Children tend to perform better at schools with a positive psychological climate, where they feel safe and comfortable, according to Chirkina and Khavenson's study "Correlation between School Climate and Student Academic Achievement." According to social scientist Renato Tagiuri, the school climate is understood as comprising several dimensions, such as student-teacher communication, student attitudes towards school, and teacher work satisfaction and expectations in terms of student academic achievement.
Schools marked by mutual support, a sense of community and student-teacher trust have been shown to achieve better academic outcomes. To prove this theory, the study's authors performed regression analysis using elements of the school climate and the family socioeconomic status (FSES) of students, measured by parental education and occupation, as independent variables, and student grades as a dependent variable.
According to their findings, on the individual student level, lower levels of social loneliness lead to better academic outcomes. In other words, a sense of belonging and being supported help enhance the desire to learn.
On a class level, Khavenson and Chirkina examined the impact of school climate on students' collective performance in mathematics and found no direct correlation between student outcomes and whether the teacher likes his or her profession; what really matters is the teacher's self-assessment of his or her competence: teachers confident of their own performance are more likely to engage students in learning.
Teacher expectations are also important for group performance: teachers who hold their students to high standards tend to see better learning outcomes, arguably by helping students develop higher self-esteem, confidence, and a desire to make progress.
As to student FSES, its impact varied. On the class level, it was clearly correlated with learning outcomes in mathematics: students with higher-status families were likely to perform better.
Since FSES was found to make a difference for academic performance, the researchers examined the influence of different school climate dimensions in classes with high, middle and low student FSES.
According to Khavenson and Chirkina, student-teacher relations do not play a significant role in academic outcomes for low-FSES students. Schools serving such students often take on a quasi-family role, shifting the focus from teaching youngsters academic subjects to shaping their attitudes and life skills, with results showing in student behaviour rather than grades. Of other school climate dimensions, psychological comfort has been found to support academic performance for low-FSES students, while alienation and lack of support from others could undermine it.
Two factors have been found to make a difference for high-FSES students, namely psychological comfort and teacher expectations: the safer and more comfortable students feel at school, the better they perform. In fact, the latter is true for all students, regardless of family status.
As for teacher expectations, they show a positive correlation with student outcomes: by expecting more from students, teachers reinforce their students’ desire to perform better. This finding also suggests that for high-FSES students, schools can focus more on academic outcomes.
The study is based on a representative sample of approximately 4,500 eighth- and ninth-grade students from more than 200 schools in 42 Russian regions. The survey was conducted as part of the Trajectories in Education and Career Project (see Bulletin of the Russian Longitudinal Panel Survey of Trajectories in Education and Career. National Panel: First Wave (2011- 2012)). Questionnaires administered to 2,625 students in the sample contained questions about the psychological climate at school.
The study also uses data from international educational research: in 2011, Russian eighth-graders participated in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, 4,893 students in the sample), and in 2012, the same audience participated in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment, 4,399 students in the sample). The above studies helped identify respondents' family status from questionnaires for students, parents, and schools.