Multiple aims and multiple measures associated with student success: theory of action and action research in a large suburban high school

Labay, Wade Norwood
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On their continuous journey for improvement, schools are advised to embrace several research-based strategies recommended for increasing student success (NASSP, 2004). Bernhardt (1998) and Leithwood and Prestine (2002) provide that school improvement efforts will be significantly amplified if stakeholders make decisions under a productive framework of collaboration, reflection, and multiple sources of relevant data. Another critical piece of the school improvement puzzle lies in the power of a personalized educational experience (Clarke, 2003; NASSP, 2004; Sizer, 1999). The purpose of this study was to utilize the strategies of collaboration, reflection, data-driven decision making, and action research in an effort to promote teacher professional growth, personalize students’ educational experience, and increase student vii success in a large suburban high school. It was an evaluative case study situated in a large suburban high school in Texas. Working through a newly created elective course for incoming ninth-graders, the action research team members included four teachers and an assistant principal for curriculum. Developed under the theory of action framework (Patton, 1997), the study contained three objectives, or aims- immediate, intermediate, and ultimate. This study employed a mixed qualitative and quantitative approach (Ritchie, 2003) with the majority of data coming from documentary, observational, and individual/focus group interviews. Measures to strengthen trustworthiness and reliability included triangulation of data, attention to ethical procedures in research, member checks, and critical friends. Findings of the study indicated that the teachers did achieve significant professional growth through continuous collaborative and reflective activities. Data also revealed that a more personalized educational experience with teachers serving as adult advocates has great value in schools. Overall student success with regard to credits earned, Reading and Math TAKS scores, attendance, and disciplinary infractions was not enhanced by student participation in the new elective course. Conclusions included that more training be provided on data-driven decision making for teachers and that defining actual student success in the time frame of one school year is very difficult. Recommendations for future studies of this nature include a more longitudinal range of data collection and the inclusion of more data from the students themselves.