Children’s Internalizing Symptoms in Anticipation of the Transition to Middle School: Causal Inferences in the Context of a Natural Experiment
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CitationEidelman, Hadas. 2014. Children’s Internalizing Symptoms in Anticipation of the Transition to Middle School: Causal Inferences in the Context of a Natural Experiment. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractThe middle-school transition has long been linked with poor social-emotional and academic outcomes for children. However to date, research on the middle-school transition has been predominantly observational, not experimental, and has not addressed whether the transition itself – or unobserved factors – cause children’s outcomes. In my dissertation, therefore, I explored the causal impact of a policy that foreshortened by one year the timing of the middle-school transition on children’s developmental trajectories of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
In the summer of 2006, five of the 18 schools participating in the New York City Study of Social and Literacy Development (Jones, Brown, Hoglund, & Aber, 2010) shifted from a pK-6 to a pK-5 structure. Students entering fifth grade in these schools in the fall of 2006, therefore, faced the new knowledge that it would be their final elementary-school year. With no evidence of advance warning to families, I argue that this shift provided an exogenous disruption to children’s trajectories and therefore supported the unbiased estimation of causal impact.
I employed an analytic strategy that combined, in a single analysis, elements of three statistical approaches: the multilevel modeling of change, to estimate children’s symptom trajectories over a two-year period; an interrupted time-series design, to estimate the immediate causal impact of the change in policy on children’s symptoms at the discontinuity among children who experienced the policy disruption; and a difference-in-differences correction, to subtract from the estimated impact of the disruptive policy any secular differences estimated using data from children in the non-affected schools. I found that the foreshortening of the time to middle-school transition caused a rise in children’s depressive symptoms, but not in their anxiety symptoms. In addition to the causal impact of the policy, I observed developmental and gender-based patterns in trajectories of children’s anxiety and depressive symptoms during the important middle-childhood period.
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