Educational demands are sometimes characterized as academic press. With increased calls for teachers to make classrooms demanding, researchers and practitioners need clarification on how academic press is defined and measured and how press relates to educationally relevant outcomes.
Human behavior has been conceptualized in terms of both personal needs and environmental press. Henry A. Murray labeled demands from the environment that prompt behavior as press and urged psychologists to develop models of behavior that include both personal needs and demands from the environment. Such a press can be characterized from an individual's perception of demand or from an objective view of environmental demands. Moreover, press does not operate independent of its context but acts within a “patterned meaningful whole” (Murray, 1938, p. 40) in the total environment. An academic press, therefore, describes the pattern of demands for engagement with academic work placed on a learner within the classroom and school environment.
Three broad categories of academic press emerge from the research literature—press for completion, for performance, and for understanding.
Press for completion. The demand to achieve a list of objectives or meet academic standards within a set period of time can be called a press for completion or coverage of material and is often independent of the quality of the work being completed. This press has been described as the number of students who complete certain courses or grade levels, such as the percentage of students completing high school or taking algebra in the eighth grade, and number of semesters of a particular subject area completed. Press for completion in classrooms is reflected in an emphasis on completing a curriculum and assignments, on the number of hours of homework, or on doing work exactly as students are directed rather than having them think about the task at hand.
Press for performance. A press for performance emphasizes a demand for a level of achievement such as a specific passing grade or test scores or scoring better in comparison to others. Academic press may be thought of as “the degree of normative emphasis placed on academic excellence by members of the organization” (Shouse, 1996, p. 175). Such a press may encompass a variety of school policies meant to improve the “academic climate” or emphasis on academic success, such as the degree to which a school honors student achievement, whether competition for grades is encouraged, and the use of absolute achievement grading practices.
Press for understanding. Finally, academic press can be thought of as a press for understanding or the degree to which students are required to engage in higher-order thinking skills, such as linking understanding to previous knowledge, checking answers against what they already know, and demonstrating conceptual understanding. Press for understanding has been described by instructional practices, such as attention on the main point, checking for understanding, asking high level questions, demanding justification or clarification, encouraging connection making, and sustaining an expectation for explanation.
The environmental level at which press operates adds another dimension to understanding academic press.
School Level. In an attempt to create better schools and improve student achievement, several studies have examined the influence of academic press at the school level as it contributes to school climate. Schools that implement certain policies to emphasize academic excellence are considered to have a stronger climate of academic press than those that implemented fewer of the policies.
Classroom Level. Academic press may have greater impact on student outcomes in the immediate environment of the classroom rather than at the more distant school level. Studies of classroom academic press often emphasize instructional practices. Press for understanding is typically demonstrated by teachers pressing students to explain, justify, and relate ideas as opposed to relying on students' perceptions of the school as affecting what they might do in the classroom.
Early research on press differentiated forms of press. The lack as of 2008 of conceptual consistency regarding types and levels of academic press has led to the development of several divergent measures. One approach has been to form a comprehensive index that includes several types of press; however, this approach does not provide an understanding of the relative importance of different forms of press or their relation to outcomes. Academic press has also been measured by the presence or absence of school policies such as ability grouping, incrementally based grading, remediation, promotion based on mastery, or discipline codes. Student self-report measures are also a common way to measure perceptions of academic press. These measures report student perceptions formed over an extended period of time and are closely linked to reported educational beliefs and behaviors. One advantage of this method is that aggregate perceptions of all students in the class can provide a classroom measure of academic press. Observation measures of academic press have focuses on instructional practices and teacher-student discourse. This approach to measurement, which provides rich classroom description of related classroom features, however, may introduce observer bias and contradicts the assertion that perceptions of press are most closely linked to an individual's behavior.
Most descriptions of academic press start with the premise that the teacher is central in creating classroom demands. As Meece (1991) states, “We assumed that teachers who frequently probed students' levels of understanding and asked for explanations, rather than simply affirming or negating answers, create a ‘press’ for mastery in their classroom” (p. 271). However classroom character is not determined by one factor, such as the teacher, but is related to a constellation of characteristics. The learner experiences many elements of the classroom that can serve as agents of academic press, such as the teacher, the task, and peers; similarly, the learner may experience external sources such as parents.
Outcomes. Academic press has been related to short-term achievement outcomes such as grades even for low achieving students when accompanied by increased effort. Press also may moderate the relationship between other aspects of the environment, such as social support, and learning. Moreover, academic press works in combination with instructional pacing, support, and scaffolding to support learning. Academic press also has been associated positively with self-efficacy, self-regulation, and school belongingness and negatively with avoiding help-seeking and bullying.
Group Differences. Variation in student experience of press may be a result of different treatment or different perceptions. Press has been found to have different effects on different groups such as diminishing the avoidance of help-seeking in girls in math classrooms or enhancing academic interest in African-American middle school students. Even in the same classrooms lower achieving students have reported experiencing lower press than high achieving students. Gender, race, and prior achievement may play a key role in the how press operates in classrooms. Academic press has been used to describe the emphasis, value, and opportunity for learning presented by the environment. However, the theoretical conception and empirical measurement of academic press varies in educational research by type of press, source of press, and reported outcomes. Research on the processes by which press serves to enhance learning or achievement and how it interacts with other features of the learning environment would enhance understanding of this factor in education.
See also:Achievement Motivation
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