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Research shows

How peers affect learning

New York Teacher

The influence of classroom peers on student academics increases each year from 4th grade through 7th grade, when it begins to plateau, according to new research in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

In reading, students benefited most from classroom peers with diverse levels of ability, the research found. In math, however, the greatest gains occurred when students were matched with peers performing at a similar level. When the peer effect was examined by grade and subject together, the researchers found that heterogeneous-ability classrooms are more effective in earlier grades while homogeneous-ability classrooms are more effective in later grades.

Using seven years of classroom and standardized test score data, researchers Lucy C. Sorensen of the University at Albany, SUNY, and Philip J. Cook and Kenneth A. Dodge, both of Duke University, tracked 1.7 million students from North Carolina as they advanced from grade 3 through grade 8. Each student was assigned peers in ELA and math classes.

After controlling for student demographics and academic ability as well as various school and teacher characteristics, the researchers found that the impact of peers on a child’s test scores rose over time by a factor of 3 for reading and a factor of 5 for math between 4th and 7th grades, resulting in a cumulative shift of about a half a year of learning by adolescence. As the influence of peers increased, the data showed an accompanying decline in the influence of family socioeconomics on student achievement.

For students in grades 4 and 5, the researchers say their findings show that classroom and school assignments that promote academic diversity would create an opportunity to counteract the negative effects of low household income.

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