Student outcomes – what the research tells us
While coming from a low socio-economic background is not necessarily predictive of success or failure for individual students, the achievement levels for this sub-group as a whole within our schools are cause for great concern. These factors indicate that schools with students from low socio-economic backgrounds require additional support to achieve the same outcomes for them as for other groups of students.
Socio-economic disadvantage is generally associated with factors such as low-quality living environments, mobility, family unemployment or underemployment, lack of access to resources that stimulate learning such as books and pre-school programs, poor health and social discrimination. These circumstances equate with poor attendance, lower retention rates, less readiness for schooling and poorer average outcomes at school.
Schools serving such communities can also suffer from less advantageous physical circumstances, are often characterised by higher rates of staff transience, and often have less qualified and experienced staff.
Given these circumstances, these students poorer outcomes may not be surprising.
Schools cannot be held responsible for overcoming all the social ills that may grip their communities. However, it is each schools responsibility to understand these circumstances, the effect they may have on students readiness to learn and willingness to continue learning, and to develop appropriate initiatives to address these issues.
In this context, it is also fundamental that schools set high expectations for all students. It is important they appreciate that all students can learn and want to be understood and successful, and schools must do all they can to optimise every students learning outcomes.
Research indicates that schools are not hostage to the socio-economic context of their locations and that initiatives undertaken by schools can have a dramatic impact on the learning outcomes of disadvantaged students. It is the responsibility of schools to develop programs that will assist all students to learn. The purpose of the Equity Funding is to support schools to bridge the gap in learning outcomes between poor students and those from more affluent backgrounds.
Research conducted by the University of Melbourne to inform the development of the Student Resource Package (SRP) ? demonstrated a significant correlation between the socio-economic status of students (as measured by student family occupation) and their educational success. This research showed that the number of students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds in schools is directly connected with lower student achievement, retention, absences and staff morale.
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Diversity within the cohort
Poverty crosses the boundaries of countries, cultural background, religion and gender. Intelligence also crosses these boundaries. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds may come to school with numerous issues and challenges that interfere with their learning, but this should not be used as an excuse by schools, teachers or families for expecting any less from them. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds need to be taught effectively in order to reach their intellectual potential. They are a diverse group and so will need a diverse range of supports to help alleviate some of the negative educational outcomes associated with poverty.
Attitudes about poverty and disadvantage can influence the ways in which schools view their communities and respond to their students. Programs that deepen teachers understanding of the social, cultural and gender diversity of their learners will assist schools in better providing for their communities. Similarly, an understanding of the complex social, cultural and gender-based relationships within society that lead to inequity and poverty will assist school communities to understand the learning needs of particular groups of students.
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Why students from low socio-economic backgrounds often have less successful outcomes
??? Literacy and numeracy
??? Lack of mediation
??? Discourse
??? Expectations of students
??? Students background knowledge
Literacy and numeracy
Research indicates that students dealing with poverty and other difficult family circumstances are more likely to have poorer literacy and numeracy outcomes. They may arrive at school less prepared for learning, come from households where there are fewer supports for learning or where the consequences of not learning are not as well appreciated as they are in other households.
As literacy and numeracy are the building blocks for all other academic learning, a failure to acquire adequate literacy skills means failure in other academic pursuits. Literacy and numeracy skills are essential for students continued success at school, in the wider community and in the world of work. Students who leave schools with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills are unlikely to secure a worthwhile job, will be highly vulnerable economically and are unlikely to be motivated to try and re-engage with learning. Students in the early years of schooling who are not advancing their literacy and numeracy skills in line with broad expectations of achievement must be assisted to do so. The further students with poor literacy and numeracy skills progress through schooling, the greater the gap between expected and actual learning may become, and intensive and sustained intervention may be required to ensure that adequate learning levels are attained.
Lack of mediation
Many of the difficulties facing students from low socio-economic backgrounds stem from the lack of relevance between the demands of classroom learning and their personal learning experiences outside of school. More socially privileged students usually acquire learning strategies that are a pre-requisite to formal learning as part of their natural everyday learning experiences. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds often miss out on these experiences.
If these students are then taught in a transmission mode, with no mediation by the teacher, they are not assisted to develop learning strategies and will continue to struggle.
Effective learning for these students requires mediated learning, helping students to discover their learning needs and to develop cognitive skills for effective thinking and learning. The teacher acts as a mediator, helping students to learn more deeply.
Discourse
Language Registers are essential to effective communication and language acquisition when attempting to support disadvantaged students. Joos ? (1967) found that every language in the world has 5 registers:
|Register of Language |Example |
|Frozen |Language that always stays the same |
| |Lords Prayer, National anthem |
|Formal |Language of schools, business and news television. Has |
| |complete sentences and specific word choice. Wide |
| |vocabulary |
|Consultative |Language of formal register when used in conversation. |
| |Discourse pattern and plot not as direct as formal |
| |language. |
|Casual |Language which is used in conversation between friends. |
| |General word choice. Dependant on non-verbal cues and |
| |syntax and sentence structure incomplete. |
| |400 – 800 total words used. |
|Intimate |Language used between twins or lovers. This is also the |
| |language of sexual harassment. |

Often students from low socio-economic backgrounds do not have access to a formal register of language at home. However, this is the standard way of speaking at school, characterised by complete sentences and specific word choice. These students may only have access to a casual register of language, where word choice is general and sentences are often incomplete. This can lead to reduced opportunities to succeed in contexts that are highly dependent on proficiency with formal register, such as the classroom. For these students, it is important that teachers recognise casual register as their primary discourse and that formal register is explicitly taught.
Expectations of students
Students background knowledge
The lower rates of parental education associated with a low socio-economic background has been repeatedly shown to be directly related to childrens educational outcomes. A low socio-economic home environment may not provide children and young people with a variety of experiences with spoken and written language and pre-numeracy interaction that support school readiness and ongoing literacy and numeracy development (Centre for Community Child Heath, 2002).
“Background or prior knowledge refers to the amount of knowledge one brings with them to the learning environment. Students come to school with a range of prior knowledge, skills, beliefs and concepts that significantly influence what they learn about their environment.
This in turn affects their ability to remember, reason, solve problems and acquire new knowledge. An extension of the view that new knowledge must be constructed from old knowledge exists but attention needs to be paid to the incomplete understandings, the false beliefs and the naive renditions of concepts that learners bring with them to a given subject. Teachers need to build on these ideas in a way that gives them achieve a more mature understanding. If students” initial ideas are ignored, the understandings they develop may be different to what the teacher intends.”
(National Research Council, (2000) page 10)
There are other significant background factors that play a part in determining a students ability to achieve. Economic hardship, educational background, limited resources, as well as alienation from education and its potentially unfamiliar middle class norms (Payne 1996), have been found to impact upon parental support and involvement in their childrens education (Whitbeck 1991). These factors are likely to be carried by a student into the school environment and may manifest in ways including disengagement, challenging and risk taking behaviour and under achievement.
The studies of Guerra and Schultz (2001), Benson (1995) and Bowman (1994) indicate that opportunities for intellectual development (cognitive skills and thinking patterns) are a result of social interaction. It is known that language is an important tool in the process of learning to think. If children have limited opportunity to learn language, organise perceptions and develop higher order cognitive processes; their ability to think independently is negatively affected.
This theory can also be linked directly to the Habits of the Mind devised by Art Costa (2000). Teaching strategies to facilitate and strengthen cognitive function can be devised by following Costas Habits of Mind.
While students from low socio-economic backgrounds may begin their education from a position of disadvantage, they do have the ability to achieve in a formal educational setting. Explicit teaching of the hidden rules of middle class culture, language register and discourse patterns as well as engaging deep understanding for the discipline base of the subject is a solid approach to teaching students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

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