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Doktorarbeit / Dissertation, 2010
LIST OF TABLES
LIST OF FIGURES
SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
Background on the Test Required for Graduation
Strategies to Improve Graduation Rate
Graduation Test in Georgia
Empirical Study on GHSGT Data
Purpose of the Study
Nature of the Study
Research Questions and Objectives
Significance of the Study
SECTION 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
Initiatives to Reform Education
Background on Standardized Testing
Georgia High School Graduation Test and AYP
Federal and State Government Initiatives to Support Student Achievement
Analyzing Teacher Perceptions
The Learning Models
Conceptual Framework Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy Model
Anderson and Krathwohl’s Revised Bloom’s Original Taxonomy
SECTION 3: RESEARCH METHOD
Setting and Sample
Reliability and Validty of the Instrumentation
Data Collection and Analysis Procedures
SECTION 4: RESULTS
Research Tool and Research Question
Population and Demographics
Domain 1: Teacher Perceptions on Students' Proficiency Level
Domain 2: Reasons for Achievement Gap Between the Core Subjects
Reasons for Achievement Gap: Non-AYP Versus AYP Subjects
Reasons for Achievement Gap Between Non-AYP Subjects
Domain 3: Teacher Perceptions on AYP and EOCT Policy Factors
SECTION 5: CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Purpose of the Study
Interpretation of Findings
Implications for Social Change
Recommendations for Action
Recommendations for Future Study
APPENDIX A: COMPARATIVE PERFORMANCE BETWEEN CORE SUBJECTS
APPENDIX B: A VISUAL MODEL OF INTERACTIONS BETWEEN VARIABLES
APPENDIX C: AGSU-QUESTIONNAIRE
APPENDIX D: COPY OF LETTER OF INVITATION TO PARTICIPANTS
Table 1. Comparative Performance of Pass Percentages in Core Subjects of GHSGT by 11th-Grade First-Time Test Takers in the State of Georgia 7
Table 2. Comparative Performance of Pass Percentages in Core Subjects of GHSGT by 11th-Grade First-Time Test Takers in the School District Study Site 8
Table 3. Categories and Subcategories of Bloom’s Taxonomy 43
Table 4. Number of Returned and Valid Responses from Each of the Core Subjects
Table 5. Teaching Experience
Table 6. Descriptive Statistics for Average Proficiency
Table 7. Teacher Perception on Student Proficiency
Table 8. Post-hoc Test Comparison of Teacher Perception on Student Proficiency.
Table 9. Teacher Perceptions on Student Proficiency Based on Years of Experience
Table 10. Perceptions on Required Student Skills to be Successful on the Graduation Test
Table 11. Perceptions Based on Teacher Experience: Required Student Ability Skills to be Successful on the Graduation Test
Table 12. Teacher Perception on Reasons for an Achievement Gap: Science Versus English, Math, Social Studies
Table 13. Teacher Perceptions on Reasons for Achievement Gap Based on Teaching Experience
Table 14. Teachers’ Comparative Perception on Reasons for an Achievement Gap Between non-AYP and AYP Subjects.
Table 15. AYP vs. Non-AYP Subjects: Perceptions Based on Teaching Experience.
Table 16. Teachers’ Comparative Perception on Reasons for an Achievement Gap Between non-AYP Subjects
Table 17. Teacher Perceptions Based on Teaching Experience: Science Versus Social Studies
Table 18. Teacher Perceptions on AYP and EOCT Policy Factors to Optimize Students’ Science Performance
Table 19. Teacher Perceptions on AYP and EOCT Policy Factors to Optimize Science Performance Based on Teaching Experience
Figure 1. The cognitive levels of Bloom’s taxonomy
The problem of low high school graduation rate has generated increased interest among educators, policymakers, and researchers in recent years. The high school graduation rate is described as a “barometer of the wellness of American society and the skill of its future workforce” (Heckman & LaFontaine, 2007, p. 4). High school graduation has become a “critical prerequisite” for both higher learning and a future workforce (Mintz, Ojeda, & Williamson, 2006). This is because of a significant assertion that academic skills mastered in high school determine students’ pursuit of postsecondary education and a future skillful workforce (Douglass, 2008). Despite the thrust and the drive to have a higher graduation rate, nationally, only about 68% of students graduate (Kauffman & Losen, 2004; Orfield, 2004) with nearly one third of all public high school students fail to graduate (Swanson, 2004). The high school graduation rate in United States is directly influenced by student performance on the test required for graduation. In the United States, student achievement and accomplishment among high school students is measured based upon the pass percentage scale of the test required for graduation. The accountability and evidence-based components of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2002) has increased the emphasis on test assessments required for high school graduation in schools (American Institutes for Research, 2006). Hence, improving students’ performance in state-mandated tests that measure these academic skills and competence has become the focus of educational and social topics (St. John, 2006). According to Noddings (2005), the effectiveness of the provided education in high schools is demonstrated by the improved test scores on the tests required for graduation. Improving the basic literacy, numeric, and other academic skills are critical, as these skills are directly linked to students’ performance in high school graduation tests. These skills are considered to be fundamental because they provide the required ability to express the “intellective competence” (North Central Regional Education Laboratory, 2004, p. 1). The NCLB (2002) holds schools accountable for graduation pass percentage using indicators of adequately yearly progress (AYP). Hence, it is imperative to improve student academic skills and competence to enhance the pass percentage on the test required for graduation.
Graduation rate statistics indicate that the percentage of U.S. students earning a high school diploma in the traditional 4 years has declined since the early 1980s (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2007; Southern Regional Education Board, 2005). Public schools in the United States striving to enhance student achievement to meet the NCLB (2002) mandates are constantly looking for strategies to resolve the graduation rate crisis (Schroeder, 2006). The focus of this study was on the graduation rate crisis in the state of Georgia. Mintz, Ojeda, and Williamson (2006) estimated in their research study that the graduation rates in Georgia are second lowest in the nation with only 56% of Georgia students receiving high school diplomas.
A research-based report on quality of education in the state of Georgia highlighted that “Georgia secures the highest grade, an A-minus, for curriculum standards and yet, scores the lowest score, a D-plus, in the high school graduation rate” (Quality Counts - 2008, 2008, ¶ 2). Despite acclaiming the strength of the curriculum standards, the report highlighted the concerns over the reasons for the low graduation rate. The report also highlighted that Georgia ranks 49 out of the 50 states with a graduation state average of 56.1%. The state graduation result is a cumulative percentage of the graduation rate of the districts and the individual schools in Georgia.
Research studies have recommended various strategies to improve student achievement in tests required for graduation. Morris (2003) demonstrated a positive relationship between student behavior and student achievement. Morris recommended improving the physical characteristics of the school to foster positive student behavior. To enhance student performance, Grimm (2007) advocated energizing the curriculum by modifying instructional methods. Callahan (2007) demonstrated that strengthening the locus of control will improve the learning process and academic achievement in science. Herlihy and Quint (n.d.) created a talent development model favoring a small learning community to assist students who enter high school with poor academic skills. The improved student success rate affirmed the benefits of this small learning community. It has also been asserted that a professional learning community (PLC) plays a significant role in enhancing student standardized test scores (Carter, 2008). Finally, Hudgins (2008) demonstrated the potential value of integrating technology to teaching practices in the classroom, to enable students to accomplish at higher levels.
Research studies have recommended different types of strategies to enhance student achievement. Providing appropriate professional orientation programs to improve teacher performance, thereby improving student achievement, is one of the signficant strategies advocated in the past research (Flynt, 2004; Yannacone, 2007). A professional development program was considered an effective means to influence secondary teachers to adopt standard-based appropriate grading practices to evaluate student achievement (Roorda, 2008). This is because, the standard-based grading practices are considered appropriate to evaluate student achievement (Scriffiny, 2008). Other researchers highlighted a positive correlation between the teachers’ level of professional development with their classroom practice (Siliezar, 2005). From a sociological framework, Shepard (2009) highlighted the benefit of collaborative professional development to diminish the culture of teacher isolation, thereby improving both teacher efficacy and student achievement. In addition to the discussed academic factors, research studies also have indicated the importance of parental involvement in improving student achievement. Researchers have demonstrated that parenting style and parent-child relationship will contribute to a child’s academic success (Hayes, 2005; James, 2008; Payne, 2005; Smith-Hill, 2007). Research studies also have confirmed that parental involvement makes a positive impact in enhancing students’graduation success rate (Curry, 2007; Difnam, 2007; Sims, 2008). Additionally, parental guidance is likely to promote adolescent school success when it occurs in the context of an authoritative home environment (Hickman & Crossland, 2004; Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992). The practicing educators have recommended parental involvment to be one of the effective strategies to improve student’s academic success on the graduation test.
There are also other proven strategies recommended to improve the graduation rate. For example, it has been proposed that schools facilitate a system of extra help to improve student pass percentage and student achievement (Bottoms & Anthony, 2002). Providing an additional course in study skills was another recommended strategy to help students organize their thoughts and processes to succeed on the graduation test (Smith, 2007). The impact of student efficacy and self-concept on student achievement in the graduation test has been noted by a variety of researchers (Miller, 2007; Tillotson, 2006). For example, Ciaccio (2004) studied self-concept and self-confidence and cautioned that a “teacher is doomed to fail” teaching students who lack confidence (p. 81). Despite these recommendations and initiatives, the graduation rate results remain discouraging. The current study is an effort to improve the graduation rate from a new perspective.
It is mandatory for students seeking a Georgia high school diploma to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) in writing and four content areas: English, math, social studies, and science (Georgia Department of Education [GDOE], 2008, ¶ 1). The Georgia Law, O.C.G.A. (Official Code of Georgia Annotated), section 20-2-281, mandated that students must pass a battery of five tests to be eligible to obtain a high school diploma. The GHSGT, an exit exam for secondary schools, is a tool to measure students' acquired proficiency in course content and skills. Students take the graduation test for the first time in the junior year (11th-grade). The statistics gathered by this state-mandated test for 11th-grade students formed a frame of reference to compare student achievement and pass percentage in individual subjects.
Under NCLB (2001) legislation, student pass percentage in English and math on the graduation test are used to determine Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The predominance of measuring student pass percentage in English and math emphasizes the importance of test scores on these two AYP indicator subjects.
The 11th-grade first-time test takers’ graduation test statistics in four core subjects were compiled and analyzed for the academic years 2000-2001 to 2006-2007 (see Table 1). English, math, social studies, and science subjects together are considered the core subjects of the graduation test. The empirical analysis on this longitudinal study revealed a consistent disparity in students’ performance between science and the other three core subjects of the GHSGT. Students’ pass percentage statistics in individual core subjects reflected their unequal proficiency in core subjects of the graduation test. The comparative pass percentage between science and other core subjects of 11th-grade first- time test takers on the GHSGT (see Table 1) reflected students’ consistent science underachievement.
Comparative Performance of Pass Percentages in Core Subjects of GHSGT by 11th- Grade First-Time Test Takers in the State of Georgia
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Note. The data are from Georgia Department of Education, K-12 Public Schools Annual Report Card, 2007, adapted from the public domain.
The results of individual core subjects for academic years 2000-2001 to 2006- 2007 indicated that students’ highest pass percentages in English, math, and social studies were 96%, 93%, and 87%, respectively. The highest pass percentage in science was 75%. The result also highlighted a large percentage of students failing the science content of the test (23% to 31%) when compared with the failure rate in the other three core subjects of the test (GDOE, 2007). This variation in student pass percentage in individual core subjects of the graduation test is indicative of the disparity in student performance between science and the other core subjects of the graduation test. This study also compared students’ pass percentage in science with the other three core subjects for eight other major school districts in Georgia for the years 2000-2001 to 2006-2007 (see Appendix A). The science underachievement trend has been consistently reflected in these test results of the GHSGT (GDOE, 2007).
Table 2 highlights students’ comparative performance in core contents of the GHSGT for the school district under study (academic years 2000-2001 to 2006-2007). Table 2
Comparative Performance of Pass Percentage in Core Subjects of GHSGT by 11th-Grade First-Time Test Takers in the School District Under Study
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Note. The data are from Georgia Department of Education, K-12 Public Schools Annual Report Card, 2007, adapted from the public domain.
Table 2 reflected the below-average pass percentage in science content with a failure rate in the range of 34% to 43% on the graduation test. The pass percentage in science is confined to a minimum of 57% and a maximum of 66%. A good-to-excellent pass percentage is evident in the other three core subjects of the test (English, math, and social studies).
Minimal research has been done to examine teachers’ perspectives on reasons contributing to students’ science underachievement on the graduation test. Because teachers are the main proponents for student success, it is critical to gather teacher perception and insight on this issue. Teachers’ judgments, based on their expert knowledge and experience in the field of education, will help the researche to understand the problems associated with science underachievemnt. Section 2 of this study further details and justifies the reasons for examining the achievement gap and science underachievement from teacher viewpoints.
The empirical data in the study were used to compare students’ pass percentages between science and the other three core subjects (English, math, and social studies) for the academic years 2000-2001 to 2006-2007. Chronological evidence suggests that there is an achievement gap in student performance between science and the other three core subjects of the graduation test. In addition, a large percentage of students fail in the science content of the GHSGT (GDOE, 2007). An initial review of the literature, in addition to the longitudinal study on graduation test statistics, revealed two concerns. First, there is a disparity in student performance between science and the other three core subjects of the graduation test. Second, students’ underachieve in science content in comparison with the other three core subjects of the graduation test. The disparity in graduation test statistics imply that students are performing comparatively well in the other three core subjects, but are exhibiting a below average performance in science. The number of students failing in science content has negatively affected the overall graduation rate. Therefore, the focus of this study was to explore teachers’ perspectives on reasons for students’ underachievement in science. Teachers play a key role in student academic success; as such, teachers’ insights and perceptions may help to identify and address the reasons for science underacheivment. It is anticipated that teachers’ input based on their expertise and practical experience in the field of education will help in resolving this science underachievement crisis. The outcome of the study has the potential to augment science achievement and thus elevate the overall graduation rate. Teacher perception was an independent variable in this study. The dependent variables were the factors contributing to science underachievement, grouped under three domains: (a) students’ proficiency level, (b) reasons for an achievement gap in student performance between science and other core subjects, and (c) policy factors. All the dependent variables and the related constructs are discussed in detail in the methodology section of this study.
The intent of this quantitative research study was to examine teacher perceptions on student proficiency levels, reasons for science underachievement, and policy factors in the context of observed disparate performance in student performance between science and the other three core subjects of the graduation test. There are many factors contributing to the low graduation rate, but the one examined in this study was teacher perceptions on reasons for students’ underachievement on the science portion of the GHSGT. The perception input obtained from teachers teaching four different subjects of the graduation test will help to analyze the parallels and points of intersection on recommended strategies to enhance science achievement.
To date, little research has been conducted to examine reasons for students’ science underachievement from teachers’ perspectives. Scholars from the social, political, and academic fields share a common concern that the U.S. K-12 educational system is failing to provide the science skills necessary for students to compete in the 21st-century workforce. There is a growing concern that the U.S. higher education system cannot produce enough scientists to support the growth of technologically advancing world (Kamierczak & James, 2005). The schools play a vital role in instilling basic academic knowledge and skills in reading, writing, math, and science to prepare for skilled employment (Rothstein, Jacobsen, & Wilder, 2008). Hence the current study will add to the existing literature by recommending strategies to enhance science achievement and improve the graduation rate.
This quantitative, nonexperimental study used a survey technique to gather teacher perceptions. Quantitative research is numerically analytic and is anchored on the postpositivist paradigm (Zammito, 2004). A theory in a quantitative study can be tested by collecting evidence in the form of data on a relevant phenomena to support or refute the hypothesis (Creswell, 2003; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003, as cited in Mertens, 2004). The chronological data obtained on students’ GHSGT scores provided evidence of an achievement gap in students’ performance between science and other core subjects of the graduation test. The use of school-wide data on student success was advocated as a scientific tool (Hayes, Nelson, Tabin, Pearson, & Worthy, 2002). The nature of this research topic dictated the use of chronological data on GHSGT pass percentages in individual core subjects to develop and derive a theory. The emerged science underachievement theory was analyzed based on teacher perceptions. The input based on teacher perceptions helped to explore the reasons for student science underachievement and to answer the research question. Research Question and Objectives The research question for this study was: What are teacher perceptions on reasons for students’ underachievement in science compared with other core subjects of the Georgia High School Graduation Test? The descriptive teacher perception data from the teacher survey provided the basis for answering the research question. The objectives of the study were:
1. To identify the reasons for student science underachievement on the GHSGT.
2. To recommend strategies to enhance student science achievement on the GHSGT to improve the overall graduation rate.
Strauss and Corbin (1990) argued in their qualitative study that “one does not begin with the theory, and then prove it” (p. 23). Instead, it was recommended to begin with an area of study to “allow the theory to emerge relevant to the problem and the data” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 23). This idea has been reinforced by several other studies (Byram & Fend, 2006; Johnson & Christensen, 2008; Merriam, 2002). Additionally, Reyes (2004) advocated initiating a research study for the development of a theoretical framework with a “well defined theory which governs the research problem” (p. 3). The value of a specific theory can be determined within the context of use (Creswell, 2003) because a theory assumes a specific intention depending upon the situation (Oers, 1998).
In the current study, empirical analysis on GHSGT data was initially carried out to derive the science underachievement theory based on the recommendations of the scholarly literature.
The current study initially examined the GHSGT pass percentage statistics to derive a conceptual framework as recommended by Creswell (2003). The data-based framework provided an objective scientific outcome to the study (Balfanz & Legters, 2004). Standards-based education reforms have necessitated data-driven decisions to improve student achievement by analyzing the data and evaluating educational practices to measure student performance (Protheroe, 2001). The data for the development of a new theory for this study were derived from a longitudinal, 7-year (2000-2001 to 2006- 2007) study on GHSGT test scores and pass percentage for the state of Georgia and eight different school districts in Georgia (GDOE, 2008a). The location (urban, metro area, suburban, and rural settings) and student demography of the school districts were taken into account (see Appendix A). The empirical study on the statistics led to the emergence of a theory, an achievement gap and science underachievement theory (AGSUT). Subsequent to examining the graduation test pass percentage data of several school districts in Georgia, I identified two common elements: (a) existence of disparity in students’ performance between science and the three core subjects of the GHSGT, and (b) underachievement in science content of GHSGT. These two common characteristics were independent of the location of the school district, student demography, gender, and students’ socioeconomic status. For the development of the conceptual framework, Bloom’s (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956) taxonomy model was adopted to examine students’ cognitive aspects. Bloom’s notion was one of the first theories to identify the unique cognitive aspects of a student’s learning process. Bloom’s (Bloom et al., 1956) taxonomy model was used as a guideline to develop a questionnaire to measure teacher perceptions on student cognitive level as a result of learning experience. Bloom’s taxonomy model was applied to measure teacher perceptions on student ability and proficiency level to understand why student performance varies between science and the other three core subjects of the graduation test. Bloom’s model is considered an appropriate model to measure alignment of policy with standards and assessment (Nasstrom & Henriksson, 2008). It was also an effective tool to interpret the standards to have a consistent outcome (Nasstrom, 2009). Webb (2007) supported the application of Bloom’s taxonomy in the student learning process to illustrate improvement in students’ achievement levels. Bloom’s taxonomy model is discussed in more detail in section 2. Evidence suggested that students’ attainment of achievement in science is not the same compared with their achievement in English, math, and social studies subjects in the test required for graduation (GDOE, 2007). This inconsistent achievement can be identified using various indicators. The first indicator is the state-mandated GHSGT pass percentage statistics as reported by the GDOE (2008a). The second indicator is the percentage of students opting to pursue higher education in science and science related courses. The statistics on enrollment in postsecondary education and major field of study reflected that a very small percentage of students opt for science and science-related college level education (Digest of Education Statistics, 2008). A third indicator is the comparison of student pass percentage in the core subjects of the eighth-grade Criterion- Referenced Competency Test (CRCT, middle school exit exam) with the GHSGT, high school exit exam. The CRCT test scores and pass percentage on the eighth grade exit exam, which tests students’ mastery in the content areas, indicated an identical trend of inequality performance between science and the three core subjects of the test (GDOE, 2005-2008), with science as the least achieved subject. The science underachievement factor appeared to be a continuing trend from the eighth grade exit exam (CRCT) to the high school exit exam (GHSGT). The fifth and final indicator is comparing students’ science performance with their peers at the international level. According to the 2003 statistics of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) program for international student assessment, 15-year-olds in the United States ranked 19th of 38 in science and 26th of 38 in problem solving (Lemke, Calsyn, et al., 2001; Lemke, Sen, et al., 2005). The Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) showed U.S. 8th-graders ranked 9th out of 45 in science achievement ( Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Chrostowski, 2004). Students appear to be lagging behind their peers at the international level in science proficiency.
There is a debate on the policy of using the international comparative data because the educational activities successful in one nation may be culturally inappropriate to adopt in other countries. However, the comparison of academic performance at the international level is justified with the assertion that the core teaching practices and teacher beliefs show little national variation (LeTendre, Baker, Motoko, Goesling, & Wiseman, 2001). The procedure of mapping the international data has been a continued practice to determine student achievement.
The United States has the highest literacy rate in the world (The World FactBook, 2009). McGaw stated that the United States remained the “world’s first in the knowledge economy” as recently as 20 years ago (Sorlucco, 2006, p. 283). Unfortunately, the current trend suggests that students lag behind their international peer group at all age levels in their science performance. Schneider observed in respect to international students that “U.S. students are outperformed in science, and our 15-year-old students trail many of our competitors in science literacy” (NCES, 2006, p. 3). The statistics implied that educational reforms and strategies are not producing positive results and helping students to excel (Sorlucco, 2006). It was imperative to examine the science underachievement problem from a critical angle to identify and address the underlying issues. Operational Definitions
The operational definitions of the terms in the context of the present study: Achievement gap: the disparity in achievement level in the graduation test between science and other core subjects of the graduation test, irrespective of race, gender, and socioeconomic groups.
Core subjects: English or Language Arts, math, social studies, and science are the core subjects of the graduation test.
Adequate yearly progress (AYP): a measure of year-to-year student achievement on statewide assessments. “One of the major clauses of NCLB states that whether a school meets AYP is currently based on student performance in English and math subjects” (GDOE, 2006, ¶ 1).
End-Of-Course Test (EOCT): a state mandated test administered at the end of the academic year to assess the mastery of the content in each of course subjects. “Beginning from 2004-005 school year, EOCT has become a state mandated test and 15% of the test contributes to the student’s final course grade” (GDOE, n.d., p.10).
Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT; also referred as the graduation test): a high school exit exam to certify completion of 4 years of high school education. According to Georgia law, “All students who entered grade nine after July 1, 1991 are required to pass curriculum-based achievement tests, namely a writing test, and English, math, social studies, and science tests, to be eligible to receive a high school diploma” (GDOE, 2005-2008,¶ 2).
Regular first-time test taker: special education students, limited English proficient students, and all ethnic groups of the 11th grade student population (GDOE, 2006) taking the graduation test for the first time.
Underachievement: failing to attain a predicted level of achievement when a learner’s performance is below than what is expected based on one’s ability (MerriamWebster, 2008).
This study was based on the following assumptions:
1. Teachers will answer the anonymous survey questions truthfully.
2. Teachers will accurately be able to assess students’ proficiency level in their
respective content areas.
3. Teachers have the ability to analyze reasons for science underachievement problem with multiple critical perspectives.
4. The administration of a paper-pencil survey in an individual setting will prevent exchange of ideas that may bias responses.
5. The GHSGT scores are a reliable measure of student achievement level.
Limitations of this study were identified in the following areas:
1. Population. This study was limited to collecting and comparing perception data of teachers teaching English, math, social studies, and science subjects to the first-time test takers of the GHSGT. The reason for this was that the GDOE uses only the data obtained by the 11th grade first-time test takers scores and pass percentage as an indicator to award AYP.
2. The writing test performance data were not considered in this study, even though students are mandated to pass the writing test as well as the four core subjects to be eligible for a high school diploma. These data were excluded because disparate performance was found to exist only between the core subjects of the GHSGT.
3. All teacher perception responses were measured on the same scale regardless of race, gender, educational qualification, and age.
4. Research design. Teacher perceptions were confined to assessing students’ proficiency, reasons for achievement gap in student performance, and policy factors for students’ science underachievement.
5. Research question. The research question was limited to addressing teacher perception on reasons for student science underachievement based on student proficiency and policy factors related to AYP and replacement of EOCT with GHSGT.
6. Data collection. The data were collected from four different high schools of a single school district. It was not possible to have an equivalent sample from all the four core subjects, as it was difficult to estimate how many teachers would voluntarily participate in the study.
7. Nature of the study. This study was limited to identifying the reasons for science underachievement of the GHSGT. The study was not intended to determine the impact of science underachievement on the overall graduation rate.
8. The purposive sampling procedure that was used in this study decreased the generalizability of findings. This was due to variables within a single school district and between school districts such as Title I schools, schools under the needs improvement (NI) category, and schools awarded with or without AYP, in addition to variation in curriculum patterns.
9. The external factors that influenced teacher perception, such as administrative support, culture of the school, community support, available resources and allocated budget, were excluded from the purview of the study.
10. Private school and charter school statistics were not included in the study, as NCLB requirements apply to public schools only.
This study was significant for several reasons. The existing literature was enriched by the current study with research-backed strategies to enhance science achievement and to improve the overall graduation rate. It was anticipated that the study results will fill the deficiency in literature on reasons for students’ science underachievement on the GHSGT from teachers’ perspectives. There was no research literature available to explore the reasons for science underachievement by measuring teacher perceptions on students’ proficiency and policy factors.
The study is significant to educational practitioners including principals, teachers, administrators, and policy makers. The outcome of the study will help professionals and policy makers to identify and resolve the reasons for science underachievement. This study will provide insight to the professionals to initiate innovative strategies to improve student science achievement. The aspirations of the community and society rest on the shoulders of educators and their clear vision to promote student success. The improved graduation rate also helps schools and school districts to achieve AYP status, due to the interdependency of science pass percentage on the overall graduation pass percentage. Former Secretary of Education Spellings remarked in the context of finding a comprehensive solution to a low graduation rate that the “real competition starts at the school level” (U.S. Department of Education, 2006, p. 16). Thus, to accelerate progress in schools, it was important to find innovative, improvement-oriented, and research-based strategies to improve the graduation rate and student achievement.
Improved science achievement, resulting in an enhanced graduation rates, provides a foundation for an individual high school student to succeed. A high school diploma provides a platform for an individual either to pursue higher studies or to have decent earnings, making an individual an asset to the community instead of a liability. Research studies show a strong statistical correlation between lack of a high school diploma and social issues such as unemployment, poverty, drug abuse, and violence related crimes (Martin, Tobin, & Sugai, 2002). Individuals without a high school diploma will earn less than those with a diploma and are left with fewer options for employment or advancement in position. According to Wise (2008), without a high school diploma a young adult’s earning power will be compromised. Persons with a high school diploma have an average annual income of $31, 400; persons without a high school diploma will earn an average income of $21, 000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). Individuals without a diploma may also experience health problems, engage in criminal activities, or become dependent on welfare programs, and thus become a liability to society (Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2007). One of the ways to avoid being poor as an adult is to obtain a good education, because schooling makes an individual more productive (Jacob & Ludwig, 2008). Improved graduation rate leads to reduced crime rate and helps to strengthen the community. Strong communities provide momentum to strengthen the nation and to meet challenges at the national and international level.
The increase in science achievement also has the potential to affect social change at the national and international level. The global challenge calls for a rapidly changing workforce because “a high school diploma once desirable is now an essential” (U.S. Department of Education 2006, p. 5). It is important to realize the significance of science education, because “tomorrow’s jobs will go to those with education in science, ---” (The National Association of Manufacturers 2005, p. 3). Such a workforce is an important key to future growth, productivity, and competitiveness. A skilled workforce is described as an indispensable element for the national economy (Kamierczak & James, 2005). Hicky (2005) advocated investment in science education “to compete with the rest of the world” (¶ 1). The rapid advancement in technology demands an individual to be science literate to be successful in the technology embedded job market.
State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox stated that “ALL students can learn” (GDOE, n.d., ¶ 2) and this responsibility rests on educators to ensure student success by implementing research-based strategies to perform better in science. Hence, it appears that enhancing the achievement level in science content of GHSGT may advance students’ performance, resulting in improved graduation rates (Bottoms & Mikos, 1995). Improving student science achievement will enhance the graduation rate to optimize students’ competence and performance not merely at the regional level but also at the national and international level. Thus, the outcome of this study is expected to have direct implications for social change.
The disaggregated empirical data of the GHSGT for the academic years 2000-01 to 2006-07 revealed a disparity in students’ pass percentages in core subjects. The statistics revealed that the percentage of students failing in science content is the largest compared with pass percentage in other three core subjects (Appendix A reflects the compiled pass percentages of individual core subjects of eight different school districts in the state of Georgia). This study examined teacher perceptions on reasons for student science underachievement on the GHSGT. Science underachievement in the graduation test is associated to the low graduation rate. U.S. public schools are striving to reinforce the NCLB requirements and are finding strategies to improve the graduation rate. In this quantitative study reasons for students’ science underachievement was identified, and strategies to improve students’ graduation rate by enhancing student achievement in the science content of the graduation test was recommended. In the following review of literature the existing research information on reasons for low graduation rate and significance of teacher perceptions was elaborated as a tool for the analyzing students’ science underachievement. Section 2 details the scholarly literature on standardized testing, teacher perceptions, and Bloom’s taxonomy model. Section 3 outlines the methodology, research design, and the statistical instrument. The analyses of the data and the findings are reported in Section 4. Section 5 provided a description of interpretation of findings, implications for social change, recommendations for action, and suggestions for further study.
One of the major challenges encountered by American public education is the low pass percentage on tests required for high school graduation. The low graduation test results and their negative implications at the regional, national, and international level have become a perpetual educational and social issue (Jacobson & Mokher, 2009). The high school graduation test is a tool to measure the abilities of an individual by a potential employer and provides a pathway for higher education (Marchant & Paulson, 2005). A major impediment to the advancement of America’s economic competitiveness is the result of adopting high school graduation as a minimum standard of education (Greaney & Kellaghan, 2007, p. ix). Education and economic growth are linked by a large body of empirical evidence based on two key indicators: (a) improved enrollment and (b) successful graduation completion rate (Barro, 2001; Gylfason, 2001; Heckman, & LaFontaine, 2007; Ramirez, Luo, Schofer, & Meyer, 2006; Wolf, 2002). The social consequences of poor education will impact the income, health, dependency on public assistance, and political participation of an individual (Belfield & Levin, 2007). A high school diploma is also considered as a “stepping-stone for higher education” (Marchant & Paulson, 2005, ¶ 2). The high school graduation rate statistics indicate that the percentage of U.S. students earning a high school diploma in the traditional 4 years has declined and has become a cause of concern (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2007). The declined graduation rate is also affected by an increase in dropout rates.
My review on the scholarly literature was focused on the descriptors of my study: graduation rate, graduation test in Georgia, No Child Left Behind Act, Adequate yearly Progress (AYP), Bloom’s taxonomy, teacher perceptions, reliability and validity of a statistical instrument, survey method, and quantitative research methodology. I searched the following research databases for the needed information: Walden interdisciplinary dissertations and thesis, ProQuest, Walden eLibrary, UMI dissertations publishing, Georgia Department of Education, and Google Scholar. The referred peer reviewed publications and articles are retrieved from Academic search complete, ProQuest central, ERIC, and EBCOhost database.
Studies have confirmed an inverse relationship between graduation rates and dropout rates (Laird, Cataldi, KewalRamani, & Chapman, 2008; Millken, 2007; National Bureau of Economic Research, 2006; Orfield, 2004). Students discontinue and disengage from studies prior to getting a high school diploma due to lack of academic motivation (National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2003). Thus, an increase in dropout rates is also considered as one of the reasons for the low graduation rates.
The federal government, in its efforts to improve the graduation rate, initiated and implemented policies and guidelines. NCLB (2001), one of the major policies introduced by the federal government, is reinforced by local governments.
The federal government has attempted to improve and reform the struggling education system. With the authorization of the NCLB (U.S. Department of Education, 2002), the reformed education policy emphasized standardized testing procedures to measure the effectiveness and progress of schools as quality indicators and institute specific consequences for failure. The overall purpose of NCLB is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach proficiency on state academic standards and assessments (Lunenburg, 2006). In spite of having a divided opinion over the current reauthorization and efficacy of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (NCLB, 2002), there are studies that have supported this initiative to reinforce and strengthen NCLB guidelines (Birman et al., 2009; Johnstone, Altman, Thurlow, & Thompson, 2006). According to a report, this reauthorization upheld the federal government’s commitment by mandating all “schools and districts to implement a single statewide accountability system for ensuring equal educational outcomes” [(NCLB, 2002, §6311  [a], as cited in Sundrmann, Kim, & Orfield, 2005, p. ix)]. A single statewide accountability system is in place in majority of the U.S states to assess student mastery in content areas of tests required for graduation. Use of standardized testing to assess the accountability factor has become a widely accepted form of testing by state governments.
Standardized tests have been used in United States since the early 20th century and have become the most common method for monitoring the effectiveness of instructional programs and comparing schools and their educational performances (Paul & Supon, 2002). The intention of standardized testing is to promote positive educational outcome based on four principles: “stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods” (Hamilton, Stecher, & Klein, 2002, p. 6). A research study compared the effects of common testing at various levels (high, medium, and low) on student achievement in relation to policy implications to confirm that these tests do raise student achievement (Bishop, 2001). The state accountability system proponents confirmed the positive effect of NCLB in “providing direction and coherence to public education”, ensuring academic progress of all students (Chubb, & Loveless, 2002, p. 109). Standardized testing is in force in the majority of U.S. states to determine accountability effectively. Even though accountability and assessment are the key words associated with standardized testing, the validity of these two key words was questioned by Linn (2001). Linn’s observation was further supported with a concern that if the standardized test assessment result is exclusively based on student performance in selected subjects, teachers may focus only on raising student achievement on these tests (Meier et al., 2004; Woessmann, 2001). Marx (2002) insisted upon assessing students’ multiple talents and intelligences to judge students’ achievement level instead of a single testing evaluation procedure. The practice of using multiple choice questions in standardized tests is criticized and blamed for encouraging students to memorize facts instead of promoting critical thinking skills (Wagner, 2008). Another apprehension about standardized testing was that it is likely to measure knowledge that is not being taught in schools (Hirsch, 2006). Some educators also felt that children do not do well on standardized tests, despite mastery of the material, due to a testing anxiety or test-taking skills (Dunning, Johnson, Ehrlinger, & Krug, 2003). Chapman and Snyder’s study (2000) reflected a mixed outcome when they adopted testing as a strategy to assess student improvement. They concluded that the testing procedure failed as many times as it succeeded. Hence, an instructional practice model was advocated as an effective strategy by Chapman and Snyder to improve student achievement in place of a testing procedure.
The advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing procedures have been debated. However, the controversies are a “sign of the intellectual vitality of American education as long as it is used creatively and made a part of the educational process itself” (Graff, 1993, p. 5). In contrast to the contradicting studies that highlighted the shortcomings of standardized tests, the procedure of using standardized tests to assess students’ mastery in the content areas became a process, and this practice continues. The focus of standardized testing in the current study was narrowed down to the state of Georgia. This single accountability standardized test in the state of Georgia is an exit exam, referred to as the GHSGT or the graduation test.
Georgia has adopted a single statewide accountability system to assess student mastery in content areas of the GHSGT to improve the graduation rate. Public education in Georgia is governed by the GDOE. To facilitate the development of Georgia’s single statewide accountability plan and to reinforce NCLB guidelines, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) was established. GOSA, a Georgia body established in 2000, is responsible for compiling and publishing annual report cards, which include the graduation test statistics on K-12 public schools on the state website (GDOE, 2006). GOSA defined that the pass percentages of English and math subjects on the GHSGT will be a measure to award AYP as required by the NCLB (GDOE, 2001b). Accordingly, out of the four core subjects of the graduation test, students’ performance in English and math subjects are the only two subjects to determine the AYP status of an individual school.
According to Georgia law (O.C.G.A., Section 20-20281), students wishing to obtain a high school diploma must pass the GHSGT and meet local system requirements. This graduation test is an exit exam for the secondary schools and a tool to measure student academic strengths and areas of improvement. According to GDOE (2008), the graduation test comprises a battery of five different tests: writing and four core subjects, namely English, math, social studies, and science. The testing procedure includes a multiple choice format based on ninth and tenth grade curriculum standards. The graduation test is administered for the first time to juniors in the 11th-grade. If students fail, they have several opportunities to retake it before the end of their senior year.
According to the NCLB-reauthorized ESEA, one of the major responsibilities of every school and district is they make AYP.
Adequate Yearly Progress must be based on test score improvements and acceptable graduation rates for high school students, as well as one other measure of academic progress—increases in the attendance rate or decreases in the rate which students are held back at grade level. The end-goal of AYP is 100% proficiency by 2014. The NCLB requires every district to have every one of its students “proficient” in reading and math twelve years from the NCLB’s enactment in 2001. (Kauffman & Losen, 2004, p. 3)
The federal and state governments have initiated several strategies to support students at risk to improve graduation rates and to strengthen the NCLB guidelines. These initiatives are implemented and executed at the school level.
There are several programs in place to support student success in school. The GDOE initiated a Student Support Unit (SST) program to remove student achievement barriers by involving teachers and parents. SST is a three-tiered process aimed at helping teacher referred student to achieve success (GDOE, SST, 2008). Family Connection Partnership (FCP) is a community initiative program to support a child’s health and readiness, sustain success at school, and build a strong and self-sufficient family (GDOE, 2005-2008b, ¶ 1). The underlying belief of the school social work program is that the key to achieve success is “home-to school and community collaboration” (GDOE, 2005- 2008e, ¶ 1). The Learn and Serve program provides opportunities to use the academic knowledge and skills in the community to improve student self-concept and motivation to learn (GDOE, 2005-2008c). School guidance and counseling services help students make the right academic and career decisions (GDOE, 2005-2008d). Additionally, programs such as the Georgia scholar program, governor’s honors program, and Robert C. Byrd honors scholarship are in place to motivate and recognize the academically high achievers.
A teacher quality (TQ) division created in 2005 oversees student success in the graduation test through an academic coach program (GDOE, 2005-2008f). The coaches identify, recruit, and engage parents, organizations, and government agencies to collaborate in a variety of roles to provide support to at-risk students (NASSP, 2007). Georgia’s graduation coach initiative is playing a vital role in increasing the graduation test pass percentage.
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