All the carousels of education reform to improve the student achievement gap has been elusive for educators and policymakers; however, religion is a powerful force that is often ignored in the social improvement of schools and society.
One social aspect of a student’s life known to increase student performance – consistent religious practice.
Many scholars have consistently found a positive association with religiosity (measured in terms of practice or involvement) and academic achievement. A recent study from Stanford University states that adolescent students who practice religion frequently have better achievement in school. The study was performed by Dr. Ilana M. Horwitz at Stanford’s Graduate School for Education.
Horwitz surveyed over 2,500 students nationally and placed their responses into five categories: Abiders, Adapters, Assenters, Avoiders, and Atheists. The students’ Grade Point Averages (GPA) were used to explore the differences among students’ level of religiosity. GPAs are considered the most reliable measure of a student’s performance in school as it includes a wide variety of performance factors. Horwitz also isolated and removed students who participated in private religious schools from the data.
The study found that more religious students had higher GPAs. This study is consistent with previous findings that say that students across different income levels are positively impacted by the practice of religion and it spills over into their academic lives.
Specifically, the study found that Abiders – students who emphasized the role of faith in their daily lives, felt closest to God, and were the most likely to attend religious services and pray on a regular basis – reported significantly higher GPAs than other types of religiosity. Abiders also had higher parental involvement. The study also found that students from middle-class families are more religious have the highest student performance. The study also stated that students from low-income families, who practice religion, also had positive student performance.
Horwitz’s study also explored the “Abider-Avoider” achievement gap and found that Abiders outperformed the Avoiders, with exception of Atheists. The Atheist sample size was one of the smallest within the 2500 plus sampled in the survey.
Much of the educational research focuses on factors to reduce the achievement gap among groups of students and various levels of income, but Horwitz’s research shows other factors contribute to the overall performances of students in public schools.
The implication of the study shows that some of the gaps in achievement are not solely related to a lack of funding or economic disparity, but a lack of habits and positive social belief.
Horwitz states the following about the implications and contribution her study gives to educational research:
“My qualitative evidence suggests that this association is a function of greater conscientiousness and agreeableness among abiders. Therefore, I suggest that middle and high schools reward students who are obedient, respectful, and agreeable. Although it is well known that academic performance is associated with income, school grades are also driven by dispositions stemming from religious engagement. This study has implications for how we think about the academic achievement gap.”