Socioeconomic status impacts student achievement.
Socioeconomic status impacts student achievement.

Outside factors can affect what goes on inside a classroom. And every student comes to his or her education with an individual set of circumstances: family structure, living situation and socioeconomic status can be assets or disadvantages to performance. Socioeconomic status (SES) is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the “social standing or class of an individual or group,” which is “often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation.” His or her family status can have a significant impact on a learner’s capacity to achieve in a formal school setting.

Access to Opportunities

Families of a higher SES have the income and the time to supplement their child’s schooling with educational camps and retreats; private lessons in art, music or performance; test preparation; and targeted tutoring. All of these extracurricular tools can lead to higher test scores and better grades. On the other hand, students of a lower SES are not only largely without access to these additive programs, they’re also at a disadvantage at school. According to the APA, schools that serve mostly low-income students are often understaffed, experiencing high teacher turnover and unable to hire the same caliber of educator as their more well-funded counterparts.

Absence of Stressors

In a study of the role of socioeconomic status on adolescent stress in The Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that students with “professionally educated” parents experience lower levels of stress and higher levels of optimism. Higher stress levels can manifest in students as behavioral problems that impede classroom progress, per an article published by the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Lower SES students — whether they are under pressure to work and attend school at the same time to help out at home or are otherwise emotionally taxed by their family status — can have difficulty with memorization, performing under pressure or otherwise being the best they can be in the classroom.

Influence of Parents

In an article for American Educator, cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham explained how the “human capital” and “social capital” they have access to can put students in a position to excel. Human capital refers to the resources learners have in their parents or guardians. For example, parents with higher SES are more likely to have the education and opportunity to read to their children every day or spend weekends doing science experiments in the garage. Social capital refers to the family’s network, such as connections who can offer meaningful part-time jobs, enriching activities, homework help, and other advantages.