Leveling the Playing Field: a Multi-method Approach to Examine the Student Achievement Gap among High Poverty Middle Schools in Southern Arizona
AuthorFreitas, Halley H. Eisner
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation contributes to the educational literature by providing new research on the achievement gap in the Southwest. For this study, a sequential mixed-methods approach was employed. The quantitative research assessed which factors influenced academic achievement among a 2012 high school graduating class (N=2,238) through analyses using correlation, ANOVA and HLM. Additionally, qualitative themes from 15 in-depth ethnographic teacher interviews and 116 teacher surveys from low income schools were triangulated with the quantitative findings to describe the multiple, interconnected factors that affected student achievement from the teacher's viewpoint. The low income schools in this study were defined as `hardship schools' because they had a high percentage of free and reduced lunch participants, a high minority population, low academic achievement, and frequent turnover in the administrative staff. The findings indicated that a statistically significant academic gap existed between high and low income schools. However, the longitudinal student standardized scores from elementary (5th grade) to high school (10th grade) revealed that the gap did not widen over time between high and low income students. Although students from low income schools lacked social capital and other resources available to their wealthier peers, they were still able to make equivalent academic growth, albeit at a lower performance level. It was argued that a pivotal reason that the gap did not widen was due to a dedicated teacher cadre that chose to work in low income middle schools. These teachers expressed a high level of self efficacy and cultural competency and identified with the students and the surrounding community. Their sense of identification came from one of three sources: similar ethnic background, including Latino culture and language; similar socio-economic upbringing, including poverty and the hardships associated with being an economic underclass; and/or cultural competency, where curiosity and love of diversity is emphasized. This identification helped teachers level the playing field by relating to students and making learning relevant to their environment.
Degree ProgramGraduate College