Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network

Issue/Topic: Student Achievement; Student Achievement--Closing the Achievement Gap
Author(s): Blansky, Deanna; Kavanaugh, Christina; Boothroyd, Cara; Benson, Brianna; Gallagher, Julie; Endress, John; Sayama, Hiroki
Publication: PLOS ONE
Published On: 2/6/2013

Application of social network analysis to educational systems is a promising yet unexplored research area. A small number of studies investigated how the positions of K-12 students in their social network are correlated with their behavior and academic achievements. However, no study has been conducted on how their social network influences their academic progress over time.

To gain insight into the correlations between high school students’ academic progress over one year and the social environment that surrounds them in their friendship network.


  • Students whose friends’ average GPA (Grade Point Average) were greater (or less) than their own had a higher tendency toward increasing (or decreasing) their academic ranking over time, indicating social contagion of academic success taking place in their social network.

  • The research suggests that it might be possible for a quick test to predict a student’s academic progress without the need for large scale surveys or complicated social network analysis.  Such a quick test could be done through asking a student who are his/her friends in the class, and test if those self-reported friends’ average GPA is higher or lower than the student’s.  

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

  • Youth who have academic potential but struggle due to unhealthy home/peer environment could benefit from befriending those who have a higher GPA.
  • Social contagions are influential.  Correlation was most significant (and had the highest level of influence) at a basic friendship level (friends but not best friends).  The correlations at acquaintance and best/close friendship levels were not as significant.
  • Identification of student interests could serve as a boon in pairing up youths with low GPAs with those who have high GPAs.  This could spark not only a new social network, but more importantly, increase a youth’s struggling GPA in the process.

For full study: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0055944

Research Design:
Quantitative; social network analysis.

Sample size was very small as only 158 high school youth participated in an online survey. Subjects were predominantly white, living in a suburban or rural area in Upstate New York.

Year data is from:
January 2011-January 2012


Data Collection and Analysis:
Students’ social network was reconstructed based on the results of an electronic survey asking them about their friendships, while the data about their academic progresses were obtained directly from their school’s official academic records. Survey data was supplemented by data from the School’s student record database that contained information about GPA (at two time points), attendance, disciplinary action, and gender for each student. All data was anonymized and stored using randomized ID.


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