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Research Roundup

February 21, 2012, Volume 58, No. 23

Affects of “Shadow Education” on Academic Success of East Asian Americans

A study co-authored by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Hyunjoon Park chalks up East Asian American students’ high SAT scores in part to their high level of participation in “shadow education” activities outside formal schools.

Dr. Park, the Korea Foundation Associate Professor of Sociology and Education, collaborated on the study with Dr. Soo-yong Byun, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. The study is published in the January issue of the journal Sociology of Education.

The researchersused data from the Education Longitudinal Study to follow students who were high school sophomores in 2002.  They found that East Asian American students were most likely to take commercial SAT test preparation courses, possibly in a private learning center or “cram school,” and benefited more than any other racial or ethnic group.

In the paper titled “The Academic Success of East Asian American Youth: The Role of Shadow Education,” they write, “East Asian American students can take SAT coaching from not only traditional options such as Princeton Review and Kaplan but also (perhaps more) from a variety of SAT preparation institutions and cram schools in ethnic communities being run by East Asian immigrant entrepreneurs.”       

However, the author’s research showed that regardless of students’ race or ethnicity, receiving private SAT one-to-one tutoring didn’t affect their SAT scores.  

Considering the recent emphasis on standardized test scores and school accountability in American education, the study highlights the potentially growing relevance of shadow-education activities in shaping racial and ethnic inequalities in academic achievement.

Dr. Park emphasized the limitation of the data and method in addressing this issue. “We need to be careful not to make too strong a claim about the effectiveness of taking SAT commercial test prep service on SAT.”     

The abstract as well as a PDF version of the study is available at http://soe.sagepub.com/content/85/1/40.abstract

Why Do Some Young People Choose to Get Tested for STDs and Others Don’t?

A study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland identified the reasons why college-age individuals would be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.  These findings are valuable in developing public health awareness advertising campaigns.        

Researchers Ryan S. Paquin, a doctoral candidate from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and Vanessa Boudewyns from the University of Maryland offer new answers about why young people choose to be tested or opt against it. The study of 341 undergraduate students ranging in ages from 18 to 28 consisted of an online questionnaire intended to uncover the beliefs that underlie the decision to be tested for STDs. Their findings, published in Health Communication, suggest that those who intended to be tested for STDs were motivated by two main factors: they saw it as a sign of respect for their sexual partners and would prevent them from spreading STDs to others.

Interestingly, the people who did not intend to be tested valued those two factors the same as those who did intend to be tested. This suggests that when considering messages for an STD awareness campaign, public health officials may want to make a link between testing and these benefits.

With one in two sexually active young adults contracting a sexually transmitted disease  before the age of 25, public health officials are increasingly concerned about the spread of STDs and are eager to find ways to reduce rates of infections. Although there have been a number of public outreach programs promoting behaviors that help prevent STDs (like condom use) there has been less attention on testing, which could also help reduce the spread of STDs.

Among those who did not intend to be tested, the two biggest disadvantages reported were that others might draw conclusions about their sex life and embarrassment. Again, this insight offers important information to public health officials looking at ways to form effective communications. In this case, the research suggests that developing public service announcements or communications that address embarrassment directly may be quite effective.

A copy of the article, “Intentions and Beliefs About Getting Tested for STDs: Implications for Communication Interventions” can be obtained by contacting the Annenberg School for Communication, www.asc.upenn.edu/home.aspx

Sleep Problems Increase Risk for Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Obesity

People who suffer from sleep disturbances are at major risk for obesity, diabetes, and coronary artery disease according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine.  For the first time, analyzing the data of over 130,000 people, the new research also indicates that general sleep disturbance (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or sleeping too much) may play a role in the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. The study is published online in the Journal of Sleep Research.

“Previous studies have demonstrated that those who get less sleep are more likely to also be obese, have diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and are more likely to die sooner, but this new analysis has revealed that other sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or even too much sleep, are also associated with cardiovascular and metabolic health issues,” said Dr. Michael A. Grandner, research associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at Penn and lead author of the study.

The researchers examined associations between sleep disturbances and other health conditions, focusing on perceived sleep quality, rather than just sleep duration. After adjusting for demographic, socioeconomic and health risk factors, patients with sleep disturbances at least three nights per week on average were 35 percent more likely to be obese, 54 percent more likely to have diabetes, 98 percent more likely to have coronary artery disease, 80 percent more likely to have had a heart attack, and 102 percent more likely to have had a stroke.

Dr. Grandner and colleagues analyzed data from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) of 138,201 patients, the world’s largest telephone survey, designed to monitor health-related behaviors in the general population.

The researchers say that future studies are needed to show whether sleep problems predict the new onset of cardiovascular and metabolic disease, and whether treatment of sleep problems improves long-term health and longevity.

Following Traumatic Event, Early Intervention Reduces Odds of PTSD in Children

After experiencing a potentially traumatic event—a car accident, a physical or sexual assault, a sports injury, witnessing violence—as many as 1 in 5 children will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A new approach that helps improve communication between child and caregiver, such as recognizing and managing traumatic stress symptoms and teaching coping skills, was able to prevent chronic and sub-clinical PTSD in 73 percent of children. The intervention, called the Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention (CFTSI) also reduced PTSD symptoms in children—which can include reliving a traumatic experience, sleep disturbances, emotional numbness, angry outbursts or difficulties concentrating—and promoted recovery more quickly than a comparison intervention.

“This is the first preventative intervention to improve outcomes in children who have experienced a potentially traumatic event, and the first to reduce the onset of PTSD in kids,” said lead study author Dr. Steven Berkowitz, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine and director of the Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery. “If this study is replicated and validated in future studies, this intervention could be used nationally to help children successfully recover from a traumatic event without progressing to PTSD.” The study is online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

In the study, 106 children ranging from 7 to 17 years in age and a caregiver were randomly assigned to receive the four-session  CFTSI or a four-session supportive comparison intervention, both provided within 30 days following exposure to a traumatic event. Children were referred by police, a forensic sexual abuse program, or the local pediatric emergency department in an urban city in Connecticut. The CFTSI intervention began with an initial baseline assessment to measure the child’s trauma history and a preliminary visit with the caregiver, focusing on their essential role in the process. Within the sessions, there is a focus on improving communication between the child and caregiver, as well as other supportive measures. At the end of the next two sessions, the clinician, caregiver and child, decide on a homework assignment to practice certain coping skills. The behavioral skill components provide techniques to recognize and manage traumatic stress symptoms.

Future studies will need to validate the effectiveness of this intervention, but researchers hope that brief and effective interventions like CFTSI can be applied early to prevent the development of PTSD.


Almanac - February 21, 2012, Volume 58, No. 23