MEP research on students’ sense of belonging in middle school featured in Capital Times

Research by the Madison Education Partnership (MEP) was featured in the Capital Times in an article that is headlined, “New research looks at student sense of belonging in Madison middle schools.” 

MEP, which is housed in the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), is a research-practice partnership between WCER and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). 

The article notes that MMSD has focused on students’ “sense of belonging” at the school level for years in its climate and culture surveys, and MEP’s research team wondered whether students’ comfort — or lack thereof — in their entire school would be reflected in a classroom.

Photo of Eric Grodsky

Specifically, the team examined students’ feeling of belonging in middle school math classrooms. Eric Grodsky, MEP’s co-director and a professor of sociology and educational policy studies at UW–Madison, said that the decision to focus on math came partly because of the “stereotype threat” surrounding the subject, with the assumption that women and students of color are worse at math creating a psychological threat in the classroom.

Key findings from MEP’s study that were highlighted in the article include that classroom and school belonging are distinct and that teachers with more confidence in their ability to teach math had a stronger sense of classroom belonging among their students. The research also found no systematic difference in math classroom belonging across racial/ethnic groups or by gender.

Though much of the research was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic upended classroom instruction, Grodsky believes that long-term the findings will still be relevant. “If you’re asking me, will (the findings) apply in classrooms in a year or two when we’re not masked and we’ve kind of got this under control? Yeah, I have no reason to think they wouldn’t,” says Grodsky.

The vision of the Madison Education Partnership (MEP) is to improve experiences and outcomes for all MMSD students and reduce gaps in opportunity and achievement. The partnership enables research to be conducted more quickly and results released more efficiently — to advance strategies that benefit Madison students, families, and schools.

Read more about MEP’s research in the Capital Times