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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Explanations

    1. Social Factors

Social Stresses Harm Hispanic Students’ Achievement

Research shows that the stress and anxieties Hispanic students commonly suffer has a negative impact on their performance in school.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Alva, S. A., & de los Reyes, R. (1999). Psychosocial stress, internalized symptoms, and the academic achievement of Hispanic adolescents.Journal of Adolescent Research, 14,343-358.

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Parents and teachers have long suspected that stress, depression, and anxiety all hamper young people’s academic achievement. Changing schools, parents divorcing, or parents losing their jobs can all be very difficult events for young people.

Now Sylvia Alatorre Alva and Rydda de los Reyes have produced research that demonstrates how Hispanic students suffer from these problems. In particular, Alva and de los Reyes have found such stress debilitates Hispanic students’ perceptions of their own competence, which in turn makes them perform less well in school.

The Problems of Acculturation

Few studies have looked directly at Hispanic adolescents and their typical problems. Alva and de los Reyes argue that we must come to a better understanding of how factors such as poverty disadvantage Hispanic students.

Additionally, Hispanics often suffer from certain acculturation problems that can negatively affect their academic performance. These acculturation problems can include feeling pressured to speak Spanish at home and living in a home with too many people. Another common difficulty is that Hispanic adolescents are frequently expected to serve as interpreters for their parents in financial and legal interactions, which places a great deal of responsibility on their young shoulders.

Alva and de los Reyes’s work examines two “psychosocial” factors in Hispanic students’ achievement:

Psychosocial Factors Affecting Hispanic Students' Academic Achievement

Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

  • The authors found that stress and anxiety are strongly linked to emotional depression.
  • High levels of stress are also linked to lower grades. So, Hispanic students suffering from such stress tended to do more poorly in school. This held true regardless of gender, age, and parental occupation.

Students’ Perceptions of Their Own Competence

  • High levels of stress are also related to students’ having poor self-confidence. Alva and de los Reyes suggest that students who suffer from stress are less likely to view themselves as academically competent.
  • Students’ perceptions of their own competence have a direct effect on their grades. In other words, students who were more self-confident tended to perform better in school.
  • However, Alva and de los Reyes were unable to demonstrate that high self-confidence helps diminish the negative impact of psychosocial stress. According to their findings, even Hispanic students who viewed themselves as academically competent still suffered from the debilitating effects of acculturation problems.

The particular stress and anxieties associated with being a Hispanic adolescent, then, do help explain why Hispanic students tend to perform academically at levels lower than whites. Stressful situations in the home can contribute to anxieties that in turn weaken students’ own self-confidence. One way to help Hispanic students with these problems, Alva and de los Reyes suggest in closing, might be to educate students in ways of coping with stress and boosting self-confidence.

Research Design:


Survey results were obtained from a questionnaire submitted to 171 Hispanic high school students in Los Angeles. This questionnaire administered the Hispanic Children's Stress Inventory and measured two internalized symptoms (Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale and the Children's Depression Inventory). The Harter Perceived Competence Scale was used to measure perceived competence.


Hierarchical multiple regressions demonstrated the effects of stressful life events and perceived competence on grades, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. The regression was also manipulated to determine if perceived competence was a moderator of stressful life events.

Funding Source

The work was partially supported by a California State University Faculty Development grant and a Departmental Associations Council grant.


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