of fun in learning.
  • Offer a wide variety of courses and levels to meet the needs of all students.
  • Encourage a variety of after-school activities.
  • Make extra help readily available before and after school or during study halls.

When students feel the excitement and engagement from teachers, it can be contagious. Teens often push themselves only to the level that is expected of them. Teachers and schools with high expectations of all students equally can help students achieve high school success.

Course Rigor

Student participation in advanced level classes has been shown to increase the probability of success in high school. A recent study by Hanover Research found that students taking college-level courses were more likely to display persistence and enroll in college. These results were particularly present for students in advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes.

Course rigor refers to the workload and educational level of the classes a student is enrolled in. While all students may not be academically at a level to participate in every advanced class offered, encouraging each student to push himself in a subject he is good at can be helpful. For example, if your son gets mostly D's but manages B's in math year after year, he might be more motivated to participate in an advanced math class. Achieving success in this one area could have a positive impact on his self-esteem and motivational levels in other academic areas. When encouraging a rigorous course load there are several factors to keep in mind.

  • Look for advanced classes that fit the student's interests and ability level.
  • Consider extra-curricular commitments to be sure students don't get overloaded with stress and work.
  • If the student's school doesn't offer advanced classes, look into opportunities with schools and organizations nearby or online.

The Path to Success

Each student is equipped with a unique personality and set of circumstances in life. While there is no universal answer to helping all students succeed in high school, there are many factors that contribute universally to success. By providing each student with as many positive factors as possible, you are helping them pave their own path to success.

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Factors in High School Students' Success