Participating in a policy debate program and academic achievement among at-risk adolescents in an urban public school district: 1997-2007

J Adolesc. 2012 Oct;35(5):1225-35. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.04.005. Epub 2012 May 24.


This study investigates the relationship between participating in a high school debate program on college-readiness in the Chicago Public School district over a 10-year period. At-risk school students were identified using an index including 8th grade achievement, poverty status, and enrollment in special education. Regression analyses were used to assess the association between debate participation and graduation and ACT performance. Overall, debaters were 3.1 times more likely to graduate from high school (95% confidence interval: 2.7-3.5) than non-debaters, and more likely to reach the college-readiness benchmarks on the English, Reading, and Science portions of the ACT. This association was similar for both low-risk and at-risk students. Debate intensity was positively related to higher scores on all sections of the ACT. Findings indicate that debate participation is associated with improved academic performance for at-risk adolescents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chicago
  • Communication*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities
  • Male
  • Students*
  • Urban Population