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Freshman Academies: A Study of Student Outcomes

Dissertation
Author: Karen Kelley
Abstract:
The transition to high school has been identified by researchers as a pivotal point in students' lives. The addition of a Freshman Academy in some schools has targeted the 9th grade year to ease students' transition to high school and increase the likelihood of academic success. One purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes of schools that have implemented a Freshman Academy with schools that have not. Student outcomes are defined for this study to include graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out-of-school suspensions, and instances of expulsions. The second purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes before and after implementation of a Freshman Academy. Two research questions were analyzed to determine the impact of the implementation of the Freshman Academy on student outcomes. A 2-way chi square analysis of variance was used for each research question. There was a significant difference in the instances of out-of-school suspensions for schools that have a Freshman Academy and schools that do not. Instances of out-of-school suspensions were higher in schools with a Freshman Academy. No significant difference was found between graduation rates, attendance rates, or instances of expulsions for schools that have a Freshman Academy and schools that do not. There was a significant difference in instances of out-of-school suspensions before and after implementation of Freshman Academy. The instances of out-of-school suspensions decreased after the implementation of Freshman Academy. No significant difference was found in graduation rates, attendance rates, or instances of expulsions before and after implementation of Freshman Academy.

CONTENTS

Page ABSTRACT ........................................................................................................................ 2 DEDICATION....................................................................................................................... 4 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS................................................................................................... 5 LIST OF TABLES................................................................................................................. 9 LIST OF FIGURES............................................................................................................... 10

Chapter 1. INTRODUCTION......................................................................................................... 11 Statement of the Problem........................................................................................... 13 Study Sites................................................................................................................. 14 School A .............................................................................................................. 14 School B .............................................................................................................. 15 School C .............................................................................................................. 15 School D .............................................................................................................. 16 Research Questions.................................................................................................... 17 Significance of the Study........................................................................................... 17 Definition of Terms.................................................................................................... 18 Limitations and Delimitations of the Study............................................................... 20 Overview of the Study............................................................................................... 20 2. LITERATURE REVIEW ............................................................................................. 22 Introduction................................................................................................................ 22 Increased Internal Demands on Schools.................................................................... 23 At-Risk Students ................................................................................................. 23 Freshman Transition Issues.................................................................................. 26 6

Chapter Page

Teacher Experience........................................................................................ 28 Parental Involvement..................................................................................... 30 Increased External Demands on Schools................................................................... 32 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 ..................................................................... 32 American Diploma Project ................................................................................. 34 Possible Solutions...................................................................................................... 36 Schools Within Schools ...................................................................................... 36 Smaller Learning Communities .......................................................................... 37 Freshman Academies .......................................................................................... 39 Dropout Prevention ............................................................................................. 40 Summary.................................................................................................................... 43 3. METHODOLOGY ........................................................................................................... 44 Introduction ............................................................................................................... 44 Research Design ........................................................................................................ 44 Population ................................................................................................................. 45 Data Collection Procedures ....................................................................................... 45 Research Questions and Null Hypotheses ................................................................ 46 Research Question #1 ......................................................................................... 46 Research Question #2 ......................................................................................... 47 Data Analyses ........................................................................................................... 47 Summary ................................................................................................................... 48 4. ANALYSIS OF THE DATA ............................................................................................ 49 Analysis of Research Questions................................................................................. 50 Research Question #1 ......................................................................................... 50 Graduation Rates ........................................................................................... 50 7

Chapter Page Attendance Rates .......................................................................................... 53 Instances of Out-of-School Suspensions ...................................................... 55 Instances of Expulsion .................................................................................. 57 Research Question #2 ......................................................................................... 59 Graduation Rates ........................................................................................... 59 Attendance Rates .......................................................................................... 60 Instances of Out-of-School Suspensions ...................................................... 60 Instances of Expulsion .................................................................................. 61 5. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS.......... 62 Summary of Findings................................................................................................. 62 Research Question #1 ......................................................................................... 62 Graduation Rates ........................................................................................... 62 Attendance Rates .......................................................................................... 63 Instances of Out-of-School Suspensions ...................................................... 63 Instances of Expulsion .................................................................................. 63 Research Question #2 ......................................................................................... 64 Graduation Rates ........................................................................................... 64 Attendance Rates .......................................................................................... 64 Instances of Out-of-School Suspensions ...................................................... 64 Instances of Expulsion .................................................................................. 64 Conclusions................................................................................................................ 65 Recommendations for Practice.................................................................................. 67 Recommendations for Future Research..................................................................... 67 REFERENCES...................................................................................................................... 69 APPENDIX: Institutional Review Board Letter.................................................................... 76 VITA...................................................................................................................................... 77 8

LIST OF TABLES

Table Page 1. Graduation Data 2003-2009.............................................................................................. 52 2. Attendance Data 2002-2009.............................................................................................. 54 3. Out-of-School Suspension Data 2002-2009..................................................................... 56 4. Expulsion Data 2002-2009............................................................................................... 58 9

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure Page 1. Rates of Graduation.......................................................................................................... 52 2. Rates of Attendance.......................................................................................................... 54 3. Rates of Out-of-School Suspension.................................................................................. 56 4. Rates of Expulsion............................................................................................................ 58

10

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION

The global economy and increasingly complex technology have required a competitive workforce to secure the future of the United States as a world leader. An educated society has become necessary to achieve this goal; however, too many of the country’s high schools have been considered failing schools. The consequences of such perceived failures have not only been detrimental to the country, they have been detrimental to the students of the United States. Jackson (2008) noted that many students in the United States have not been adequately prepared for the “demands and opportunities of a global economy” (p. 59). Although there have been many reform attempts, researchers have concluded that solving the problems is a complex task. The goal is “that all students will attend, stay and succeed in, and then graduate from high school well prepared for further learning, successful careers, and engaged citizenship” (Fleischman & Heppen, 2009, p. 107). According to Horwitz and Snipes (2008), At a time when economic security is determined by academic skills and educational attainment, the overwhelming number of students who drop out of high school or leave the education system without the skills they need is nothing less than a national crisis. (p. 1)

According to Dedmond (2008), “Whether or not students leave high school with a diploma and plans for postsecondary education or training often hinges on the attitudes they develop in the eighth and ninth grade about themselves and their educations” (p. 16). Researchers have identified the transition to high school as a pivotal point in students’ lives. The 9th grade year has been described as a point when parents naturally begin to allow greater autonomy for teenagers. Yet, research has shown that academically teens 11

may require more oversight. Neild (2009) described the 9th grade transition as “the place in the educational progression where students across the United States are at increased risk of getting ‘stuck’” (p. 56). When students experience a poor transition and as a result make failing grades during their 9th grade year, they have created a path of failure and increased the likelihood they will become high school dropouts (Weiss & Bearman, 2007). Smith (2006) described the transition from 8th to 9th grade as a major event that could be made less traumatic by effective transition programs. At the beginning of the 21 st Century a trend in education was the addition of a Freshman Academy as a way to ease students’ transition into high school. According to Wilder, Murphree, and Dutton (2009) the rationale for the creation of the Freshman Academy was the significance of the 9th grade year to students’ overall achievement coupled with the increased demands on schools by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. Schools have faced pressure to meet increased federal and state benchmarks and high schools have sought ways to improve test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates. Roughly 30 % of the students in the United States who drop out of high school were never promoted beyond the 9th grade (Neild, 2009). “If the freshman year is a time of increased risk for students … it may also be a key point for intervention to minimize the risk of dropping out” (Neild, Stoner-Eby, & Furstenberg, 2008, p. 544). Freshman Academies have emerged in large high schools where a personalized education might not otherwise be realized. According to Chmelynski (2004) the benefits of the Freshman Academy have included a more individualized education in which students are not as likely to become lost in the crowd. Teachers in the Freshman Academy have been given a common planning time to discuss students’ needs and any 12

additional concerns they may have. Some Freshman Academies have provided specialized classes ranging from time management and organization to extra reading and math classes to help struggling students. Statement of the Problem Many students find themselves on a path toward failure during their 9th grade year if they do not experience a successful transition. Freshman Academies have been designed to ease students’ transition into high school and to increase their chances for success by providing them with needed increased academic, emotional, and social support. One purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes of schools (schools A and B) that have implemented a Freshman Academy with schools that have not (schools C and D). Student outcomes are defined for this study to include graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions. The second purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes before and after implementation of a Freshman Academy. Graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions for two schools implementing a Freshman Academy are compared with those of two schools that are not implementing a Freshman Academy in the same east Tennessee county. Data are also used to compare graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions of students who participated in the Freshman Academy with students who graduated prior to implementation of the Academy in two schools located in the same east Tennessee county. 13

Study Sites All four high schools are located in the same east Tennessee county. In 2009 the county included 25 schools serving over 14,000 students (Tennessee State Department of Education). Almost 60 % of students were reported as economically disadvantaged. Each of the high schools in the county operates on a 90-minute block schedule with four classes meeting each day. Dual enrollment courses are offered at each high school through the local community college. Students have the opportunity to earn over a semester of college credit while still in high school. School A In the year 2000 this large high school began implementing a Freshman Academy. In the year 2009 the school housed over 1700 students, with over 400 attending the Academy. All 9th grade students attend the Academy unless they transfer in after the school year begins and their classes are not compatible with the Academy. The Freshman Academy is located in a separate wing of the high school. Freshmen students are isolated from other high school students except during courses such as band and chorus that cannot be separated by grade level. This study site was the only school in Tennessee to be awarded a Smaller Learning Community Implementation Grant from the U.S. Department of Education in the year 2000. The school was selected as one of eight Exemplary Programs in the country by the grant program in 2002. Freshman Academy teachers were provided professional development opportunities as part of the grant, as well as additional opportunities funded by the county school system. School A was built in the 1970s and includes a main building as well as a vocational facility. In 2009 58.6% 14

of students attending school A were reported as being economically disadvantaged (Tennessee State Department of Education). School B In the year 2005 the second largest high school in the county began implementing a Freshman Academy. In the year 2009 the school housed almost 1200 students. The purpose for implementation was to target the failure rate within the 9th grade. The Freshman Academy is housed in a separate wing of the building. No grant money was received to implement the Freshman Academy at School B. Teachers within the Freshman Academy were trained by two teachers who had transferred from the Freshman Academy at School A and the handbooks from School A have been used at School B as a guide for the teachers. All 9th grade students attend the Academy unless they transfer in after the school year begins and their classes are not compatible with the Academy. Freshmen remain isolated from the rest of the student population except for cases such as band and chorus where classes can not be separated. School B is the most affluent high school in the county with only 35.8% of students reported economically disadvantaged in 2009 (Tennessee State Department of Education). School C School C is the smallest high school in the county. In the year 2009 the school housed almost 600 students. At one time the school population totaled almost 800, but it gradually declined after school D was built. The freshman class in the fall of 2010 consisted of approximately 150 students. The school has never considered implementing a Freshman Academy due to its small size. School C has a record of academic excellence, having graduated over 160 National Merit Finalists and once being 15

recognized in 2008 by U.S. News and World Report in its annual “America’s Best High Schools.” In 2009 48.3% of students at school C were reported as economically disadvantaged (Tennessee State Department of Education). School D School D is the newest high school in the county. The school opened in 1999, beginning with grades 7-9. A grade was added each year (and 7th and 8th grade eventually dropped) with the school graduating its first class in 2003. In the year 2009 the school housed over 700 students. In the spring of 2008 the school’s School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) Primary Team made a recommendation to target 9th graders due to their high instances of disciplinary issues. Additionally, there were high rates of failure for 9th graders and concerns that the school would not meet the state’s goal of 90% graduation if each 9th grade class continued on such a path. The guidance staff concluded that the school was not large enough to support the implementation of a true Freshman Academy that would keep 9th grade students isolated. However, the decision was made to implement a 9th grade Humanities Team to target transition issues. The recommendation of the SWPBS Primary Team was to recruit experienced teachers with proven classroom management skills to teach the 9th grade students. Six experienced English and social studies teachers agreed to serve on the Humanities Teams. Each first-time freshman was assigned to a team of two teachers. The student would be enrolled in English one semester and history the other semester. The teachers on the team served as liaisons for the faculty and the parents if there were issues regarding the students. However, parents and other staff members rarely contacted the Humanities Team teachers for help with student issues. The Humanities Team was only 16

implemented during the 2008-2009 school year. According to the school’s state report card, School D had the highest percentage, 61.1%, of economically disadvantaged high school students in the county in 2009 (Tennessee State Department of Education, 2010). Research Questions This quantitative study addresses two research questions to determine the impact of the implementation of a Freshman Academy on student outcomes. For the purpose of the study, student outcomes include graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out- of-school suspensions, and expulsions. 1. Is there a significant difference between student outcomes for schools that have a Freshman Academy and schools that do not have a Freshman Academy? 2. For schools that have a Freshman Academy, is there a significant difference in student outcomes before and after the implementation? Significance of the Study This research study is of significance in an era when educational importance seems to converge with educational crisis in the United States. According to Jackson (2008), “two intertwined imperatives” face education in the United States: conquering the problem of an unrelenting lack of achievement and “preparing students for work and civic roles in a globalized environment, where success increasingly requires the ability to compete, connect, and cooperate in the international scale” (p. 58). Swanson (2009) noted that graduation rates within the United States have failed to reach a level that would elevate the country to a competitive level in a global economy. This study is of 17

value to high schools or school systems looking for ways to improve freshmen transition and possibly incorporate a Freshman Academy. Researchers have found the 9th grade transition to be a crucial point in students’ educational careers (Neild et al., 2008; Reents, 2002). According to Donegan (2008) a personalized education that includes not only academic focus but also emotional and social support could lead to increased student success. Such increased success during the freshman year could help to increase student academic success throughout high school and improve graduation rates (Neild et al., 2008). Definition of Terms For the purpose of this study, the following key terms are defined: American Diploma Project (ADP): a network of 35 states designed to prioritize college and career readiness among our nation’s students (Achieve, 2010). At-risk: a term used by educators to identify students who due to their background or environment are at higher risk of educational failure than other students (Hassinger & Plourde, 2005). Attendance Rate: “the average number of days students attend school as compared to the average number of days the students are enrolled” (Tennessee State Department of Education, 2010, para. 4). Dropout: students who leave high school without earning a high school diploma (Tennessee State Department of Education, 2010). Expulsion: permanent removal of a student from the regular education setting for the entire semester or academic school year resulting from a zero tolerance offense or severe behavioral issues (Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 49-6-3401, 2010). 18

Freshman Academy: “a program for freshman (ninth-grade) students that is designed to provide the strategies and the support that are needed in order to make a successful transition from middle school to high school” (Wilder, Murphree, & Dutton, 2009, p. 11). The freshman academy is a type of smaller learning community in which freshmen students are separated from the other students in the high school. The Academy may be housed in a separate wing or another building. Graduation Rate: “A federally required benchmark which calculates the percent of on-time graduates with a regular high school diploma. GED and Special Education diplomas are not allowed to count as a regular high school diploma under regulations from the U.S. Department of Education” (Tennessee State Department of Education, 2010, para. 12). No Child Left Behind (NCLB): President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002. “This act reauthorizes and amends federal education programs established under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The focus of the No Child Left Behind Act is for historic school reform based on: accountability, flexibility, research-based education, and parent options” (Tennessee State Department of Education, 2010, para. 1). Out-of-School Suspension: a form of punishment in which a student is removed from the regular education setting and not allowed on school property for a specified period of time, including all school activities and functions (TCA 49-6-3401, 2010). Resiliency: “ability to cope with adversity and overcome the most challenging circumstances” (Hassinger & Plourde, 2005, p. 319). 19

School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) Primary Team: a team within a school that focuses on improving the behavior within all areas of the building by developing school-wide expectations and ensuring that the expectations are taught, modeled, and rewarded. The team also evaluates discipline data to determine school- wide needs (Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Effective School-wide Interventions, 2010). Smaller Learning Community (SLC): a reform movement to personalize learning environments that brings together a small core group of students and teachers (Fleischman & Heppen, 2009). Smaller learning communities can take the form of a freshman academy, career academy, or a small school. Limitations and Delimitations of the Study A delimitation of this study is that it was limited to one county in east Tennessee. While generalization to all high schools nationwide would be unlikely, the results of this study can be used by individuals seeking ways to improve high school transitions and student outcomes. This study analyzed state report card data that included students graduating from the study sites during the years 2002-2009. A limitation of this study is that student data for those students who transferred in after the implementation of the Freshman Academy in Schools A and B but did not attend the Academy were not able to be eliminated from the study. Overview of the Study This research study is arranged into five chapters. Chapter 1 consists of an introduction, a statement of the problem, research questions, the significance of the study, definitions of key terms, limitations and delimitations of the study, and an overview of 20

the study. Chapter 2 includes a review of relevant literature and is divided into three sections. The first section focuses on increased internal demands facing high school students that create a need for a Freshman Academy, including at-risk students and freshman transition issues. The second section of the literature review involves the increased external demands on schools, including NCLB, resulting state and federal benchmarks, and the American Diploma Project (ADP). The final section of the literature review contains possible solutions to the problem, including schools within schools, smaller learning communities (SLCs), Freshman Academies, and dropout prevention. Chapter 3 provides the research design, the population studied, the data collection procedures, the research questions and null hypotheses, and data analysis used in completing the research study. Chapter 4 describes the data collected and analyses. Chapter 5 presents the findings, conclusions, and recommendations for further study.

21

CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW

Introduction One purpose of this study was to compare student outcomes of schools (schools A and B) that implemented a Freshman Academy with schools that had not (schools C and D). Student outcomes were defined for this study to include graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions. The second purpose of this study was to compare student outcomes before and after implementation of the Freshman Academy. Research indicated a need to concentrate reform efforts on the 9th grade transition year in order to improve student academic success and in turn improve graduation rates (Neild et al., 2008). Gewertz (2007) noted a national awareness of the 9th grade year as a “make-or-break year” (p. 14). Research also indicated that the implementation of a Freshman Academy could address the social, emotional, and academic needs of 9th grade students (Chmelynski, 2004). Although some students required more intense instructional remediation during the 9th grade year, others could simply benefit from increased bonding and connections to teachers and peers (Holland & Mazzoli, 2001; Knesting, 2008). This review of literature addressed three topics that have led to the creation of Freshman Academies. The first section focused on increased internal demands facing high school students that create a need for a Freshman Academy, including at-risk students and freshman transition issues. The second section of the literature review included increased external demands on schools, including NCLB, resulting state and 22

federal benchmarks, and ADP. The final section of the literature review addressed possible solutions to the problem, including schools within schools, SLCs, Freshman Academies, and dropout prevention. Increased Internal Demands on Schools There have been many demands on high schools from within that have made the education of America’s youth a difficult task. Such internal demands have included the wide array of baggage students arrive at school with daily. “The problems students bring to school tend to be multifaceted and complex” (UCLA, 2005, p. 1), yet educators must teach students regardless of the students’ skill readiness or lack of physical or emotional needs being met at home. Adolescence has been described as a time when students naturally begin to become more independent (Weiss & Bearman, 2007). Such independence could lead to poor choices, such as alcohol and drug use or risky sexual activities. Regardless of the obstacles students face, schools of the United States have been charged with the job of ensuring that students become educated and productive members of our society (Wise, 2008). At-risk Students According to Hassinger and Plourde (2005) the term at-risk has been used by educators to identify students who due to their background or environment were at higher risk of educational failure than other students. Background and environmental factors cited included status as a minority, status as an English Language Learner, as well as students who had already become parents and those who were likely to be employed (Emeagwali, 2008). Lower socioeconomic status has also been used as a factor to identify at-risk students (Horwitz & Snipes, 2008). Rieg (2009) identified at-risk 23

students as those who are “at-risk of failing two more subjects and exhibited 10% or greater absenteeism” (p. 214). Despite the reason a student might be considered at-risk, educators could increase the likelihood of academic success. Hassinger and Plourde (2005) studied the traits of high achieving Hispanic students who had overcome adversity and addressed common elements in the students’ support systems that contributed to academic success. They found that although educators could not change the factors that cause a student to be considered at-risk, educators could create a supportive school environment that will increase the likelihood of educational success. Hassinger and Plourde stated: Teachers can become that caring relationship missing in so many students’ lives. Schools can in a sense try and build that support system that will lay the foundation to set many at-risk students up for success. Resiliency challenges educators to focus more on strengths instead of deficits. (p. 326)

Knesting (2008) identified four factors crucial to supporting at-risk students’ decisions to stay in school. These factors were listening to students, communicating caring, the school’s role in dropout prevention, and the students’ role in dropout prevention. According to Knesting, “Despite the aversive nature of school experiences, the students in the present study used their involvement with the supportive teachers or administrators, along with their determination to earn a high school diploma, to stay in school” (p. 10). Knesting’s study emphasized that although students possess characteristics that cause them to be considered at-risk, the school environment can have a positive impact on those students’ decisions to persevere and continue their educational endeavors. 24

Emeagwali (2008) described a small school designed to help at-risk students succeed by providing a hands on approach to learning that included career and technical education programs that students depicted as more friendly and sociable than a traditional high school. According to Emeagwali: In the 2005-2006 school year, 100 percent of students were on track to graduate. This is due in no small part to the fact that teachers know each student by name, have identified their strengths and weaknesses, and work with them to make a postsecondary plan—even if that plan is to go straight to work. (p. 17)

This school also housed a child development center in which students with children could receive childcare while also receiving an education. The child development center served an additional purpose however. It was a fully licensed child care development center where students could work to become certified as child care assistants In a study of Boston’s Class of 2004, 75% of dropouts fit into four categories. The first category consisted of special education students who were taught in self-contained classrooms without inclusion services. The second category included students who were English Language Learners and entered school later than their peers. The third category consisted of students who had one or more of the following risk factors during 8th grade—multiple course failures, two or more years older than peers in the same grade level, and attends school less than 80 % of the time. The final category included students with numerous course failures during the 9th grade year (Pinkus, 2008). Pinkus added, “…success in ninth grade is critical to graduation” (p. 7). According to Englund, Egeland, and Collins (2008) the earning potential for a high school graduate has been calculated to be 1.5 times that of a high school dropout. 25

Full document contains 78 pages
Abstract: The transition to high school has been identified by researchers as a pivotal point in students' lives. The addition of a Freshman Academy in some schools has targeted the 9th grade year to ease students' transition to high school and increase the likelihood of academic success. One purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes of schools that have implemented a Freshman Academy with schools that have not. Student outcomes are defined for this study to include graduation rates, attendance rates, instances of out-of-school suspensions, and instances of expulsions. The second purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes before and after implementation of a Freshman Academy. Two research questions were analyzed to determine the impact of the implementation of the Freshman Academy on student outcomes. A 2-way chi square analysis of variance was used for each research question. There was a significant difference in the instances of out-of-school suspensions for schools that have a Freshman Academy and schools that do not. Instances of out-of-school suspensions were higher in schools with a Freshman Academy. No significant difference was found between graduation rates, attendance rates, or instances of expulsions for schools that have a Freshman Academy and schools that do not. There was a significant difference in instances of out-of-school suspensions before and after implementation of Freshman Academy. The instances of out-of-school suspensions decreased after the implementation of Freshman Academy. No significant difference was found in graduation rates, attendance rates, or instances of expulsions before and after implementation of Freshman Academy.