Small Learning Communities Dissertation

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Small Learning Communities: The Impact of a Freshman Academy on Ninth Grade Student Achievement

Many factors affect the transition of the individual into the environment of the high school including peer-pressure, multi-age classrooms, increased responsibilities, more strenuous coursework, part-time jobs, family obligations, athletic participation as well as other extra-curricular activities. Research has suggested that the successful transition of students into ninth-grade is highly predictive of the level of academic success of the student throughout all the remaining years of high school, which results in affecting the student's success in life following high school. It is known that students experiencing academic difficulties in the ninth-grade school year also tend to have more absences, more office discipline referrals, and lack a feeling of attachment to the school, which puts them at an increased risk for failing the ninth-grade and greatly increases the likelihood that these students will drop out of high school before completion and graduation. In order to address the issue of ninth-grade transition difficulties, some schools have created a small learning community, which has been named the 'Freshman Academy'.

During the 2002-2003 school year, a new principal was appointed at Wildwood High School

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Dissertation on Small Learning Communities: The Impact of a Assignment

The objective of this present research is to examine the impact that the Freshman Academy has upon ninth-grade student transition. Toward this end, this study intends to conduct research in order to determine the degree to which small learning communities, and in this case the Freshman Academy, has upon the academic achievement of ninth-grade students at a small rural high school in Central Florida. The methodology of this study will be both of a qualitative and a quantitative nature in order to determine the success of the Freshman Academy in increasing student achievement, overall level of satisfaction, and attendance in the ninth grade. The data will be collected at the end of the 2007-2008 school year from the school records documenting the achievement of ninth-grade students and the attendance of the ninth-grade students. This data will then be compared to the achievement and attendance data for ninth-grade students in the school year 2003-2004 prior to the implementation of the Freshman Academy at Wildwood High School.




The questions that this research intends to answer are those as follows:

(1) to what degree has the Freshman Academy affected student achievement among ninth-grade students?

(2) to what degree has the Freshman Academy affected the attendance of ninth-grade students?


Students who do not successfully transition into high school in the ninth-grade school year are at a much higher risk of academic failure and ultimately at an increased risk of dropping out of high school completely. Academic interventions including small learning communities decrease the risk of academic failure and high school attrition. The work of Fletcher (2000, p.2) relates that through promotion of "meaningful student involvement, schools can ready students for a lifetime of significant participation in their communities and nation." Fletcher additionally relates that providing students a chance for meaningful involvement at school has four specific outcomes: (1) positive effects on the student's general well-being; (2) positive effects on behavior and values of students; (3) positive effects on academic achievement; and (4) positive effects on teachers. (Fletcher 2000, p.2) in a separate study reported by Niebuhr and Niebuhr (1999) findings are stated that school climate is positively related to academic achievement of students specifically that a "cohesive student group with high academic norms increases student motivation, which in turn, is related to academic achievement." (1999) in yet another study entitled: "The Effect of Student Involvement on the Development of Academic Self-Concept" it is related that"…specific concepts of academic self-concept have been significantly related to achievement among high school students." (House, 2000; p.1) House additionally relates that "academic self-concept has been significantly correlated with science and mathematics achievement, with overall grade performance, and with school withdrawal." (2000, p.1) the work of DeBerard, Julka and Spielmans reports a study conducted for the purpose of examining: "…potential psychosocial predictors of freshman academic achievement and retention. This study demonstrated an ability to predict a very large amount of variance in freshman year cumulative academic achievement based on a brief and comprehensive assessment of students during their first week of classes. Total level of social support was a significant independent predictor of academic achievement." (2004) Included in this level of support was support provided briefly at the beginning of the freshman school year by school staff. Engagement in learning has been the focus of educators for several decades. The work of Marks (2004) conceptualizes student involvement or engagement as: "…a psychological process, specifically, the attention, interest, investment and effort students expend in the work of learning." (p. 154) Research states findings that higher levels of student engagement in school result in improved academic achievement. The work of Goodenow (1993) and Willingham, Pollack and Lewis (2002) states findings that higher grades are earned by students who are engaged in school and that student engagement decreases drop out rates. (Lee & Smith, 1995; Roderick & Engle, 2001;)


The purpose of this study is to examine the effects that participation in the Freshman Academy at Wildwood High School has upon ninth-grade students in the areas of student academic achievement and the drop-out rate of students before completion of high school and graduation. Qualitative and quantitative data will be used for comparison of the differences in academic achievement retention of ninth-grade students. Data will also be gathered through a self-administered questionnaire distributed to all ninth-grade students at the end of the ninth-grade school year in order to obtain data in qualitative form regarding other effects of the Freshman Academy from the student's personal point-of-view. The importance of this study is the knowledge it will add to existing knowledge in the subject area of ninth-grade student transition and the impacts that small learning communities have upon academic achievement of students and the retention of students in high school until graduation. The Freshman Academy is important because of the basis that it provides the transitioning ninth-grade students in terms of engagement, building relationships among students and among students and teachers. The Freshman Academy opens the door for communication in and among students and teachers and provides the student an orientation to the school. Finally, the Freshman Academy assists the student in the transition into the ninth-grade and provides the students with a sense of belonging and being a part of the school climate, setting, and environment.


The curriculum at Wildwood High School is one that offers ninth-grade students a choice between one of three programs including:

(1) General Requirements for High School Graduation (4-year)

(2) Standard College Preparatory Program (3-Year); and (3) Career-Preparatory Program (3-Year)

Toward this end, students at Wildwood are instructed to use a specific form provided by the school in tracking their education toward their specific goals.


The research conducted in this study expects to show outcomes of the Freshman Academy at Wildwood High School to be the improved academic achievement and attendance of ninth-grade students at the school since implementation of the Freshman Academy four years ago. While this study does not seek to specifically measure the impacts that the Freshman Academy has had upon the graduation rates of students since implementation of this program, according to the literature reviewed in this area of study it is believed that increased graduation rates of ninth-grade students who attended the Wildwood Freshman Academy will result and may be addressed in a future study on the advantages of the Freshman Academy in the transition of ninth-grade students to high school.




I. Transition Facts

Research has indicated that a successful transition of the middle school student into the ninth-grade is a specific milestone in the life of a student. This transitional period is particularly difficult for some students for the reasons described further below, but the important point is that a difficult transition can result in academic difficulty that spans the entire course of high school for the student if the student is indeed retained in high school until graduation at all. Beyond the other powerful forces at work in these young learners' lives, these changes in academic environment from middle school to high school can also have a significant impact on how education in general is perceived by adolescents today. The work of Rosser et al. (1999) states that the transition to high school is one in which the student must cope with "…organizational and role changes" because often the high school is "larger, more bureaucratic, and perhaps less personal; peer networks can be disrupted by the size and educational stratification of these institutions; and they can lose status as they go from being the oldest in the middle school to the youngest in the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Small Learning Communities" Dissertation in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Small Learning Communities.  (2008, February 27).  Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Small Learning Communities."  27 February 2008.  Web.  24 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Small Learning Communities."  February 27, 2008.  Accessed September 24, 2020.