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Theses Doctoral

Effective Schools for Low-Income and High-Achieving Students in Mexico

Vazquez Cuevas, Marisol

Understanding what schools can do to help low-income and high-achieving students succeed academically was one of the prime motivations of this dissertation. In Mexico, low-income students perform in the lowest quartiles of standardized tests, and their future is not promising. In order to understand what factors can help low-income students succeed at school, I reviewed the school effectiveness and resilience literature as to understand the different factors that determine academic achievement of students coming from low-income backgrounds. Through a thorough quantitative analysis of the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 and the Formato 911 databases, I identified the different factors that helped low-income students succeed at school.
I first analyzed the student, family, and school factors that determined students’ academic achievement in Mexico, in order to get a general idea of what determined achievement of students in Mexico, as a country. Then, I went further and focused more on my sample of interest and analyzed the student, family, and school factors that were associated with a higher probability of showing higher scores on tests, even when struggling with a lack of resources.
The most noteworthy finding from the analyses conducted to understand what determined students’ achievement in Mexico, as a country, was that academic performance was mainly explained by students' individual characteristics. Characteristics, including whether the student had a low or high socioeconomic status, whether he or she was in the appropriate grade, whether the student was a girl or a boy, whether he or she attended preschool, whether the student lived with his or her mother, and the attitude he or she had toward school, seemed to be associated with how the student scored on standardized tests. The school level variables that had a positive association with the students’ performance were the schools’ mean Index of Economic, Social and Cultural Status (ESCS), whether the school was private, and the percentage of indigenous students in the school. By estimating cross-level interaction effects, I found the interaction between ESCS and whether the school was located in a rural area and whether the school was a distance education program to be statistically significant. The aforementioned outcomes showed that one additional standard deviation of income had a very small effect on the academic achievement of students living in rural areas or attending a distance education program school. Another interesting finding is that the number of teachers enrolled in the incentives program offered by the government, Carrera Magisterial, was not statistically significant in any of my models, showing that this program was not effective in improving the education that middle school and 15-year-old students received in Mexico.
I also analyzed the different factors that increased the probability of low-income students obtaining scores that were higher than would have been predicted given their socioeconomic status. I named these learners resilient students. I found a student’s attitude toward school, whether the student repeated zero, one or two or more primary school grades, whether they student attended a private or a Telesecundaria school, and the average class size of the school to be statistically significant variables. Attitude toward school seemed to have the largest contribution to increasing the probability of being categorized as resilient, almost half of a standard deviation, and remained positive and statistically significant in the analysis. The analysis showed that improving a student’s attitude toward school in one standard deviation, increased the probability of that student being resilient by 24 percentage points. However, it is hard to tell if students who are succeeding are doing so because of their attitude or if successful students have a better attitude because they are doing well in school. In any case, this variable was highly statistically significant and was similar to a noncognitive ability measure, which, according to the literature, includes skills omitted in most of the analyses of the determinants of achievement.
One of most relevant findings of this study is that the number of teachers enrolled in the incentives program of the government, Carrera Magisterial, was not statistically significant in any of my models, showing that this program was not effective in improving the education that middle school and 15-year-old students received in Mexico. One of the implications is that the government should not consider the possibility of restoring that program in the Mexican education system. Preschool education, attitude towards school, gender, and time-spent in class are factors that highly related with the success of low-income students. Additional analysis and data is needed in order to perform further analysis on the impact that these determinants have on students achievement. Finally, this study revealed that Telesecundarias play an important role in helping economically disadvantaged students gain access to education in locations where no teachers or other school resources are available and are also positively associated with academic success.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Cortina, Regina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 10, 2016
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