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Beyond Nuclear Families: Development of Inclusive Student Socioeconomic Status Survey Questions SES LSA GED NAEP PISA TIMSS HSED

Whorton, Ryan; Almonte, Debby E.; Steiger, Darby; Robins, Cynthia; Gentile, Christopher; Bertling, Jonas P.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Family, Extended Family, Family Structure, Family Role, Family Education Level, Socioeconomic Status (SES), Academic Achievement, Cognitive Development, Large-Scale Assessments (LSA), Educational Equity, Elementary School Students, Middle School Students, High School Students, Measurement, Nontraditional Family, Caregiver Education, Caregiver Employment, Socioeconomic Measurement, Household Composition, General Education Development (GED), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED), Child Caregivers, One Parent Family, Interview, Cognitive Interviews


Social changes have resulted in an increase of students living in households that do not include both a mother and a father, reducing the efficacy of common survey questionnaire approaches to measuring student socioeconomic status (SES). This paper presents two studies conducted to develop and test a new, more inclusive set of student SES items appropriate for students from a range of household types. In the first study, we held group interviews with 57 students in Grades 4, 8, and 12 who lived in four nontraditional household types. The study goal was, first, to understand how students thought about their household members and learn what they knew about the educational background and employment status of their caregivers and, second, to develop draft items based on these findings. In the second study, we held 51 individual cognitive interviews with a similar sample to evaluate draft item clarity and function. We found that although students may live with a broad range of family members and other adults, they understood the term caregiver to refer to a person who provides resources and support. Students found it easier to answer items when the items included the titles of their caregivers. Our results demonstrate that a customizable approach to measuring student SES allow smore students to report information about their caregivers than the current standard of asking about mothers and fathers. We provide recommendations for student SES measurement and potential next steps for research on this topic.

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