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University of Iowa News Release

 

Nov. 19, 2007

Study: parental physical violence lowers children's standardized test scores

Many studies have shown that children growing up in households with parental violence suffer negative cognitive and behavioral consequences, but few studies have examined how parental violence affects children's academic abilities. In a study of rural Iowa school children, University of Iowa researchers have found a significant decrease in the test scores of children from households with parental violence.

The study was published in the November 2007 issue of the Annals of Epidemiology, available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/10472797.

Each year in the United States, an estimated three to 10 million children witness intimate partner violence in their homes. Several studies have identified a strong relationship between witnessing intimate partner violence and emotional and behavioral problems, including anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior and conduct problems.

"It's likely that witnessing intimate partner violence affects a child's abilities to demonstrate and acquire academic skills and that we would find this effect in standardized test scores," said Corinne Peek-Asa, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health.

To test this hypothesis, Peek-Asa and colleagues collected data from a rural health study conducted in one Iowa county. The study population included parents or adult caretakers who responded to interview questions about intimate partner violence in the previous 12 months and whose children's standardized test scores were available. Standardized test scores taken from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (for elementary students) and the Iowa Tests of Educational Development (for high school students) were gathered for five years.

Peek-Asa and colleagues found that one in five children in the study lived in a household in which parents reported at least one act of physical violence, and that these children performed an average of 12.2 percentile points lower on standardized tests than children whose parents reported no such violence.

"Although we expected to find a relationship between parental violence and test score performance, we were very surprised to find that the effect was so large," said Peek-Asa. "A 12 percentile point decrease was found even after controlling for parent's education, child's physical and emotional health, and the presence of disabilities."

The study further identified differences in test performance by the child's age and gender. According to Peek-Asa, parent-reported intimate partner violence led to larger test score reductions for girls than for boys and for children younger than age 12 than for older children.

Children under the age of 12 who grew up in homes with parent-reported intimate partner violence scored an average of 16.9 percentile points lower on standardized tests than children in homes without this type of violence, and girls in homes with intimate partner violence scored an average of 17.5 percentile points lower than girls in homes without this type of violence.

"We were interested to learn that effects were stronger for girls, who also tend to score higher than boys on standardized tests," said Peek-Asa. She noted that girls have a stronger tendency to internalize traumatic experiences, which could have a more deleterious effect on academic performance.

This study is the first to prospectively examine the relationship between parent-reported intimate partner violence and standardized test score performance in a population-based sample.

"This research helps demonstrate that educational, public health and medical communities should work together to identify and provide services for children who live in homes with violence," Peek-Asa said.

In addition to Peek-Asa, the research team included Leah Maxwell, UI graduate student; Ann Stromquist, Ph.D., UI associate research scientist; Paul Whitten, UI research assistant; Mary Ann Limbos, M.D., faculty member at the University of Southern California; and James Merchant, M.D., UI professor of occupational and environmental health.

This study was funded by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa, 52242

MEDIA CONTACTS: Corinne Peek-Asa, UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, corinne-peek-asa@uiowa.edu; Kate Gleeson, UI College of Public Health, 319-384-4277, kate-gleeson@uiowa.edu