The adjustment of adolescents during the transition into high school: A short-term longitudinal study
Journal of Youth and Adolescence; New York; Feb 1999; Kristen IsaksonPatricia Jarvis

Volume: 28
Issue: 1
Start Page: 1-26
ISSN: 00472891
Subject Terms: Secondary school students
Child psychology
Although much research exists regarding the transition into junior high school, surprisingly few studies have focused on the move into high school. The present study employed a short-term longitudinal design to access the adjustment of adolescents as they made the transition from junior high to high school.

Full Text:
Copyright Plenum Publishing Corporation Feb 1999
Although much research exists regarding the transition into junior high school, surprisingly few studies have focused on the move into high school. The present study employed a short-term longitudinal design to assess the adjustment of adolescents as they made the transition from junior high to high school. Changes in adolescents' sense of autonomy, perceived stressors, social support, sense of school membership, grade point average (GPA), and attendance were assessed. Coping strategies were also considered at each time point. Also, because parents who feel better about themselves may offer more support to their adolescents, parents of the adolescents in the study completed measures assessing their stressors and coping mechanisms. Results indicated that the adolescents did experience significant changes during the initial transition into high school that were related to GPA and sense of school membership. Perceived support from parents was also related to adolescents' adjustment to the transition. The study bridges a gap in the literature on school transitions by addressing the transition to high school in light of adolescent and parent variables. Implications for practices by school personnel and future research suggestions are provided.


The amount of time spent in school serves not only to educate students, but also to shape their social world, contributing to overall development (Kimmel and Weiner, 1985). Yet, changing schools represents a specific life transition that is acknowledged as a challenging and potentially stressful life event (Hirsch and DuBois, 1992). Whether the eighth-grade year was spent in a kindergarten through eighth-grade school (Grades K8), a middle school (Grades 6-8), or a junior high school (Grades 7-8), high school represents a different environment, replete with many new academic and social challenges. Yet, little longitudinal research exists on the adjustment of adolescents during the transition to high school.

Much of the research on school transitions has focused on students entering junior high school and has found primarily negative consequences (Blyth et al., 1978, 1983; Simmons et al., 1979, 1987, 1973). For example, decreases in self-esteem and participation in school activities, and increases in feelings of anonymity were found among students entering junior high school (Blyth et al., 1978). In addition, negative correlations between number of life changes, including entering junior high, extra-curricular participation, self-esteem and grade point average (GPA) have been found (Simmons et al., 1987). However, other studies have offered more positive views of the junior high transition, suggesting that individual differences between adolescents and characteristics of the school may be important for student adjustment (Fenzel, 1989; Harter et al., 1992; Hirsch and Rapkin, 1987; Mitman and Packer, 1982).

The research that has been done regarding the transition to high school has reported negative effects in terms of decreases in GPA (Barone et al., 1991; Blyth et al., 1983; Felner et al., 1981), attendance (Barone et aL, 1991; Felner et al., 1981), and extra-curricular participation (Blyth et al., 1983). Anxiety concerning school procedures and the presence of older students, and initial transition problems in the larger high school (Cotterell, 1982, 1992a) were found, as well as decreased adjustment associated with life stress (Barone et al., 1991). However, much of this research was conducted in Australian schools (Cotterell, 1992a) or studied a limited number of adjustment variables.

Increased emphasis on social interactions in high school may create an environment where fitting in and belonging serves as an added source of pressure. It follows that because high school is a new environment for the adolescent, a sense of belongingness or feeling of school membership may indeed be lower than it was when the student was in junior high school, at least during the transition period. For example, Kulka et al. (1982) found that high school students' expressed feelings of alienation could lead to misbehavior and an external locus of control in subsequent interactions with restrictive and controlling school personnel. Similarly, Goodenow (1993) found that students' feelings of belongingness in their school positively affected their motivation for school, effort, level of participation, and eventual achievement in school. Resnick et aL (1997), reporting on the first wave of the Add Health data (a longitudinal study of adolescent health involving some 90,000 students in Grades 7-12), found that both older and younger students who felt connected to their school reported less emotional distress and violent behavior. These researchers also found that a sense of connection to school protected youth from cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use, and was associated with delay of first sexual intercourse. It was concluded that feelings of connectedness may suffer in students as they make school transitions and has not been adequately studied with regard to transitions to high school.

Compared to junior high school, students in high school may also experience change in that now there is more pressure to perform well so that they can be successful after graduation, whether that means going to college or getting a job. Overall, teacher expectations and demands may also increase, creating the need for adjustments on the part of the student (Powell et al., 1985; National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1985). A higher level of stressors than what the student faced in the junior high environment may be the result. Stark et al. (1989) and Phelps and Jarvis (1994) found that high school students reported their main problems to be in the areas of school, parents, friends, and dating, which is consistent with the types of developmental adjustments adolescents typically encounter and the high school atmosphere itself. Males reported more school problems, whereas females reported more problems with interpersonal relations in both studies. As such, adaptive coping strategies on the part of the adolescent will likely be important when faced with such stressors.

Kimmel and Weiner (1985) described three related developmental tasks of middle adolescence: becoming self-reliant and achieving a sense of autonomy from parents, expanding relationships with peers, and gaining the ability to have intimate friendships. High school, therefore, represents a major context in which many developmental challenges will be negotiated. Being autonomous involves becoming a self-governing person. Achieving autonomy is a fundamental developmental task with emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. Adolescents just entering the high school environment may deal with autonomy issues in response to a high school environment requiring more self-reliance from students (Powell et al., 1985).

The social challenges of a move to a new school are also important to consider. Adolescents may experience disruptions in friendships as they move to a new environment. School-related changes may lead to significant changes in social support (Berndt, 1989). Not only may some friends move away to a different school, but Juvonen (1997) explained that as students move to larger school environments, they tend to label each other based on affiliations, such as "preppie," "brain," or "burnout." As such, a preppie and a brain who were friends in junior high school may not be able to successfully cross these relational lines once they enter high school where labels and cliques may be more dominant.

Relationships with parents may also change as adolescents begin to search for support in others, such as in the peer group. In a discussion of stress and development, Hess and Copeland (1997) reported that as adolescents progress toward adulthood their reliance on family continues to decrease and the influence of peers becomes increasingly important. For example, Fuglini and Eccles (1993) found that adolescents who perceived their parents as restrictive and not allowing them opportunities to be part of decision making turned to peers for support and advice more than they turned to their parents. However, because family was a major source of support during childhood (Hess and Copeland, 1997), this may be a time for the adolescent in which parental support is still valued.

In addition to the areas discussed above being important in their own right, many of these factors may also serve to influence the adolescent's overall adjustment by mediating a relationship between stressors faced during the transition to high school and social and academic success. For example, an adolescent's coping strategies, their level of autonomy, and how much support is perceived from friends and parents may each have differing relations to achievement and sense of connectedness to the school.

As students are faced with stressful situations, such as the stressors associated with moving into high school, Tyszkowa (1990) suggested that either disturbances in the adolescent's behavior will occur, or that the adolescent will show constructive adaptation through the use of beneficial coping responses. Working with an adolescent population, Phelps and Jarvis (1994) found that females tended to use more emotion-focused coping, such as seeking social support, while males tended to use more avoidant coping strategies, such as denial. However, males and females did not differ in their use of active coping strategies, such as planning. Carver et al. (1989) suggested that people tended to be relatively stable in their use of certain coping strategies. They then question what might happen if an individual's preferred coping style does not fit the particular situation in which he or she is experiencing the problem. For instance, if an adolescent female usually relies on social support as a coping strategy, additional problems may arise when she is in a new school without close friends to use as her normal source of support. Regardless of gender, examining stressors adolescents experience as they enter high school and coping strategies employed remains an important area to consider. With this knowledge, educators can facilitate adjustment by recommending use of different coping strategies when adolescents need additional guidance.

As one of the developmental tasks of adolescence is to become selfreliant and achieve autonomy (Kimmel and Weiner, 1985) and because high school requires more self-reliance on the part of students (Powell et al., 1985), those who are more autonomous may adjust better. Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) found that emotional autonomy from parents increased with age in a sample of junior high students, but that this was negatively correlated with adolescents' demonstrating autonomy when they were faced with peer pressure. That is, those students who were the most emotionally autonomous from parents succumbed to peer pressure the most. Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) considered emotional autonomy as a positive sign of individuation from parents, although it did involve more susceptibility to peer influence.

Lamborn and Steinberg (1993) found that on measures of adjustment and competence, adolescents reporting emotional autonomy from parents, along with a supportive relationship with parents, scored higher on these measures of adjustment than those adolescents with emotional autonomy and unsupportive relationships with parents. Also, while emotional autonomy was associated with more behavior problems and internal distress, it was also associated with feelings of academic competence and, for males, positive psychosocial development. In general, emotional autonomy accompanied by parental support may provide the best outcomes.

For students experiencing the challenges associated with changing schools, social support may influence their adjustment. Particularly important is the role peers often play in adolescents' attitudes, including their orientation towards school (Berndt, 1982; Kelly and Hansen, 1987). Peers often provide support for adolescents as they face new challenges, and serve as models in how to meet new responsibilities. Felner et al. (1982) found that the level of social support from peers and teachers was positively related to school adjustment after the transition to high school for students involved in a support project. Compared to students not involved in the project, the students in the project had higher GPAs, better attendance, more positive self-concepts, and viewed school more favorably. Similarly, in a junior high transition study, researchers found that adolescents with greater peer support were less likely to be depressed and anxious (Hirsch and DuBois, 1992).

The supportive role of parents is also often included in discussions of social support, due to the similarity parents and adolescents share in values, such as the importance attributed to school and education (Gecas and Seff, 1990). Students in one study identified their parents as having more of an influence on their attitudes, behavior, and performance in school than their friends (Berndt et al., 1989). Social support from family and school has also been found to assist students in feeling more satisfied with school, less anxious, and better able to handle tasks related to entering the high school environment (Barone et al., 1991). Taken together, these results indicate that students with stronger social support may exhibit better school adjustment.

Adolescents may differ in the amount of support they receive from parents and peers as a result of the changes in relationships with these individuals during adolescence. Fuligni and Eccles' (1993) finding that adolescents who perceived their parents as restrictive turned to peers for support and advice more than they turned to their parents suggests that parents who treat their adolescents more like adults may ease the transition into junior high more than parents who restrict their adolescents' opportunities for growth. Similarly, Lord et aL (1994) examined the role of parents in helping adolescents adjust to junior high school and found that students who felt their parents supported their autonomy and involved them in decision making showed increased self-esteem and reported liking junior high school more than students who felt restricted by their parents. Lord et aL (1994) explained that parents who are more sensitive to the developmental needs of their adolescents, such as the need for autonomy, may help make the transition less disruptive.

Parents are often middle-aged and experiencing their own developmental issues at the same time their adolescents are entering high school and trying to gain autonomy, which may negatively influence both parent and adolescent well-being (Pardeck and Pardeck, 1990). Silverberg and Steinberg (1987) explored this area of potential conflict by examining the relation between parental well-being, parent-adolescent conflict, and adolescent's level of emotional autonomy. They confirmed the assumption that parents' midlife identity concerns, such as regrets over choices made when younger, may increase when their same-sex adolescent is trying to become more independent. For example, fathers in this sample reported more midlife identity concerns when they had sons who were more emotionally autonomous. These researchers explained that parents may start to reevaluate the choices and commitments they have made when they see their adolescent growing into an independent person with so much ahead of him or her. Thus, the development of autonomy is related not only to the parent-adolescent relationship but also to parental well-being in general (Silverberg and Steinberg, 1987). It is important to consider, however, that regardless of parental age, well-being is likely to play a significant role in the quality of parenting and the relationship parents have with their adolescents. Supportiveness from parents and measures of parental issues, such as the stressors they are experiencing and their ability to cope with them successfully, are also needed to fully understand relations between parental well-being, support offered to one's adolescent, and student adjustment during the transition to high school.

The present study was designed to assess the adjustment of adolescents as they made the transition from eighth grade to the ninth-grade year in high school (measured three times-once at the end of the eighth grade and twice during ninth grade). It was hypothesized, based on previous transition studies, that compared to eighth grade, social and academic adjustment, measured by sense of school membership, GPA, and attendance, would decrease during the transition to high school and that stressors would increase. Sense of autonomy was expected to increase based on literature stating increases in autonomy with age as a matter of developmental course. Social support from friends and parents was expected to decrease due to disruptions in friendships during the move to a new environment when peer groups may be disrupted and as parent-adolescent relationships may change during this time. It was also hypothesized that stressors would increase during the transition to high school (measured in both the fall and spring of the freshman year), with use of coping mechanisms, sense of autonomy, and perceived social support from friends and parents serving as mediators between stressors and adjustment outcomes. Specifically (a) stressors were expected to be negatively correlated with sense of school membership, GPA, and attendance; and (b) this correlation was expected to be mediated by use of adaptive coping mechanisms, sense of autonomy, and perceived social support from friends and parents, each of which would be positively related to adjustment. Lastly, based on relations between parental well-being and the quality of parent-adolescent relations documented in previous literature, it was hypothesized that adolescents' perceived level of parental support would be positively correlated with parental well-being.


Research Participants

All adolescents (M age = 13.7) attending eighth grade at a public, university affiliated, K-8 Laboratory School in the midwest were invited to participate in this study, along with their parents. As the laboratory school has a research mission, it only recruits students representing the demographic make up of the surrounding community of approximately 100,000. Thus, samples drawn from the laboratory school are representative of the larger community in central Illinois. Generally these demographics include a sample of mostly Caucasian, middle class, students. While the population is fairly homogeneous, it is representative of many such public schools in the midwest. Of 48 students invited, 41 (20 males and 21 females) agreed to be involved in the study (an 85% compliance rate). Parents of 33 students also indicated their desire to participate, although only 19 parent dyads returned completed questionnaires. The predominant socioeconomic class of the sample was upper-middle class, as measured with the Hollingshead (1975) index of social class.

Adolescent Measures

Each student's GPA and attendance from their school records from the eighth-grade year was compared to the GPA and attendance from both the first and second semesters of their first year of high school. Grade point averages were measured on a 4-point scale, ranging from 0.00 to 4.00. Attendance rates were measured by calculating the percent of days missed from the semester for each adolescent. Percent of days missed was used in this study to help account for the different number of days in the semesters being compared.

School Membership was assessed using the Psychological Sense of School Membership scale (PSSM; Goodenow, 1993), an 18-item scale that measures adolescents' perceived sense of belonging in the school setting. As students' feelings of belongingness have been positively related to motivation for school, effort, level of participation, and eventual achievement (Goodenow, 1993), the PSSM is a measure related to school adjustment. This scale has been used with middle school and junior high school students in both urban and suburban communities (Goodenow, 1993). Satisfactory internal consistency reliability was found by the author of the scale (Cronbach's alpha = .80 to .87). The alphas in the current study were .90, .91, and .91 across all three times of measurement, respectively. Students responded to items such as "People at this school are friendly to me," using a 5-point Likert format ranging from 1 = not at all true to 5 = completely true.

Daily stressors were measured to assess how the stressors students face may change during the transition from junior high school to high school. All students completed the Daily Hassles Scale (DHS; Kanner et al., 1987), which was adapted for use with this age group by modifying the questions to issues relevant to adolescents. The result was a 25-item scale that assessed whether a particular event related to family, school, or friends had occurred in the respondent's life within the last month, and if so, how they felt about it. Stark et al. (1989) found that adolescents' self-reports of stressors affecting their lives were consistent with both developmental adjustments adolescents experienced, and the high school atmosphere itself. To identify stressors in the current sample, the DHS scale included statements such as "Students at school teased you" and "You didn't know the answer when the teacher called on you." Response choices are (1) didn't occur, (2) occurred, but didn't feel bad, (3) felt sort of bad, and (4) felt very bad; scores ranged from 25 to 100. The DHS has satisfactory construct validity and reliability (Cronbach's alpha = .87; Kanner et al., 1987). The alphas were .90, .87, and .75 at each time of measurement respectively in the current study.

Coping strategies were measured using the COPE (Carver et al., 1989) to assess how students handled the stressors they encountered in the eighth and ninth grades, as well as any changes that might have occurred in these coping strategies during the transition period. Carver et al. (1989) and Tyszkowa (1990) both found adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies were related to outcomes for individuals experiencing stressors. Phelps and Jarvis (1994) demonstrated the appropriateness for the use of this measure with adolescents similar to those in the current study. Thus, students were asked to complete the 60-item COPE inventory using a 4-point Likert scale (1: I did not do this at all; 4: I did this a lot). Scores on the following subscales were summed to obtain a measure of adaptive coping to address the study hypotheses: active coping, planning, suppression of competing activities, restraint coping, positive reinterpretation and growth, and seeking social support for instrumental reasons. The Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficients for adaptive coping for the adolescents at each time of measurement were .86, .88, and .93 respectively in the current study, demonstrating satisfactory reliability of the measure.

Autonomy was measured by Steinberg and Silverberg's (1986) autonomy scale, which was developed to assess how emotional autonomy changes in adolescents. Students in the present study were asked to respond to this 20 item measure using a 4-point Likert scale, from (1) strongly agree to (4) strongly disagree. A sample item from the scale is "Even when my parents and I disagree, my parents are always right." Scores have the possible range of 20-80, with lower scores representing more autonomy. The authors reported internal consistency of the scale as .75 (Cronbach's alpha). The alphas in the present study at each time of measurement were .84, .78, and .76, respectively.

Social support from friends was assessed using Procidano and Heller's (1983) scale of Perceived Social Support from Friends (PSS-Fr), which measures how much a person feels that his or her needs for support, information, and feedback are met by friends. The importance of measuring peer support as social support for adolescents making school transitions is well documented (e.g., Felner et al., 1982; Fenzel and Blyth, 1986; Hirsch and DuBois, 1992). The PSS-Fr is a 20-item scale that contains statements such as "My friends are good at helping me solve problems." Students were asked to indicate "yes," "no," or "don't know" to each statement, with a point value of 1 assigned to each item indicating social support to which students agreed, with some items reverse-scored to accommodate negatively worded items. Scores on this measure, therefore, range from 0 (no perceived social support) to 20 (maximum perceived support). Procidano and Heller (1983) found the PSS-Fr to be an internally consistent scale (Cronbach's alpha = .88). Alphas in the present study were .88, .83, and .86 at each time of measurement, respectively.

Social support from parents was assessed using Lamborn and Steinberg's (1993) measure of relationship support. This is a 9-item scale assessing the amount of support adolescents' perceive that their parents provide them. Adolescents making school adjustments have been found to respond favorably when parental or adult support is high (Barone et al., 1991; Berndt et aL, 1989; Cotterell, 1992b, Felner et aL, 1982). Items include statements and questions such as "When you get a poor grade in school, do your parents or guardian offer help to you?" Response choices vary depending on the item, but involve having respondents choose from answers such as "never," "sometimes," or "usually." Lamborn and Steinberg (1993) reported the internal consistency reliability of this measure of relationship support to be .73 (Cronbach's alpha). In the present sample, the alphas were .80, .75, and .74 at each time of measurement, respectively.

Parent Measures

Parental well-being was assessed by asking parents of adolescents to complete the Hassles and Uplifts Scale developed by DeLongis et al. (1988). This 53-item scale assesses stressors recently experienced in situations involving one's children, job, or money. Parental well-being may be a significant factor in determining how much support parents are able to offer their adolescent (Silverberg and Steinberg, 1987). Parents responded to the Hassles measure using a 4-point scale ranging from (0) none or not applicable to (3) a great deal. Adequate test-retest reliability and predictive validity have been reported for this measure with adults (DeLongis et al., 1981). Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficients in the present study were .92 and .91 for mothers and .94 and .86 for fathers at each of the two assessments, respectively.

Parents were also given the Midlife Identity Concerns Scale developed by Silverberg and Steinberg (1990). This is a 9-item scale that assesses how much parents are reevaluating their life situations, life choices, and themselves. Parents of adolescents are typically middle-aged and dealing with issues related to this stage of development within the life cycle that may influence their availability to their adolescent (Pardeck and Pardeck, 1990). Thus, parents in the current study reported on their own midlife concerns. The scale includes such items as "I think about how my life could have been different if I had made other choices when I was younger." Parents responded using a 4-point scale ranging from (4) very often to (1) never for the first six items and (1) agree strongly to (4) disagree strongly to the last three items. The authors reported the internal consistency (Cronbach's alphas) of this measure to be .79 for mothers and .80 for fathers. In the current sample, alphas for mothers were .86 and .76 and for fathers .77 and .84 at each time of measurement, respectively.

To assess the types of coping strategies parents use to deal with stressors, parents completed the COPE (Carver et al., 1989). This measure was previously described as a measure also used with adolescents. However, Carver et al. (1989) reported adequate reliability (Cronbach's alphas = .62 or greater) for an adult population for all subscales used in the adaptive coping component of the measure. Alphas for the current sample were .89 and .74 for mothers and .86 and .91 for fathers at each time of measurement, respectively.


Students and parents involved in the study were informed that the purpose of this research was to better understand parent-adolescent relationships. In May of the eighth-grade year and December and May of the ninth-grade year, the following measures were administered to adolescents in small groups (5-10 students) in two classrooms: the Sense of School Membership scale, the Daily Hassles Scale, the COPE, the scale of Perceived Social Support from Friends, and measures of autonomy and support from parents to the adolescents involved in the study. A research assistant blind to the hypotheses of the study was present in each small group at all times of measurement to address any concerns or questions raised by the adolescents. At each time of measurement, data regarding GPA and attendance rates were obtained from student records.

In addition, in both May of the eighth-grade year and December of the ninth-grade year, the parents of students in the study were mailed the Hassles and Uplifts Scale, the Midlife Identity Concerns Scale, and the COPE. Addressed, stamped envelopes were included for their convenience in returning the questionnaires to the researcher. Two follow-up phone calls and/or remailings were necessary to obtain questionnaires from parents. Parents who returned surveys were fairly prompt in doing so, but all measures in a packet were not always completed. As the study progressed, parent participation waned; thus no Time 3 (end of ninth-grade year) questionnaires to parents were sent.


The descriptive statistics for the adolescent and parent variables across the transition period are contained in Tables I and II. Tables III and IV contain the percentages of adolescents, mothers, and fathers reporting specific stressors, respectively. Categories of problems were derived in a similar fashion to Stark et al. (1989), which involved reviewing the research participants' individual responses on the COPE and then classifying them into general categories of problems, such as problems with school, family, work, and so forth.

Hypothesis 1

The first hypothesis stated that compared to eighth grade, social and academic adjustment (measured by sense of school membership, GPA and attendance) would decrease during the transition to high school. Stressors and sense of autonomy were expected to increase, whereas perceived social support from friends and parents was expected to decrease. A one-way repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance was computed across the three data collection points. The dependent variables were GPA, attendance, sense of school membership, support from friends, support from parents, autonomy, and stressors. Results indicated a marginally significant main effect for time, F(2, 32) = 2.8, p < .07. A series of univariate analyses were then performed to examine individual variables.

Caption: Table I.
Caption: Table II. Table III.

A significant time effect for GPA was obtained, as hypothesized, F(2, 76) = 20.42, p < .0001. Further post hoc analyses were conducted using a Bonferoni correction for multiple means comparisons. Only significant findings at p < .01 are reported. It was revealed that Time 1 GPA was significantly higher than Time 2 GPA, F(1, 38) = 29.87, p < .0001. Time 1 GPA was also significantly higher than Time 3 GPA, F (1, 38) = 28.61, p < .0001. The difference between Time 2 GPA and Time 3 GPA was not significant.

A significant time effect for attendance was obtained as well, F(2, 76) = 4.76, p < .01, in accordance with the hypothesis. Multiple means comparisons indicated that Time 1 attendance rates were significantly lower than Time 2 attendance rates, F (1, 38) = 11.97, p < .001. Time 2 attendance rates were significantly higher than Time 3 attendance rates, F(1, 38) = 6.77, p < .01. There was no significant difference in attendance between Times 1 and 3. A significant time effect for perceived support from friends was also obtained, F(2, 72) = 9.40, p < .0005. Multiple means comparisons revealed that Time 1 scores were lower than Time 2 scores, F(1, 36) = 17.67, p < .0005, and Time 3 scores, F(1, 36) = 12.53, p < .001. There was no significant difference between Time 2 and 3 scores for this variable.

A significant time effect for stressors was also obtained, F(2, 76) = 3.90, p < .05. Multiple means comparisons revealed that significantly more stressors were reported at Time 2 than at Time 3, F(1, 38) = 7.86, p < .01. This indicated that although stressors were highest during the middle of the transition period, as hypothesized, they decreased by the end of the ninth-grade year. Time effects for sense of school membership, perceived support from parents, or autonomy were not significant, contrary to the hypothesis.

Caption: Table IV.

Hypothesis 2

The second hypothesis stated that stressors would increase during the transition to high school and that this increase would predict negative adjustment outcomes. To test this hypothesis, a series of hierarchical multiple regressions were performed to identify important predictors of adolescents' adjustment. Specifically, for each time of measurement, predictor variables were entered hierarchically into regressions using a series of blocks. In Block 1 the stressors variable was entered into the equation. In Block 2 adaptive coping was added. Block 3 added the autonomy variable. In Block 4 support from friends was added. Finally, in Block 5 support from parents was added to the equation. The ordering of predictor variables was based on the hypothesized significance of each variable in contributing to prediction of the dependent variables. The criteria predicted were GPA, attendance, and sense of school membership.

To control for pretransition levels of the adjustment variables in the regressions, at Time 2, Time 2 variables were entered into a separate equation after predicting Time 2 variables from Time 1 variables. At Time 3, Time 3 variables were entered into a separate equation after computing equations predicting Time 3 from Time 1 and Time 2 variables. Table V presents Pearson correlations between predictors and criteria. Tables VIVIII present the results from the regression equations.

Time 1 Variables Predicted from Time 1 Variables

It was found that support from friends at Time 1 (end of the eighthgrade year) predicted lower GPA and higher sense of school membership at Time 1. Specifically, support from friends accounted for 12% of the variance in GPA at Time 1 and 26% of the variance in sense of school membership at Time 1. These results are shown in Table VI.

Time 2 Variables Predicted from Time 1 and Time 2 Variables

As shown in Table VII, support from friends at Time 1 predicted lower GPA at Time 2 (beginning of ninth grade), accounting for 17% of the variance in GPA. Support from friends was therefore associated with lower grade point averages for the sample at both Times 1 and 2.

In addition, stressors at Time 2 predicted lower GPA at Time 2, accounting for 32% of the variance. Thus, as hypothesized, stressors were a significant predictor of GPA in the beginning of the ninth-grade year. Significant predictors of sense of school membership at Time 2 were stressors, accounting for 25% of the variance, and support from parents, accounting for 10% of the variance. Support from friends, as well, predicted sense of school membership at Time 2, accounting for 15% of the variance. Thus, as hypothesized, the more stressors a student reported, the lower the sense of school membership. The more support from parents and friends reported, however, the greater a student's sense of school membership.

Time 3 Variables Predicted from Time 1, Time 2, and Time 3 Variables

As shown in Table VIII, sense of school membership at Time 3 was predicted from adaptive coping at Time 1, accounting for 13% of the variance. The more adaptive coping reported at Time 1, the greater the students' sense of school membership at Time 3. This partially supported the second hypothesis.

Caption: Table V. Table VI

GPA at Time 3 was significantly predicted by autonomy from Time 1, accounting for 12% of the variance. For the autonomy measure, higher scores indicated lower autonomy. Thus, higher autonomy scores (i.e., lower autonomy) were associated with a higher GPA at Time 3. Support from friends at Time 1 was also a significant predictor of GPA at Time 3, accounting for 19% of the variance. The more support from friends reported at Time 1, the lower a student's GPA at Time 3.

Stressors at Time 2 also predicted decreased GPA at Time 3 (Table VIII), accounting for 23% of the variance. The more stressors reported at Time 2, the lower a student's GPA at Time 3. Sense of school membership at Time 3 was significantly predicted by autonomy scores from Time 2, accounting for 15% of the variance. Higher autonomy scores (i.e., lower autonomy) were therefore associated with a higher sense of school membership at Time 3.

Sense of school membership at Time 3 was found to be significantly predicted by autonomy at Time 3, accounting for 11% of the variance. Support from friends at Time 3 significantly predicted sense of school membership at Time 3 as well, accounting for 13% of the variance. Finally, support from parents also predicted sense of school membership, accounting for 9% of the variance. As hypothesized, greater support (indicated by lower scores on this measure) was associated with a greater sense of school membership at Time 3.

Hypothesis 3

Hypothesis 3 examined more closely the relationship between parental well-being and the amount of support adolescents perceived their parents as providing them. Specifically, it was predicted that adolescents' perceived level of parental support would be positively correlated with parental wellbeing. Pearson correlation coefficients were computed between parents' reported stressors, midlife identity concerns, and adaptive coping strategies, and adolescents' perceptions of parental support at the end of eighth grade and during the initial transition into high school. At Time 1, a positive relation between parents' reported stressors and adolescents' perceptions of support was found (lower scores on this measure indicated more support), r = -.58, p < .04. This relationship was also found at Time 2, with parents' stressors associated with increased feelings of support by adolescents, r = -.59, p < .05.


The present study examined a combination of adjustment variables (GPA, attendance, and sense of school membership), and parental wellbeing variables (stressors, midlife identity concerns, and adaptive coping) to provide a more complete picture of how adolescents negotiate the transition from a K-8th-grade school to a 9-12th-grade high school. Support was found for the expected decreases in GPA. This is consistent with previous research that also found that during school transition periods adolescents' GPA typically suffers (Barone et al., 1991; Blyth et aL, 1983; Felner et at, 1981). Although the contrast between junior high school and high school GPAs may appear small when examining the actual numerical differences (3.5-3.1), in the present laboratory school population high grades are the norm. Because these are typically motivated, grade-oriented students, even minor changes may have greater meaning for the adolescents involved in this study.

Caption: Table VII.
Caption: Table VIII.

In addition, attendance rates improved during the initial transition into high school, and then dropped to a significantly lower level when compared to attendance at the beginning of the ninth grade, lending partial support to the hypothesized overall decrease in attendance during the high school transition. Other researchers have also noted significant drops in attendance rates during school transitions (Barone et al., 1991; Felner et al., 1981). The initial improvement in attendance in the present study may be an artifact of a less restrictive attendance policy operating in the high school compared to the junior high school, and reflects the importance that individual characteristics of the school itself may exert on adolescent adjustment outcomes. The additional freedom offered to the adolescents may not begin negatively impacting their attendance rates until closer to the end of ninth grade. However, although declines in attendance were significant, for most adolescents in the study actual number of days missed were not so high as to warrant intervention on the part of the school.

Additionally, partial support was found for the expected increase in stressors during the transition into high school. Adolescents' reported stressors increased during the first semester of the ninth-grade (although the increase was not statistically significant). However, stressors significantly decreased from the beginning of the ninth-grade year to the end of that year. This may mean that although the initial transition is somewhat stressful, by the end of the ninth grade adolescents have adapted to their new environment.

Support from friends increased over the transition, contrary to the hypothesized decrease in support. Social support was expected to show an overall decrease due to the stressful nature of the transition into high school and changes associated with that transition. Researchers such as Berndt (1989) have suggested that significant changes in social support may occur in response to school-related changes, such as school transitions. For example, disruptions in friendships may have occurred when junior high school friends attended different high schools or when interactions began with new adolescents who came from different junior high schools. The forming of cliques and labeling of peer groups may have also led to differentiation among adolescents who were once friends (Juvonen, 1997). The adolescents in this sample, however, moved into the high school environment as a relatively cohesive group, and their interactions and perceived support increased. This may be because both schools were laboratory schools, making the group that moved from one school to the other more cohesive than would be true in a nonlaboratory school situation.

No support was found for the expected changes in sense of school membership, autonomy, and perceived support from parents. The relatively stable feelings of school membership that adolescents' reported may have occurred due to a preexisting sense of identification with the high school they were to attend. In addition, elapsed time between measurements may have been too short to detect significant changes in autonomy and perceived support from parents. It is also possible that the results might have been different if a middle school to high school transition instead of a K-8 to 9-12th grade school transition were assessed.

Mediating Factors in Student Adjustment

In addition to the main findings, important relationships were found between adjustment outcomes and stressors, adaptive coping, autonomy, support from friends, and support from parents. For example, at the end of the eighth grade-support from friends was found to predict lower GPA at that time, at the beginning of the ninth grade, and at the end of the ninth grade. Peer group interactions may be exacting a toll on academic achievement across the transition. Thus, the peer group is salient in the adolescent's life and academic success suffered somewhat. The fact that support from friends was associated with lower grade point averages may indicate that friends were not as supportive of academic accomplishments as other, perhaps social, aspects of high school. This is in contrast to Felner et al.'s (1982) work that found increased peer support to be positively related to GPA, but in support of other research that found negative influences of peers on academic adjustment in an Australian sample of adolescents (Cotterell, 1992b) and in American students (Steinberg et al., 1996).

In addition, reported stressors during the transition at the beginning of the ninth grade predicted lower grade point average at the end of the first semester of ninth grade. Increased stressors at the beginning of ninth grade also predicted lower grade point average at the end of the second semester of ninth grade. Thus, stressors during the transition to high school adversely affected academic achievement, and adaptive coping efforts were limited in their success. Stressors identified by adolescents included concerns about extracurricular activities, conflicts with peers, and problems with parents. These stressors take on greater significance when considering their impact on GPA during the transition into high school.

It was also found that the more stressors a student reported at the beginning of ninth grade, the lower their sense of school membership at that time. Stressors therefore interfered with sense of belonging to one's school, as hypothesized. However, sense of school membership increased as perceived support from friends increased. This was also true at the end of eighth grade, and at the end of the ninth grade, with increased peer support at each time predicting greater sense of school membership. This reflects friendship's importance in the context of school belongingness. Support from friends during the transition to high school may allow adolescents experiencing stressors to feel a sense of belonging to school (and peer groups therein). Other researchers have also found a positive relationship between peer support and adolescents' orientation towards school (Berndt, 1982; Felner et al., 1982; Hirsch and DuBois, 1992).

Adaptive coping strategies (i.e., problem solving, planning, etc.) present at the end of the eighth grade were associated with greater sense of school membership at the end of the ninth grade. Such coping strategies were, therefore, helpful to adolescents making the transition to high school, at least with respect to achieving a sense of belonging in the school.

Lower autonomy at the end of the eighth grade predicted higher grade point average at the end of the ninth grade. This was contrary to the hypothesis that predicted that increased autonomy would be associated with increased GPA due to the greater self-reliance high school requires (Powell et al., 1985). Too much autonomy, however, may interfere with school achievement during the transition into high school, as adolescents may not be ready for independent decision making as they deal with the stressors of the transition.

Lower autonomy at the beginning and the end of ninth grade also predicted greater sense of school membership at the end of the ninth grade. The less autonomous adolescents are, the more they feel a belonging to their school. This is contrary to the hypothesis, yet relates to the previous finding of lower autonomy predicting higher GPA. The less autonomous adolescents are, the better they fare in adjusting to the new school environment and to academic demands during the transition into high school. This may be because adolescents who are less autonomous turn to school as a way to help define themselves, resulting in higher grades and a greater sense of belonging to one's school.

Support from parents measured at the beginning of ninth grade was found to be important in influencing sense of school membership at that time. Support from parents at the end of ninth grade also predicted greater sense of school membership at the end of ninth grade. This is consistent with previous research that found parental support affecting student adjustment outcomes, such as Berndt et al.'s (1989) finding in which adolescents believed their parents had more of an influence on their attitudes, behavior, and performance in school than their friends. Closer examination of the role of parents during adolescent school transitions revealed that parents' reported stressors were associated with adolescents' increased perceptions of support. It may be that parents turn to their adolescents when they are stressed, giving the adolescents a perception of increased support from them. More data examining parents is needed to address this hypothesis, however.

The present findings hold many implications for practice. Specifically, it is important for educators and parents to realize that a decrease in GPA is to be expected as part of the normative transition into high school. With this knowledge, preventative efforts could be used to help adolescents perform better academically. Results from this study indicated that teaching adolescents adaptive coping strategies, such as problem solving skills, may help them during school transitions.

Further, it is important to identify those students who are experiencing many stressors, as they are at higher risk for experiencing decreases in GPA and sense of school membership. Students with more stressors may exhibit behavior problems, appear withdrawn, or fall behind quickly in their classes. Identifying these students early in the year may help prevent greater problems from occurring later. For example, decreased sense of school membership may contribute to misbehavior, low motivation, and low academic achievement in high school (Goodenow, 1993; Kulka et al., 1982).

Although a successful transition into high school implies forming social networks with one's peers and increased support from friends may help improve feelings of belongingness in the school, such support may also lead to lower academic achievement, evidenced by a decreased grade point average. This may indicate that students are being distracted from academics by spending too much time with their peers. Parents and teachers, then, should realize that while a certain amount of interaction with one's peers may assist in the transition to a new school, limits (such as clearly defining which nights of the week an adolescent may spend time with friends and which nights must be devoted to homework or setting limits on the number and length of phone calls) may need to be set to help ensure that grade point average does not suffer. Other researchers have also suggested that academics may suffer if the peer group does not value education and one is more concerned with fitting in with one's friends than with doing well academically (Cotterell, 1992b).

The importance of the role that parents play in ensuring a successful transition experience is evident from the present study. Specifically, perceived support from parents was found to be related to increased feelings of school belongingness in adolescents. As such, teachers and parents should make attempts for ongoing communication regarding student progress. Adolescents themselves are aware of the support parents provide them, and increased involvement of their parents in their education could therefore benefit adolescents' school adjustment.

Future research in this area should concentrate more specifically on the influence social support from friends has on academic achievement, as the present short-term longitudinal study found that increased support from friends was related to decreased grade point average. The interesting relationship between lower autonomy and higher academic achievement and sense of school membership could also be explored further to better understand this association. The small sample size precluded analyses by gender, yet potential gender differences in adjustment are worthy of consideration in future work with larger samples. In addition, continuing to look at the role support from parents exerts on adolescent adjustment is critical to understanding how the transition period is experienced in the context of a family. Others might also wish to consider family constellation variables (e.g., single-parent families, sibling relationships), as such variables also might undoubtedly influence school transition adjustment as do the variables assessed in the present study. Finally, the fact that all students in the present study attended the same junior high and high school, although not an uncommon phenomenon in smaller towns, made it difficult to attribute observed changes to school effects per se, rather than developmental changes in the students or perhaps temporary seasonal effects. Thus, future efforts might include students varying in timing of transitions (such as in some prior junior high transition studies) or in characteristics of the environments (such as students attending high schools with different measured characteristics). This would allow comparisons between adolescents experiencing different types of transitions and would extend the current literature available on school transitions. The results of the present study, however, have important implications for all parents and teachers of adolescents who want to help foster positive adjustment outcomes during the challenges associated with the transition into high school.


Appreciation is extended to the research participants, assistants, Matthew Hesson-McInnis for statistical help, Jeff Laurent and Gary L. Creasey for support and encouragement, and to the reviewer for helpful comments and suggestions regarding the manuscript.

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[Author note]
Kristen Isakson1 and Patricia Jarvis2 Received December 4, 1997; accepted July 8, 1998
[Author note]
Portions of this research were presented at the Society for Research on Adolescents in March, 1996 in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Society for Research on Child Development in April, 1997, in Washington, DC. 1Psychology Examiner, Hawaii Department of Education, Waipahu, Hawaii 96797. Received specialist degree in school psychology from Illinois State University. Research interests include adolescent development in the context of schools. 2Associate Professor, Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois 61790-4620. Received Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Research interests include life span social development across contexts. To whom correspondence should be addressed.

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