Connection to School as an Indicator of Positive Development

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC


Clea McNeely, University of Minnesota

The charge of this paper was to identify and validate an indicator of school connectedness using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). In this paper I identify two indicators of school connectedness that tap the subdomains of social belonging and the relationship with teachers, and I make recommendations regarding their use in national and state-level monitoring systems.

Resnick and colleagues (1997) invented the term school connectedness to describe adolescents’ perception of safety, belonging, respect and feeling cared for at school. In a cross-sectional analysis of risk and protective factors for eight different health risk outcomes among adolescents, Resnick et al. (1997) identified school connectedness as the only school-related variable that was protective for every single outcome. Widespread dissemination of this finding, along with its intuitive appeal, has led to an eagerness on the parts of state health departments and school boards to monitor how well they are doing in terms of promoting school connectedness.

Despite the interest, the empirical evidence of a causal relationship between school connectedness and adolescent development is rather limited. The next section reviews the theoretical underpinnings of the concept of school connectedness, the empirical evidence of its importance to promoting adolescent development, and the ways it has been previously measured in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.