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Advancing Applied MCH Research

Predicting African American Adolescents' School Success

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Project Number: R40 MC 00343-04
Grantee: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department/Center: Child Development/Behavioral Science
Project Date: 03/01/2003

Final Report


Principal Investigator

Joanne Roberts, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
FPG Child Development Institute, 105 Smith Level Road, CB#8180
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-8180
Phone: (919) 966-7164


  • Adolescence (12-18 years)


  • African American


Adolescence is the developmental period between childhood and adulthood that is characterized by biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional changes as an individual matures and establishes new relationships with parents, peers, and school. Adolescence is also a time of increased vulnerability, and may be particularly problematic for youth already at risk for academic and adjustment difficulties due to factors such as living in poverty and an unsupportive home environment. Understanding the child, family, and school factors during early and middle childhood that affect the school success and adjustment of African American adolescents is critical, given the demographic and ecological gaps between African Americans and White children in American society. The specific objectives of this study are: 1) to describe the developmental trajectories of African American youths' social skills and knowledge, peer relations, language and executive function skills, and school competence (i.e., academic achievement and school adjustment) from infancy through early adolescence; 2) to determine the multiple child, family, and school predictors of school competence of African Americans in early adolescence within an ecological model of child development; and 3) to identify the extent to which adolescents' social knowledge and behavior, peer adjustment, language and executive function skills mediate the relationships between child, family, and school factors and school competence. The study will follow a group of 73 African American adolescents, primarily from low-income families, whose development, family, and school environments have been prospectively documented since infancy through funding from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). The investigators will add to the sample a best friend for each of the 73 study youth and follow all of the study youth for four years. The proposed project continues the current study by following youth into early adolescence (a time when trajectories for school success become well established). Child measures will assess the youths' Afrocultural beliefs and practices (e.g., racial regard), peer relations (e.g., friendship quality), language and executive function skills (e.g., expressive language, strategic planning), and school competence (e.g., achievement in reading). Family measures will examine factors such as maternal education, parental involvement and monitoring, and Afrocultural beliefs and practices. School measures will assess factors such as teachers' perceptions of relationships with students and school demographics. Growth curve methods will be used to quantify patterns of change over time in the development of adolescents' social and academic skills to determine which child, family, and school factors affect adolescents' school competence; how social knowledge, coping skills, peer relations, and language and executive function skills mediate these relationships; and whether differing developmental patterns emerge in early adolescence than those seen in middle childhood. Study findings should have important implications for the sociocultural factors that affect the school success of African American adolescents and guide intervention efforts directed at reducing risk and promoting success in adolescents' school competence.


Listed is descending order by year published.

Burchinal MR, Roberts JE, Zeisel SA, Rowley SJ.Social risk and protective factors for African American children's academic achievement and adjustment during the transition to middle school. Dev Psychol. 2008 Jan;44(1):286-92.

Rowley SJ, Burchinal MR, Roberts JE, Zeisel SA.. Racial identity, social context, and race-related social cognition in African Americans during middle childhood. Dev Psychol. 2008 Nov;44(6):1537-46.

Roberts J, Jurgens J, Burchinal M. The role of home literacy practices in preschool children's language and emergent literacy skills. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2005 Apr;48(2):345-59.

Poe MD, Burchinal MR, Roberts J. Early language and the development of children's reading skills. Journal of School Psychology. 2004 Jul-Aug;42(4):315-32.

Roberts J, Hunter L, Gravel J, Rosenfeld R, Berman S, Haggard M, et al. Otitis media, hearing loss, and language learning: controversies and current research. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004 Apr;25(2):110-22.

Roberts JE, Rosenfeld RM, Zeisel SA. Otitis media and speech and language: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Pediatrics. 2004 Mar;113(3 Pt 1):e238-48.

Roberts JE. Effects of otitis media on children's speech and language. In: Alper C, Bluestone CH, Casselbrant M, Dohar J, Mandel E, eds. Advanced Therapy in Otitis Media. Philadelphia, PA: Decker Publishing; 2004:425-430.

Hooper SR, Roberts JE, Zeisel SA, Poe M. Core language predictors of behavioral functioning in early elementary school children: concurrent and longitudinal findings. Behavior Disorders. 2003 Nov;29(1):10-24.

Roberts JE, Zeisel SA, Rosenfeld R, Reitz P. Otitis media and speech-language sequelae: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. In: Rosenfeld RR, Bluestone CD, eds. Evidence-Based Otitis Media. 2nd Ed. Philadelphia, PA: Decker Publishers; 2003:383-399.

Roberts JE. Effects of otitis media on children's language. In: Kent R, ed. MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2003:358-61.


School Outcomes & Services, Social & Emotional Development, Parenting, Cognitive & Linguistic Development

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