Date of Award

12-9-2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)

Department

Professional Studies in Education

First Advisor

Faith Waters, Ed. D.

Second Advisor

Sue Rieg, Ed. D.

Third Advisor

Patricia Smeaton, Ed.D.

Abstract

The purpose of this case study was to understand the school-related factors that influence a student’s ability to persist in high school despite having the characteristic risk factors of students who typically drop out of high school. This study explored stakeholder perceptions of two questions regarding student persistence: first, how social relationships with peers, faculty, and administration affect students’ decisions to stay in school until completion, and second, what school-related factors were associated with why students decide to stay in high school until graduation. In order to garner answers to these questions, interviews and focus groups were conducted with six at-risk students, two counselors, four teachers, and three school administrators. The study took place in one school where the graduation rate for students was consistently 95%; this rate was higher than other high schools locally, in Pennsylvania, and nationally. Focus group and interviews were conducted with all participants to explore perceptions of student persistence. The interview and focus group questions were based on the theories of Brofenbrenner (1979) and Tinto (1987). Brofenbrenner (1979) described a school environment where adults care and spend meaningful time with students as paramount to success. Additionally, Tinto (1987) described that in order to persist students must recognize that expectations are high and that there is support and feedback for performance. It is also critical that students see themselves as part of the school community. The findings of this study indicated that positive adults being involved with students in both formal and informal ways is vital to at-risk students graduating. Programs and practices that encourage a systemic culture of caring, support, and accountability also appear to promote student persistence. District policies and other formal documents are a valuable guideline for the enculturation of caring. Interestingly, large school size and standardized testing were not seen as negative factors. The large school size could apparently be mitigated by personalizing the school environment and the negative impact of standardized testing with the use of varied and alternative assessments, as well as multiple vehicles for students to meet graduation requirements.

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