Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Waiting to Fail: A Comparative Study of Effective School Configurations for At-risk Sixth Grade Students
by VandeBrake, Mary Ann, Ph.D., Northwest Nazarene University, 2018, 189; 10813993
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this comparative study was to examine the relationship between student achievement and social-emotional well-being in three different school configurations for at-risk sixth grade students. This study sought to apply the stage-environment fit theory to investigate the effect of mismatched school environments on young adolescents when developmental changes occur. The mixed methods research measured academic and behavioral success and school connectedness using surveys and focus group interviews. The sample was made of 109 sixth grade students who qualified as at-risk in three northwest states. Results indicated alternative schools deliver supports that meet the academic and developmental needs of young adolescents by providing personalized and structured learning in a smaller environment.In addition, elementary schools were also found to have positive effects on academics through their use of effective teaching methodologies due to structured lessons and small ability groups.

A student’s sense of connectedness was paramount in the findings of meeting the social-emotional needs of this marginalized population. Quantitative and qualitative results supported the elementary and alternative schools’ ability to provide students with a culture of care and support afforded through active engagement and personalized connections. Alternative students were found to have deeper conversations and stronger connections to their teachers resulting in statistically significant results according to teacher relationships from the survey and focus interviews. Alternative schools found a decrease in discipline and absenteeism as compared to at-risk students in elementary and middle schools. The behavioral results from the alternative configuration found the implementation of a sound positive behavioral intervention program was the factor that separated the alternative school program from the elementary and middle school configurations.

In light of prior findings of school configurations in relation to student success, this study supports small communities with smaller populations, lower teacher to student ratios, caring teachers who build relationships, and individualized multisensory teaching practices. These pedagogies increased student achievement and sense of connectedness to meet young adolescents’ developmental needs could reduce this vulnerable population’s disposition of dropping out of school.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Curtis, Heidi
Commitee: Saffle, Elisa, Zamora, Alejandro L.
School: Northwest Nazarene University
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- Idaho
Source: DAI-A 79/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Middle School education, Education Policy, Education
Keywords: Alternative, At-risk, Configurations, Connectedness, Middle school transitions, Sixth grade
Publication Number: 10813993
ISBN: 9780355932096
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