The Longitudinal Effects of Residential Mobility on the Academic Achievement of Urban Elementary and Middle School Students

Issue/Topic: Students--Mobility
Author(s): Voight, Adam; Shinn, Marybeth; Nation, Maury
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published On: 2012

What happens outside of school matters to a young person's educational development. The home is arguably the most influential setting in young people's development, and the recent upward trend in residential mobility has made the effort to foster a positive, stable home environment more challenging.

To explore the effect of changing residences on young people's academic achievement.


Residential moves in the early elementary years have a negative effect on math and reading achievement in third grade and a negative effect on the trajectory of reading scores thereafter.

  • For every move during the period between kindergarten and second grade, there was an associated drop in test scores.
  • Year-by-year moves were more highly associated with math than reading achievement. For math achievement, changing residences during the testing years evidenced a consistently significant negative association. For math, a 1-year-lagged association of mobility with test scores, however, was insignificant.


  • Conversely, there is no simultaneous (same year) effect found on reading scores, but mobility leaves a lasting negative effect on reading test scores.
  • Residential moves during the early years negatively relate to reading achievement through elementary and middle school. This enduring effect was not evidenced for math achievement.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Early elementary mobility is a source of inequality in academic achievement through primary school.
  • The foundation of a child's reading competency may be particularly affected by early disruptions. If children are able to establish a foundation in reading during early elementary school without disruptions, they may be insulated from the effects of subsequent moves.
  • It is possible that residential mobility is a mediating mechanism that explains how  more general family disruptions affect achievement, and this consideration could be taken into account in future research studies. 
  • Interventions that focus more on socioemotional aspects of mobility -- for example, adjustment counseling and tutoring for mobile students and providing networking opportunities for the parents of mobile children -- may be effective for residential movers who do not change schools in addition to school changers.
  • Reducing residential mobility is in the interest of urban elementary and middle school students. Policies that make it easier for low-income families to stay in their homes  -- including affordable housing and efforts to enforce fair housing laws and combat predatory lending -- could be helpful in reducing mobility.

Study Link: http://edr.sagepub.com/content/41/9/385.abstract

Research Design:

Students from 11 middle schools in a large urban district in Tennessee.

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Analysis of school administrative data from 11 middle schools in a large urban district in Tennessee.


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