Social origin and performance in mathematics. Evidence of a study in the primary school in Switzerland.

Zanolla, Giovanna (2017) Social origin and performance in mathematics. Evidence of a study in the primary school in Switzerland. In: Book of abstracts "Intensification, constraint and opportunity: changing roles for parents, schools and communities. Addressing equity and diversity issues" European Research Network about Parents in Education (ERNAPE), 05.07.2017-07.07.2017, University of Roehampton, London, UK.

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Students’ family background is often positively correlated to their mathematics achievement in school. This is also due to the proven positive effects deriving by strong mathematical skills on labour market outcomes. As some sociologists state, the most advantaged social groups tend to accommodate to system requirements in order to ensure their children the access to the best positions. This happens also in the Swiss canton of Ticino, where the mathematics grade plays a decisive role in the educational career of an individual and where not surprisingly upper class families distinguish from other parents for their higher propensity towards investment in private tutoring in mathematics. This work analyzes the performance in mathematics of an entire cohort (3,000 cases) of students attending the fifth grade of the primary school in Ticino and is aimed at understanding if children of different background achieve different outcomes and what are the main determinants of mathematics grade. This is part of a wider study about the grading system commissioned by the local Department of Education. Two evaluation contexts are considered: the mathematics grade at the end of the school year and the score obtained in a standardized test in the same subject. In both contexts the higher the social background the better the outcomes. But if we set the mathematics grade as the dependent variable of a multivariate model and the score in the standardized test as a predictor and a proxy of mathematical skill, it is possible to conclude that the latter is the most important predictor but, all things (test score, conduct mark, gender and nationality) being equal, upper class children are more likely to achieve a good grade than their working class peers. A qualitative study focused on the way teachers conceive of the evaluation and on students’ and their families’ coping strategies and behaviour will help to understand the determinants of this advantage.

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