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Attributions of tracked, at-risk, middle school students

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Attributions of tracked, at-risk, middle school students
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Yonek, Mary Malmberg, 1962-
Copyright Date:
1992
Language:
English

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright Mary Malmberg Yonek. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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26582421 ( OCLC )
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ATTRIBUTIONS OF TRACKED, AT-RISK, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS:
ISOLATION OF ALIENATED AND MARGINAL STUDENTS AND
IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL ORGANIZATION
By
MARY MALMBERG YONEK

A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1992

UNIVERSITY OF Fl1 A LrA iS




Copyright 1992
by
Mary Malmberg Yonek




ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Completion of my doctoral dissertation would not have been possible without the assistance and support of a number of people. I wish to thank my committee chair, Dr. Paul George, and committee members, Dr. Sandy Damico, Dr. Jim Hensel, and Dr. Dave Honeyman, for their patience and helpful suggestions in reading many drafts of this study. In addition, Dr. Damico, Dr. Joan Curcio, and Dr. Bob Ziller provided support and inspiration throughout my graduate career. The quality of my work and my experience at the University of Florida were much improved from my having known each of them.
Several people enriched my life during my time spent in Florida and continue to do so, although now over a long distance. Leila Cantara provided both professional and emotional support. She provided encouragement when I most needed it. Her assistance in preparing my dissertation was invaluable. Michael O'Loughlin has been my close friend, sharing in the emotional process of graduate school. His sage advice and faith in me made the process bearable when it seemed otherwise. Kathy Carroll has been a good friend and confidant.

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I am grateful to family members who have been
supportive during my educational pursuits. My parents, Donald and Irene Malmberg, have consistently expressed their love and confidence in me and my ability to successfully complete this part of my life. There is no way I can express the depth of my gratitude. My sister, Lynda Lovell, has unfailingly asserted her pride in my accomplishments. Her respect means a great deal to me. She has, throughout my life, been my friend and my role model. My brother, Wendell Malmberg, has been supportive and understanding. To the memory of my grandmother, Gertrude Owens Swindler, I owe my gratitude for many years of love and security.
Two close friends have been a great help to me during this phase of my life. Ken and Suzanne Boone shared fun and laughter with me, improving my outlook on life. Suzanne, especially, took an interest in my study and helped me work through the rough spots; I admire her intelligence and sense of humor.
To my husband, Joe, I am eternally grateful. His patience and understanding allowed me to complete this project. He is my best friend and my passion in life.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

page
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS....................................... iii
ABSTRACT...............................................viii
CHAPTERS
I INTRODUCTION..................................... 1
Purpose of the Study............................. 3
Definition of Terms.............................. 3
Rationale for the Study.......................... 5
Problem Statement................................ 6
Significance of the Study........................ 7
Questions of the Study........................... 8
Study Limitations................................ 9
Outline of the Study............................. 9
II A LITERATURE REVIEW: SCHOOL ORGANIZATION AND
TRACKING, AT-RISK PROGRAMS, AND ATTRIBUTION
THEORY........................................... 11
School Organization and Tracking.................... 11
Academic Achievement and Tracking: Empirical
Findings................................... 14
The Affective Domain and Tracking: Review
of Research................................ 17
Tracking the At-Risk Student..................... 19
At-Risk Students and Programs.................... 20
Research on the Characteristics of At-Risk
Students................................... 20
Research on At-Risk Programs..................... 22
Developmental Perspectives....................... 23
The Background of Attribution Theory............... 24
Heider's Naive Psychology of Action............. 25
Jones and Davis's Theory of Correspondent
Inferences................................. 27
Kelley's Covariation Principle................... 30
The Contributions of Bernard Weiner................ 32
Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation..... 32

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Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation and
Emotion.................................... 33
Weiner's Achievement Motivation Model:
Empirical Support.......................... 35
Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion
Model: Empirical Findings.................... 36
Summary.......................................... 40
III METHODOLOGY...................................... 42
Qualitative Research............................. 43
Research Design.................................. 44
Methods and Procedures........................... 46
Sampling...................................... 47
Observation................................... 51
Interview..................................... 51
Record Keeping................................... 54
Data Analysis.................................... 56
Validity and Reliability ........................ 57
Internal Validity............................. 57
External Validity............................. 59
Reliability................................... 59
Investigator Bias................................ 60
Ethical Issues................................... 61
IV AT-RISK STUDENTS IN TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLS:
AFFECTIVE AND ACADEMIC BEHAVIORS IN AN
ALTERNATIVE-CLASSROOM SETTING.................... 63
Introduction..................................... 63
The Settings: Two Middle Schools................... 64
Profile of an Inner-city School.................. 68
The Campus.................................... 68
The Alternative Program....................... 70
A Typical Core Class in the Alternative
Classroom.................................. 74
Jaime............................................ 77
Michael....................................... 80
Profile of a Rural School........................ 82
The Campus.................................... 82
The Alternative Program....................... 84
A Typical Class Period in the At-Risk Language
Arts Class................................. 86
Elizabeth..................................... 88
Jordan........................................ 90
Inner-City Middle School......................... 91
The Students.................................. 91
The School: Inner-City Middle School's
Alternative Program........................ 106
Rural Middle School.............................. 110
The Students.................................. 110
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A




The School: Rural Middle School's
Alternative Program........................ 125
Comparison Across Students....................... 130
Comparison Between Schools....................... 134
V CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS..................... 139
Application of Findings to Research Questions.... 141 Relationship of Findings to Previous Research.... 147
At-Risk Students and Programs................... 147
Tracking...................................... 149
Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion
Model...................................... 154
Implications of Findings for Research............. 156
Implications of Findings for Practitioners....... 158 Recommendations.................................. 160
REFERENCES............................................. 163
APPENDIX
CONSENT FORM........................................ 175
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.................................... 177

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Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
ATTRIBUTIONS OF TRACKED, AT-RISK, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS: ISOLATION OF ALIENATED AND MARGINAL STUDENTS AND
IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL ORGANIZATION By
Mary Malmberg Yonek
May, 1992
Chairman: Paul S. George
Major Department: Educational Leadership
The purpose of this study was to determine the
attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. In this study the attributions of at-risk students were compared and contrasted within the framework of Weiner's theory of achievement motivation and emotion utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability as well as within the context of tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general.
A case study approach using descriptive methods of data collected was used. In this study an embedded, single-case design was utilized. The overall unit of analysis was the alternative education setting. Two schools were chosen as subunits of analysis. One rural and one urban school were chosen in order to explore possible viii




differences and similarities within divergent settings; faculty and staff were observed and interviewed. At another level of analysis, two students were chosen from each school for observation and interview, allowing for indepth exploration of students' attributions.
Observations and interviews were conducted over the course of approximately 6 months in the 1990-1991 school year, and follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the 1991-1992 school year. Included in this study was unstructured interview time in an attempt to gain the maximum amount of information possible and to allow participants the opportunity to introduce information they believed to be relevant. Pattern-matching was utilized as the primary mode of data analysis.
Within Weiner's framework, all four students
attributed negative events to unstable or uncontrollable causes, allowing them to maintain a positive self-concept. Successes were mostly viewed as the result of increased effort, rather than innate ability. The rural program provided individualized attention and, thus, produced more positive affective and academic gains for those students than did the urban program. The findings suggest that programs that track at-risk students need to be carefully designed and monitored in order to provide individualized attention, qualified instructors, opportunities for student success, and appropriate behavioral and academic training.

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CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
The "at-risk" population in the educational system of the United States is growing rapidly (Bryk & Thum, 1989; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986). The disadvantages suffered by dropouts in the job market are increasing (Catterall & Stern, 1986). Stricter graduation requirements may be causing more students to fail to complete school (Archer & Dresden, 1987; McDill, Natriello, & Pallas, 1986; Tanner, 1989).
Research into the at-risk and dropout problem has
focused on the high-school-aged student and quantitative data collection (Tidwell, 1988). Much of this research has been based on the "High School and Beyond" study (see Jones et al., 1983). There are many research reports describing the characteristics of dropouts; attributes of students considered likely to dropout include low socioeconomic status, aggressive behavior, low academic achievement, nonparticipation in school-related activities, high absenteeism, Hispanic or black ancestry, retention of at least one grade level, inadequate social skills, or being male (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Levin, 1989; Rumberger, 1983; Svec, 1986; Valverde, 1987; Wells, 1990).
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There are few qualitative studies reported, however, that were designed to investigate the behaviors and motivations of at-risk students prior to dropping out, particularly at the middle-school level (Catterall & Stern, 1986; Farrell, Peguero, Lindsey, & White, 1988; Miller, Leinhardt, & Zigmond, 1988). Students who drop out tend to exhibit combinations of risk factors (Wells, 1990). Why do some students drop out of school, although others who seem equally at risk stay in school? Societal changes are causing many students to drop out at a younger age (LeCompte, 1987); however, there has been little research on the at-risk problem at the middle-school level (Barrington & Hendricks, 1989; Rumberger, 1987).
This research is a case study of the at-risk
phenomenon in the middle-school level. Examination of the predicament of at-risk youth requires intensive investigation into the problem; most previous research has only superficially investigated the issue (Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1986). "We advocate a comprehensive and sustained effort to examine the dropout problem. . The failure to understand the problem will guarantee a great deal of wasted effort on the part of educators and the continued squandering of human resources" (Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1986, p. 438).




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Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to determine the
attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. Interviews with faculty and staff added to the contextual picture of the school program and at-risk tracking. There is little research reported on the process by which young people become at risk in our educational system. This study compared and contrasted the attributions of at-risk students within the framework of Weiner's (1979, 1980, 1985) theory of achievement motivation and emotion, utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, as well as within the context of tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general.
Although much quantitative inquiry has been conducted, qualitative analysis of at-risk students is nearly nonexistent. A qualitative methodology will add to the depth of understanding of the at-risk problem.
Definition of Terms
For the purpose of this research, terms are defined as follows:
Ability grouping is the practice of dividing students by academic capability in order to increase homogeneity (e.g., gifted, regular, and low tracks).




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Alternative program is an in-school program with a student-teacher ratio below 18:1, designed to provide intensive classroom help to students who have been targeted by the school as being at risk of dropping out.
At-risk students are students who have been identified by the school staff as being in danger of not completing high school. In this study, the at-risk students are enrolled in special programs designed to increase the chances of their staying in school through graduation.
Attribution theory is the general body of social psychology literature which attempts to formalize the everyday rules that people use to make judgments about behaviors and motivations of self and others. "Attribution refers to the process of inferring or perceiving the dispositional properties of entities in the environment" (Kelley, 1967, p. 193).
Controllability is a dimension of causality determined by the amount of volitional or optional control that may be exerted by the individual.
Curriculum tracking is the practice of grouping
students according to interests and/or professional goals (i.e., college preparatory, vocational-technical, or general diploma).
Dropout is a youth who fails to graduate from high
school within two years of his or her cohort class and is not enrolled in school.




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Locus of causality is a dimension of causality
characterized by familiar location of a cause, either internal or external to the individual.
Stability is a dimension of causality distinguished by temporal nature, varying from invariant (stable) to variant (unstable).
Rationale for the Study
The costs of dropping out--educational, social, and
economic--in American society are staggering (Dollar, 1983; Levin, 1989; Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1986; Rumberger, 1983). Levin (1972) estimated nearly $80 billion in lost tax revenues, welfare and unemployment, and crime and crime prevention costs for high school dropouts between the ages of 25 and 34. Collectively, society suffers from increased rates of crime, the financial burdens of public assistance, lost employment revenues, and costs of rehabilitation.
For the individual, the cost of dropping out may
include loss of self-esteem, deficiency of skills needed to compete successfully in the job market, and lost opportunities for social and professional development (Steinberg, Blinde, & Chan, 1984). This is not to say that all dropouts become criminals or remain continually unemployed. However, as the median age of dropouts decreases and the skills needed in the job market increase, prospects for dropouts become bleak. Alleviating the dropout problem has become a primary concern for educators.




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Examining the context of becoming at-risk and the developmental process involved may help produce an adaptation of Weiner's attributional model which could be used with at-risk students.
Problem Statement
The purpose of this study was to determine the
attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. Interviews with faculty and staff added to the contextual picture of the school program and at-risk tracking. There is little research reported on the process by which young people become at risk in our educational system. This study compared and contrasted the attributions of at-risk students within the framework of Weiner's (1979, 1980, 1985) theory of achievement motivation and emotion, utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability as well as within the context of tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general.
Examination of the at-risk phenomenon from a
qualitative perspective will help provide answers as to why students become at risk; without this knowledge, educators continue to address the problem from an adult perspective only. The data that will provide a solution must be




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collected from the students (Farrell, Peguero, Lindsey, & White, 1988).
Answers to the at-risk problem can be found, in part, in research into the perspectives of students and teachers and parents of the world around them and how those perceptions affect behavior. Labeling students as at-risk from characteristics they possess leads to ineffective programs with no clear treatment focus.
Significance of the Study
By identifying how at-risk students perceive themselves and others, and how those perceptions subsequently affect their behavior, educators can retrain students to perceive both self and others more accurately and to modify their behavior. A developmental model that can be successfully applied to explain at-risk behaviors would provide the basis for prevention and intervention in the school setting.
Some of the behavioral mechanisms that contribute to the state of being at risk have been identified through completion of this study. Attribution theory, from the field of social psychology, provided a theoretical basis from which to begin examination of the at-risk phenomenon. That is, what are the attributions of self and others as experienced by at-risk students? How are they perceived by others in the school setting? Such knowledge will contribute to a developmental model and recommendations for




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ameliorating the current, growing crisis of at-risk students.
A case study approach also provided insight into the
organizational aspects of at-risk programs. Because of the proliferation of programs that track at-risk students outside the traditional school structure, research data needs to be collected that document the effects of such grouping programs.
Questions of the Study
The data in this study were collected in two schools using a case-study approach. Although any attempt to generalize this study's results should be considered by comparison to the settings and methodology presented here, the following research questions, grounded within the literature on at risk, dropouts, tracking, and attribution theory, guided the data collection in this study:
1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students?
2. Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally?
3. Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives?

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4. Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable?
Study Limitations
The data in this study were collected utilizing
ethnographic techniques. The results of this study are limited in the generalizations that can be drawn because of the use of qualitative methodology. Any attempt to generalize to other situations should be considered by comparison to the contexts represented in this study. The specific methodological constraints are described in Chapter III.
A second limitation of this study was the time of the year of data collection. Beginning the study near the end of the academic year prevented observation of the development of subjects' behavior patterns within the alternative program from the beginning of the school year. This was mediated to some extent, however, by the use of multiple observations and interviews over a 6-month period and follow-up interviews in the subsequent school year.
Outline of the Study
Chapter II contains a review of the literature on tracking, at-risk students, and attribution theory and includes potential implications for the at-risk. The methodology of the study is detailed in Chapter III. Findings of the study are presented in Chapter IV. Chapter




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V contains conclusions and implications of the study's results as well as suggestions for further research.




CHAPTER II
A LITERATURE REVIEW: SCHOOL ORGANIZATION AND TRACKING, AT-RISK PROGRAMS, AND ATTRIBUTION THEORY
School Organization and Tracking
No two schools are the same. Factors such as local, state, and federal political agendas, community pressures, parent involvement, student characteristics, and faculty/staff commitment and experience all combine to make each school program unique (Newmann, 1989). In addition, schools are constantly changing in an attempt to conform to changes in society (Patterson, Purkey, & Parker, 1986). Students enter the school system with varying backgrounds, abilities, and expectations.
In an effort to cope with the diverse characteristics and abilities of students, educators devised methods of sorting or tracking students into groups--hoping to make teaching and learning easier (Oakes, 1983). Because students differ in knowledge, skills, and learning rate, it seems logical that grouping them according to those attributes would provide instructional efficiency (Goodlad, 1984). The teacher should be able to pace the lesson appropriately and supply curriculum at the correct level of difficulty. Tracking has been used in the school system since the 1800s, when teachers began grouping students

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within the one-room schoolhouse according to their abilities and interests (Oakes, 1987).
There are two basic types of tracking--ability or achievement tracking and curriculum tracking (Sedlak, Wheeler, Pullin, & Cusick, 1986). Ability grouping arranges students by perceived ability, usually measured by IQ scores, ranking on standardized tests, teacher recommendations, academic achievement, or a combination of these. Students may be assigned to gifted, regular, or remedial tracks for all subjects, or may be selected out for various subjects. Practices vary widely from school to school. Some school systems begin ability grouping at the elementary level; others begin tracking at the middle school or junior high level.
Curriculum tracking classifies students by outcome goals, for example, college preparation, vocationaltechnical, or general diploma. Curriculum tracking is most widely used at the high-school level.
Slavin (1989) identified two types of tracking-between-class or within-class. Between-class grouping is identified by non-random assignment to classes. For example, ability assignments as well as departmentalization are between-class groupings. Within-class grouping may include ability grouping (reading or math groups, for example), mastery learning, or cooperative learning (heterogeneous subgrouping). Slavin (1987) argued that




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much of the dissent over the results of grouping is due to research that fails to recognize tracking as several distinct practices. Similarly, Gamoran (1987b, 1989) asserted that successful resolution of the tracking debate requires quantified differentiation of types of grouping and methods of instruction within the classroom.
Research on grouping arrangements has been conducted for nearly a century (Slavin, 1989). Over 20 years ago, the National Education Association (1968) reported that "despite its increasing popularity, there is a notable lack of empirical evidence to support the use of ability grouping as an instructional arrangement in the public schools" (p. 44).
Although much of the reported research indicates that tracking has little or no positive result in most situations, the practice continues to be widespread (Hallinan, 1987a; Oakes, 1986, 1989; Trimble & Sinclair, 1987). Opponents have argued that tracking perpetuates preexisting racial and economic inequalities (England, Meier, & Fraga, 1988; Oakes, 1985, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1976). In addition, tracking may produce lower self-esteem, and higher incidence of school misconduct, drop-out rates, and delinquency (Goodlad, 1984; see also Esposito, 1973.) Ability and curriculum groupings also tend to persist over long periods of time and restrict access to educational opportunities (Hallinan, 1987b; Rosenbaum, 1980).




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Academic Achievement and Tracking: Empirical Findings
Nevi (1987) argued that "research supports tracking" (p. 24). He referred, however, to only one meta-analysis when he concluded that tracking did not provide negative academic achievement for average and below-average students and often afforded significant gains for gifted students.
Kulik and Kulik (1987) conducted a meta-analysis
examining a total of 109 studies of between-class grouping programs and within-class grouping programs. They concluded that significant gains were found for students in programs specially designed for the talented/gifted. They also cautioned against acceptance of Slavin's (1987) conclusions.
Slavin (1987), in a review of studies of abilitygrouped classes at the elementary level, concluded that the overall effects of ability grouping were near zero for students of all achievement levels. Regrouping by selected subjects (math or reading) provided positive gains if the instructional level and pace were adapted to student performance level and if the regrouping was for only one or two periods per day. Slavin (1989) also concluded that the majority of literature on gifted programs at the elementary level is "small, inconclusive, and methodologically inadequate" (p. 164). Consequently, Slavin argued that justification for tracking high-ability students was currently lacking (1989, 1990b). Slavin (1989) concluded

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that successful grouping plans utilize heterogeneous grouping for most of the day, are flexible for student placement, and adapt the level and pace of instruction to the readiness of the group. Slavin (1990b) also argued that the use of gifted programs should be decreased, while increasing the use of cooperative learning methods and, if necessary, differentiating within classes.
In a meta-analysis of 50 studies, Noland and Taylor (1986) judged that ability grouping did not increase academic achievement. Gamoran and Mare (1990), in an analysis utilizing the "High School and Beyond" data, posited that track assignment reinforced academic inequalities among high- and low-SES students. This finding was mediated to some extent by the fact that blacks and females are partly compensated for their initial disadvantages by track assignment and subsequent increased achievement compared to blacks and females who are randomly assigned to tracks.
Kerckhoff (1986), in a study of ability grouping in British secondary schools, examined data from a birth cohort tracked through early adolescence. He concluded that curricular grouping produced significant gains for high-track students and losses for low-track students compared to non-tracked students. In contrast, Natriello, Pallas, and Alexander (1989), using the "High School and Beyond" data, found that students in all tracks made gains.




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However, students in the academic (high) track gained more than students in general or vocational tracks. Students in all three tracks gained more than those who dropped out.
In an investigation of minority track assignment, England, Meier, and Fraga (1988) found that nonwhite students were proportionately underrepresented in high tracks, and overrepresented in special education and low tracks. In addition, black students received a disproportionately large share of disciplinary actions.
Vanfossen, Jones, and Spade (1987) found that academic performance was not the only basis for curricular-track placement. Other factors included SES, size limitations in courses, and faculty/staff perception of ability. Their findings strongly supported the contention that students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds have differing access to curriculum.
Slavin (1990a), in a "best-evidence synthesis" of achievement effects of ability grouping in secondary schools, found zero overall achievement effects at all grade levels. Slavin's findings contrasted with some earlier studies, most notably those of Kulik and Kulik (1982, 1984, 1987), which argued that students in high tracks made positive gains, while students in low tracks made no gains or negative gains. Slavin (1990a) reconciled this conflict by arguing that those studies often compared students in existing tracks. No statistical procedure can




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adequately control for such large preexisting differences as those that exist between high- and low-track students. Slavin's review included only studies which met a strict set of methodological criteria. The Affective Domain and Tracking: Review of Research
In an account of high- and low-track eighth-grade
students, Metz (1978) described the affective responses of low-track students towards school:
They took the school as they found it and did not
question the administrators' and teachers' right
to define what they should learn, how they should
learn it, or how they should behave. However,
though they accepted these definitions as
inevitable, they did not embrace them. . They
remained alien and separate within it [the
school]. (p. 81)
Metz found, in contrast, that high-track students participated in and were committed to the development of classroom activities and discipline. Similarly, in a review of ethnographic research, Gamoran and Berends (1987) found distinct differences between student attitudes and self-perception in different tracks. In addition, teachers perceived high-track students more positively than lowtrack students.
Eder (1981), in an analysis of a first grade
classroom, concluded that lower-ability students were grouped such that they were exposed to conditions less likely to encourage learning. These students experienced a more disruptive learning environment than did the highertrack students.




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In support of tracking, Kulik and Kulik (1982) stated, "students seemed to like their school subjects more when they studied them with peers of similar ability, and some students in grouped classes even developed more positive attitudes about themselves and about school" (p. 426). This conclusion was based on a review of fifteen studies of tracking which included self-concept measures. Seven studies reported higher self-concept for students in grouped classrooms, while six studies reported higher selfconcept for students in ungrouped classrooms. Kulik and Kulik did not detail the differences between the studies which might explain the contrasting conclusions. Their argument that grouped students exhibit higher self-concept, therefore, is not convincing. In a 1984 review of accelerated programs, Kulik and Kulik found no clear pattern of affective outcomes. Most researchers have asserted that tracking negatively affects students' selfesteem and self-concept.
Noland and Taylor (1986), in a meta-analysis of 50 studies conducted between 1967 and 1983, concluded that ability grouping provided negative affective outcomes in areas such as self-esteem and self-concept. Gamoran (1987a) called for further research into the attitudes and expectations of tracked students (see also Schwartz, 1981).




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Tracking the At-Risk Student
Tracking practices have clear implications for structuring programs for students at risk. Although research generally shows few or no positive academic or affective effects from tracking, at-risk programs have created a new form of curriculum tracking. At-risk programs often focus on remedial instruction with minimal emphasis on social skills development. The programs often target students with low self-esteem and failing academic marks. Students are often perceived as special education students, although they are not provided with the same special services.
Catterall (1987) concluded that grouping at-risk students at the high-school level (for a counseling workshop) resulted in little positive gains in performance, persistence, or attitude for the participants. After follow-up conversations with participants, Catterall hypothesized that the program may have resulted in social bonding among the participants that subsequently lead to nonparticipation. "The workshop may have resulted in a cohesive peer group within the school . that looked to itself for sources of satisfaction in daily school life, but not to teachers or to regular school activities" (p. 534). Tracking at-risk students in the school setting may result in the type of peer-group bonding suggested by Catterall leading to further alienation and misbehavior.




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At-Risk Students and Programs
Approximately 25% of high school students drop out
before graduation (Catterall, 1989). However, graduation rates vary widely across racial and economic groups and between urban and rural areas. Dropout rates may exceed 50% in some areas.
The term "at-risk" has been widely used over the past decade with varying definitions. In this study, the term "at-risk" is used to describe students who have been targeted in the school setting as unlikely to graduate from high school. These students have been placed in special programs in an attempt to provide them with more individualized instruction and attention in the hopes of improving their chances of success in school. Research on the Characteristics of At-Risk Students
Research on students who leave school early has focused primarily on the characteristics of at-risk students or on school intervention programs (Finn, 1989). Students who ultimately drop out tend to exhibit patterns of behavior such as absenteeism, truancy, disruptive classroom behavior, and delinquency (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Levin, 1989; Svec, 1986; Valverde, 1987; Wells, 1990).
Strahan (1988), in a study of academically at-risk seventh graders, concluded that by the seventh grade, marginal students were already well aware of their




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inadequacies in school. Strahan studied journal entries of 10 students who were retained at the end of their seventh grade year. He also examined the journals of a comparison group; the comparison group had sixth-grade achievement profiles similar to those of the marginal group but had been more successful in the seventh grade. The marginal group was below average in achievement. The students failed most subjects, were frequently absent, and misbehaved more often than the comparison group. In addition, the marginal students focused on merely surviving in school rather than on succeeding. Teachers perceived the students as capable but lazy.
The focus of researching the personal and social
characteristics of dropouts has given many educators the impression that dropouts are "deviant, deficient, or negligent with regard to school. This focus contributes to a pathological view of these youth and deflects attention from the school itself" (Wehlage, 1989, p. 2). Although these characteristics are indicative of the problem, they are merely symptomatic (Wehlage, 1986). Students displaying such behaviors are already in the process of withdrawing from the school system. Services for at-risk students have generally targeted students labeled at risk because of characteristics they possess. Programs often have no rationale or design other than hoping to help students succeed.

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Research on At-Risk Programs
Most major studies of at-risk programs have centered on the characteristics of students, not questioning the effectiveness of schools in retaining at-risk students (Wehlage, 1989; Wehlage, Rutter, & Turnbaugh, 1987). Those studies that have examined at-risk program effectiveness often exhibit poor methodology, incomplete data, or small samples (Slavin, 1989). There is some evidence, however, that some approaches are more effective in serving the needs of the at risk. Coleman and Hoffer (1987), in analyzing the "High School and Beyond" data, concluded that Catholic schools are more effective than public schools at retaining at-risk students. This appears to be because the Catholic schools generally provided more personalized attention and means for student involvement. Programs that are not specialized to deal with the affective consequences of being at risk are ineffective. "Children either labelled 'failure' or faced continuously with little or no prospect of success come to regard themselves as failures" (Goodlad, 1966, p. 11).
Most intervention programs have focused on remediation and affective interaction. However, little consideration has been given to the developmental process of becoming at risk.




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Developmental Perspectives
If such behaviors are symptoms of withdrawal, then what is the developmental process that precedes dropping out? The literature is meager in this area. Finn (1989) related two models to explain the process of dropping out: the frustration-self-esteem model and the participationidentification model.
Proponents of the frustration-self-esteem model
espouse the view that persistent school failure lowers self-esteem. In an attempt to experience success, the individual engages in alternate behaviors--oftentimes delinquent or, at the least, inappropriate.
Under conditions of low social control, these
young people turn to delinquent behavior to raise
their self-esteem. . It follows that, if these
youngsters' experiences at school were altered
sufficiently to raise their self-esteem . .
their disruptive and delinquent behavior would
subside. (Gold & Mann, 1984, p. 19)
The participation-identification model is
characterized by the idea that students' participation within the school stimulates feelings of identification in the school setting. Students who do not participate may not identify or create a bond in the school setting and are subsequently at risk of alienation. Finn (1989) stated that the participation-identification model contains two major premises.
First, students who identify with school have an
internalized conception of belongingness--that
they are discernibly part of the school
environment and that school constitutes an




24

important part of their own experience. And
second, these individuals value success in schoolrelevant goals. (p. 123)
Although these two models may serve as a starting
point for identifying the developmental process of becoming at risk, neither model suffices as a comprehensive framework. In fact, Finn recommended additional research (focusing on the student) in order to document:
(a) the form and extent of participation among
students as they mature through the grades,
(b) the ways in which participation and school
outcomes are translated into levels of
identification with school,
(c) the role of successful outcomes and
identification in mediating further
participation, and
(d) the relationship of these two central
constructs to other correlates of school
performance, including educational aspirations,
expectations, attitudes toward school and school
subjects, and academic self-concept. (p. 136)
The Background of Attribution Theory
Attribution theory is a collection of hypotheses and frameworks, anchored in the field of social psychology, that attempts to explain and predict how people perceive the causes of events and how they subsequently behave. Attribution theorists postulate that individuals, after observing an event and reviewing known facts, construct an attribution(s) about why the event occurred. The attribution(s) subsequently affects the individual's behavior and/or emotions. People make attributions about other people and situations in an attempt to make sense and order out of events. Attribution theorists propose that by




25

understanding why people make certain attributions, an individual can better predict and control how others behave and react emotionally (see Babcock, 1989; Frieze & Bar-Tal, 1979; Harvey, Weary, & Stanley, 1985; Hewstone, 1983, 1989; Kassin & Baron, 1985; Shaver, 1983; Young & Marks, 1986).
Contributors to attribution theory have concentrated on three major questions: (a) What are the antecedents of an attribution? (b) What are the contents of the attribution process? and (c) What are the consequences of the attributions? (Frieze & Bar-Tal, 1979). There are many different attribution models, but the following sections of this chapter will review the basic contributors to attribution theory as they apply to this study. Heider's Naive Psychology of Action
Fritz Heider's (1958) work The Psychology of
Interpersonal Relations formed the basis for what was to become known as attribution theory. Heider was interested in the perceptions of "naive" people in everyday life. He argued that common-sense psychology was important to scientific research for two reasons. First, our commonsense perceptions guide our actions in everyday life and must therefore be taken into account by the scientist.
One can talk about a "naive psychology" which gives us the principles we use to build up our
picture of the social environment and which guides
our reactions to it. An explanation of this
behavior, therefore, must deal with common-sense psychology regardless of whether its assumptions
and principles prove valid under scientific
scrutiny. If a person believes that the lines in




26
his palm foretell his future, this belief must be
taken into account in explaining certain of his
expectations and actions. (p. 5)
Second, Heider maintained that the intuitive
understanding of the naive psychologist could help provide truths of value to the scientific psychologist. "Fruitful concepts and hunches for hypotheses lie dormant and unformulated in what we know intuitively" (pp. 5-6).
Heider's hypotheses about causation were based on three assumptions. First, understanding a person's behavior requires thorough description of how the person perceives his own world. Second, people want to predict and order their environment. Third, people look for certain properties or dispositions in others in order to explain their behavior.
These dispositional properties are generally stable, predictable, and controllable, and allow the individual to structure his or her world in an organized manner. Humans, by nature, must create some order or schema to make sense of their world.
Man is usually not content simply to register the observables that surround him; he needs to refer them as far as possible to the invariances of his
environment. Second, the underlying causes of
events, especially the motives of other persons, are the invariances of the environment that are
relevant to him; they give meaning to what he experiences and it is these meanings that are
recorded in his life space, and are precipitated
as the reality of the environment to which he then
reacts. (p. 81)




27
These dispositional properties include factors within the person and within the environment. Examples include ability and task difficulty. Heider envisioned the results of an action to be a combination of forces within and without the individual (p. 82).
Heider (1958) described can (ability) and trying (effort) as dispositional properties of the individual, whereas difficulty and luck are environmental dispositions. Ability and difficulty are relatively stable properties, that is, one would not expect them to vary from instance to instance for the same task. Effort and luck, however, are unstable.
The attribution process is subject to potential biases or misattributions. A person may attribute one's actions according to his or her own desires or needs. This is known as egocentric attribution. Examples include claiming to be unable to do something that one does not wish to do, blaming fate for one's actions, taking credit for doing something or not doing something (i.e., stealing) when in fact the opportunity was unavailable. Misattribution may occur when information regarding an action is incomplete or when egocentric biases distort the process (see also Ross, 1977; Weary, 1981; Zuckerman, 1979.) Jones and Davis's Theory of Correspondent Inferences
Jones and Davis (1965) expanded on Heider's (1958) work. They proposed to "construct a theory which




28
systematically accounts for a perceiver's inferences about what an actor was trying to achieve by a particular action" (p. 222). Jones and Davis's definition is as follows:
Correspondence refers to the extent that the act
and the underlying characteristic or attribute are
similarly described by the inference. . .
Correspondence of inference declines as the action
to be accounted for appears to be constrained by
the setting in which it occurs. (p. 223)
For example, if Susie spends a good deal of time every day helping Beth with her math assignment, one might infer that Susie is a considerate and cooperative young girl. However, if Susie earned extra recess time or improved her grade by helping Beth, one would probably attribute her behavior less to her personality. In the first case, one infers a high correspondence between Susie's behavior and her personality, whereas in the second situation there is a belief that there is less correspondence between her behavior and her personality because of constraints inherent in the situation--that is, the rewards associated with the helping behavior (Smith, Gelfand, Hartmann, & Partlow, 1979).
Jones and Davis considered the element of choice to be fundamental to their theory. All situations involve choices of behavior with different effects; in fact, situations generally involve multiple effects for various potential choices made by the actor. The theory of correspondent inference is based on the assumption that effects common to different choices are not factors in




29

deciding which action to take. Instead, it is the noncommon effects that are informational about the choice the actor makes.
For example, Mr. Boone was considering buying a house and had narrowed his decision down to two houses. House A was $125,000, a 15 minute drive from his work, and nicely landscaped. House B shared all the same attributes. Although it might be assumed that all these features influenced Mr. Boone's decision in narrowing down his search because both houses share those qualities, that knowledge does not help make any inferences about his ultimate decision. One needs to know, instead, what the houses do not have in common to infer something about his decision regarding which house to buy.
In addition to knowing the noncommon effects of an action, it is also helpful to know the assumed social desirability of those effects. In the above example, house A may have a hot tub, house B does not. This knowledge may be helpful to the extent that it is assumed Mr. Boone would enjoy having a hot tub. If Mr. Boone buys house A, it might be assumed that the hot tub influenced his decision if it is believed that a hot tub was a socially desirable benefit of owning the house. However, the maximum knowledge is to be gained when considering effects low in social desirability. If it is assumed that most people would enjoy having a hot tub, then one learns little new




30

about Mr. Boone by virtue of the fact that he would enjoy one also. "The fewer distinctive reasons a person might have for an action (assuming he has some) and the less these reasons are widely shared in the culture, the more informative that action is concerning the characteristics of the person" (Kelley, 1967, pp. 208-209).
Jones and Davis (1965) introduced two further concepts to the study of attribution: relevance and personalism. Relevance refers to the extent to which an individual's choices effect the perceiver--either positively or negatively. In general, individuals tend to be favorably disposed towards someone whose actions benefit them and negatively disposed towards someone whose actions hinder or disturb them. Although an effect may be relevant to an individual, it may or may not have been intended to affect that individual by the original actor. This is the concept of personalism: "to distinguish between choices which are conceivably affected by the presence of the perceiver and choices which are not conceivably so affected" (p. 247). High relevance and high (perceived) personalism directly increase the extremity of the individual's evaluation of the actor.
Kelley's Covariation Principle
Kelley (1967) added to the foundations of attribution theory by defining four criteria for external attributions. Kelley argued that an individual, when making an




31

attribution, employs certain analytic criteria to verify that "the impression reflects the inherent properties of the entity and not his own characteristics or some peculiar interactions with the entity" (p. 197). Those criteria are
1. Distinctiveness: the impression is
attributed to the thing if it uniquely occurs
when the thing is present and does not occur in
its absence.
2. Consistency over time: each time the thing
is present, the individual's reaction must be the
same or nearly so.
3. Consistency over modality: his reaction must be consistent even though his mode of interaction
with the thing varies.
4. Consensus: attributes of external origin are
experienced the same way by all observers. (p.
197)
Kelley postulated that the extent to which a person's attributions match the criteria of distinctiveness, consistency, and consensus determines the individual's confidence of attributions about the world (see also Dix & Herzberger, 1983; Howard & Levinson, 1985.)
Kelley also specified five sources of error in the process of attribution, borrowed partly from Heider's (1958) work. Kelley (1967) stated that error may result from ignoring the relevant situation, making egocentric assumptions, relevant effects have affective significance for the observer, the surrounding situation is misleading, deliberate investigator attempts to induce error. Kelley's work, especially that on misattribution, has provided the basis for much research in the field of causal attribution.




32

(See also DiVitto & McArthur, 1978; Howard & Levinson, 1985; Kelley & Michela, 1980.)
The Contributions of Bernard Weiner
Although the attribution theories of Jones and Davis (1965) and Kelley (1967) focused on the process and antecedent of an individual's inferences, Bernard Weiner (1972, 1974) developed a theory that centered on the consequences of causal attributions. Weiner contributed a cognitive perspective to the research on attribution theory focusing on academic striving. Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation
Weiner (1972, 1974) examined achievement-oriented
behavior and the attributions of success and failure. His theory was originally known as the theory of achievement motivation. He initially postulated four major categories of causal attribution: ability, task difficulty, luck, and effort. These four categories were examined within the context of two causal dimensions: locus of control (internal-external) and stability (low-high). Ability and effort are classified as internal within the dimension of locus of control. Task difficulty and luck, however, are categorized as external locus because it is assumed that the individual has little control over them. Luck and effort are perceived as unstable because they may vary from trial to trial, whereas task difficulty and ability are




33
stable because they would probably not vary across time for a particular task.
Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion
Weiner (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987) later
reconceptualized his achievement theory of motivation and emotion within three dimensions: locus of causality, stability, and controllability. Locus of causality may be internal or external. For example, lack of effort is an internal attribution, whereas a too difficult task is external. Stability is the temporal nature of a cause-enduring or changing. Lack of ability is construed as stable; bad luck is unstable. Controllability is the degree of volitional influence that can be exerted over a cause. Effort can be controlled, for example, whereas ability cannot.
Each dimension is associated with a number of
psychological consequences. Emotions such as pity, shame, gratitude, hopelessness (hopefulness), pride (self-esteem), guilt, and anger result from the individual's attributions of causality within Weiner's three dimensions.
The locus dimension affects self-esteem. Attributions to internal factors for success increase self-worth (Robison-Awana, Kehle, & Jenson, 1986), whereas attributions to internal factors for failure decrease selfesteem. The stability dimension relates to changes in expectancy of success and failure and also regulates




34

affective reactions. Feelings of hopelessness may result
when the future is seen as stable and negative--the
individual sees no hope of change for the better. Finally,
the controllability dimension of causality affects
sentiments and evaluations of others.
If another person fails or is in need of aid
because of a controllable cause, such as lack of effort, then that person often elicits anger and
is negatively evaluated. On the other hand, if
failure or need is due to an uncontrollable cause
such as a physical handicap, then that person elicits sympathy and is positively evaluated.
(Weiner, 1983, p. 531)
Changes in expectancy of success, Weiner (1985)
claimed, were influenced by the perceived stability of the
cause of the event. He proposed three corollaries to what
he termed the "expectancy principle."
1. If the outcome of an event is ascribed to a
stable cause, then that outcome will be
anticipated with increased certainty, or with an
increased expectancy, in the future.
2. If the outcome of an event is ascribed to an unstable cause, then the certainty or expectancy
of that outcome may be unchanged or the future may
be anticipated to be different from the past.
3. Outcomes ascribed to stable causes will be
anticipated to be repeated in the future with a
greater degree of certainty than are outcomes
ascribed to unstable causes. (p. 559)
Bar-Tal (1982) summarized the attribution process as
follows:
Pupils who tend to attribute success to internal,
mainly stable or controllable, causes, and who
attribute failure to internal-unstablecontrollable causes, tend to exhibit adaptive,
mastery-oriented achievement behavior. That is,
they tend to approach rather than avoid
achievement tasks, tend to persist in the face of
failure, and tend to perform achievement tasks




35

with greater intensity. Pupils who tend to
attribute success to external causes and failure
to internal-stable-uncontrollable causes show a
very different pattern. These pupils tend to
exhibit maladaptive, helpless achievement
behavior. That is, they tend to avoid achievement tasks, tend to give up in the face of failure and
do not perform achievement tasks with great
intensity. (p. 190)
Weiner (1983) also argued that it is important to
consider attributions within the framework of the subject's
perception. That is, although effort may generally be
considered unstable, that may change to a stable trait if
the person views himself or herself as lazy.
Weiner maintained that, although an attribution
perspective might seem to be simple logic, the framework of
attribution theory was not only sound but also valuable to
researchers.
When critics charge that an attributional approach
is "mere" common sense, they are exclaiming that
the relations pointed out or predicted by the
theory represent shared knowledge. . That the
individual parts or components [of the theory] are
naively shared underscores their veridicality,
thus further supporting the certainty of the
empirical relations and thereby providing a strong foundation for theory building. (Weiner, 1985, p.
570)
Weiner's Achievement Motivation Model: Empirical Support
Within an academic context, Weiner's model has been
generally supported (Cramer, 1989; Weiner, 1985). Research
has focused on the four categories of ability, task
difficulty, luck, and effort within the dimensions of locus
of control and stability (see also Stipek & Weisz, 1981).




36
Rizley (1978) reported that depressed college students rated dispositional (internal) factors to be more important for failure but less important for success than did nondepressed students. Apparently depressed students are more likely to blame themselves for failure, although less likely to take credit for success (see also Self, 1990).
In studies of youths' (mean age 15.6 years)
perceptions of delinquency, Abrams, Simpson, and Hogg (1987) found that young people attribute delinquent actions to external (situational) terms rather than to individual attributes. The authors concluded that experience of and associations with delinquency (for example, males and urban residents) cause individuals to attribute situationally, whereas those less close (females and rural residents) attribute causality more to internal factors (for example, mental instability or criminality). Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion Model:
Empirical Findings
Weiner's revised theory (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985) focused on the affective reactions of individuals to success and failure. Weiner theorized that the affective reactions governed by locus of causality, stability, and controllability should hold true in social settings as well as academic ones. However, the majority of the research employing Weiner's revised model utilized achievement situations (Evans & Engelberg, 1988). Research relating




37

Weiner's model to affect have predominately centered on alcoholism, loneliness, and depression (Guttmann, 1982).
In an investigation of college students' affective reactions to an examination grade, Forsyth and McMillan (1981) found support for Weiner's three-dimensional model (locus of causality, stability, and controllability). However, they believed the controllability dimension to be more important than the stability dimension in determining affect. This is in contrast with Weiner's (1979) proposal. Guimond, Begin, and Palmer (1989) agreed with Weiner's theory, in part, but stated that actual affective responses were mediated by cultural background. For example, social science students (with, presumably, increased knowledge of economic and social disadvantage) were less likely to attribute failure dispositionally than were the poor and unemployed. Willig, Harnisch, Hill, and Maehr (1983), in a cross-cultural study of grades four to eight, also found that causal attributions and motivational needs differ for Anglo, Hispanic, and black students.
Similarly, Kashiwagi (1986) asserted that Japanese
adolescents are more likely to attribute failure to lack of effort or other internal factors while they are more likely to attribute success to external factors. In addition, Japanese consider luck to be a strong mediating influence for success or failure. The individual's perception of luck does not relieve him or her of the responsibility to




38
try hard (effort), but luck may cause unanticipated effects. Kashiwagi believed this negative attributional pattern to be cross-nationally atypical; he speculated that the Japanese evaluate themselves negatively because their culture glorifies modesty and criticizes individuality.
Weiner and Handel (1985) reported that, in the
laboratory setting, children as young as 5 and 6 years of age are able to discriminate between the emotions that would be elicited from lack of trying (anger) versus lack of ability (pity). However, only older children acted on this knowledge. That is, they were less likely to reveal responses that they believed would cause anger in another person. Strayer (1986) found, in accordance with Weiner and Handel (1985), that young children (two groups, mean ages 53.2 months and 91.2 months) understood that certain situations provoke certain emotional responses such as anger or happiness.
Kramer (1985) found that gifted middle-school females attribute achievement to effort and failure to lack of effort. The students' beliefs about success and failure developed within a framework based on their school experiences--specifically student-teacher relationships, social competence, and developing self-concept.
Covington and Omelich (1985) proposed a resolution of Weiner's theory with self-worth theory in their study of undergraduate students. They postulated that the emotion




39

of shame shares an ability-linked component (humiliation) and an effort-linked component (guilt). In addition, the authors contended that the coping method of the student (failure-avoiding or failure-accepting) would influence the strength of the ability/effort to affect linkage.
Similarly, Burke, Hunt, and Bickford (1985) reported support for Weiner's revised model but suggested consolidating Weiner's model with self-theory. In a study of college students, they concluded that students with high self-esteem internalized successful results on an examination more than did those students with low selfesteem. They elaborated on Weiner's theory, however, to say that "internalization of causality, when it involves attributions to stable dispositional sources, is qualified by consistency of feedback with existing self-esteem and concomitant expectancies for performance" (pp. 328-329).
Applications of attribution theory for therapy
commonly include attempts to change ascriptions of failure to lack of effort, bad luck, or excessive task difficulty rather than lack of ability (Weiner, 1988). Weiner asserted, however, that subjects would benefit from being directed to focus on errors of omission and commission. Then, "the client directly reaches a new conclusion by paying attention to other causal antecedents" (p. 103). Young and Marks (1986) posited that between counselor and client there should be a match on "attributions of




40
responsibility for both the problem and solution" (p. 327) in order to avoid misunderstanding and conflict (see also Lepper & Dafoe, 1979).
Summary
The majority of researchers on tracking have reported that grouping students by perceived ability or curriculum does not produce significant academic gains. In addition, low-track students may suffer from lower self-esteem and self-concept than non-tracked students of similar ability. One of the common characteristics of at-risk students is poor social skills and low self-esteem. The practice of tracking at-risk students, then, may have increased negative effect on students self-concept unless the alternative program provides considerable attention to the affective domain.
Although most of the previously cited research
supports Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion, there are some serious limitations to the application of these studies. Most of the research was conducted with college or high school students. In addition, the subjects were usually given hypothetical information with the experiments conducted in a laboratory setting. The present study was designed to apply Weiner's model to a specific population--middle-school, at-risk students. Interviewing students in the school setting over a period of months allows insight into the perspective of




41
the students. Weiner (1982) called for further study in
this manner:
If one wishes to study the content of emotions,
emotional life, and the meaning of emotions, then
one must turn to those who experience these
feelings. . There should be greater attention paid to the emotions experienced in everyday life.
(p. 205)




CHAPTER III
METHODOLOGY
The purpose of this study was to determine the
attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. This chapter contains a description of the research methods of this study of the attributions of middle-school adolescents tracked into alternative programs for at-risk students. A case study approach using descriptive methods of data collection was used. The following research questions, grounded within the literature on at-risk, dropouts, tracking, and attribution theory, guided the data collection in this study:
1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students?
2. Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally?
3. Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives?

42




43

4. Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable?
In order to investigate these questions, a qualitative methodology was selected.
qualitative Research
Jacob (1987) argued that "one of the most exciting areas for future research is adapting qualitative traditions to the study of naturally occurring cognitive behavior in classrooms" (p. 39) because "qualitative traditions offer researchers a richer and fuller understanding of education" (p. 38).
Qualitative research, with its variety of data
collection techniques, has great potential for making new and significant contributions to what is currently known about the process and practice of education (Merriam, 1988). Qualitative methods of data collection and analysis provided an opportunity for depth and greater understanding into the predicament of at-risk students.
The interacting variables observed in many classroom situations can best be examined holistically. Qualitative research allows the investigator to report findings within the broader context of the situation under study. "To divorce the act, word, or gesture from its context is, for the qualitative researcher, to lose sight of significance" (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 27).
Descriptive research is undertaken when
description and explanation . are sought, when




44

it is not possible or feasible to manipulate the potential causes of behavior, and when variables are not easily identified or are too embedded in
the phenomenon to be extracted for study.
(Merriam, 1988, p. 7)
Research Design
Case study has long been used in other disciplines; it has recently begun to be recognized as a valuable and valid research approach in education (Merriam, 1985). Case study technique involves exploration of a naturally occurring individual unit; units of study may be the individual, classroom, event, or a community, for example (Cohen & Manion, 1980).
The results of the investigation are written up as
descriptive analyses of the particular unit. There are two types of case studies: single case and multiple case. Within each type, there may be holistic (single) or embedded (multiple) units of analysis (see Yin, 1989). In this study of attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into alternative programs, an embedded, single-case design was utilized. The overall unit of analysis in this study was the alternative-education setting. Two schools were chosen as subunits of analysis. One rural and one urban school were chosen in order to explore possible differences and similarities within divergent settings. At another level of analysis, two students were chosen from each school to be observed and interviewed. This sampling




45

technique allowed for in-depth exploration of students' attributions.
Yin (1989) argued that "the subunits can often add
significant opportunities for extensive analysis, enhancing the insights into the single case (p. 52). Chassen (1969) contended that intensive research is preferable over extensive research (small N versus large N) because "the . investigator has a far greater opportunity to achieve a sense of direction and steady progress than he could possibly have in a succession of extensive studies" (p. 39). A case study selects the research issues of interest and provides rich detail into those relevant issues (Bromley, 1986; Merriam, 1988).
The case study also allows for a progressive inquiry into a particular situation. The end product is not a given before the researcher even begins; instead, the qualitative approach allows the researcher to follow emergent meaning and adapt to changes as they arise. Such an emergent design is crucial for the researcher to maintain the right to intuit and derive new questions (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The subjective nature of the situation under examination requires exploration and interpretation.
Although attribution theory was chosen to guide
initial observations and interviews, the study included unstructured interview time in an attempt to gain the




46

maximum amount of information possible and to allow participants the opportunity to introduce information they believed to be relevant. In this study, data were analyzed at each level within the framework of attribution theory and the literature on tracking and at-risk youth.
Methods and Procedures
This study utilized several different data collection techniques, including observation and interview, in an attempt to gain insight into the perception and attributions of at-risk students. One way of "getting inside" the culture is to use different methods of data collection to supplement and corroborate field notes (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984), such as interview and photographic exercises. Data collection in this study was based on observation, interview, and photo-elicitation.
Participant observation in qualitative research usually implies some degree of "going native" as a researcher attempts to gain a level of acceptance within the distinct culture under study. The goals of this study and the technique of using repeated interviews demanded a greater level of acceptance and understanding from the subjects than might be needed with other research designs. As such, informal settings and casual attire fostered acceptance from the middle-school students.
An alternative is to participate with the children
not as an authority figure (an adult), but as a
quasi-friend. It is difficult for an adult to be accepted by a child as an equal, but you can move




47
toward being a tolerated insider in children's
society. (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 128)
Sampling
The majority of the research focusing on at-risk students has been conducted with subjects at the high school level. Many programs, however, have been implemented in recent years at the middle-school level with the intention of identifying and treating adolescents at risk of dropping out before those students reach high school and are legally old enough to leave school.
There was little research, however, on the attitudes and attributions of students in such alternative programs. In this study, the examination of those attitudes and attributions will contribute to a greater understanding of the at-risk student. The researcher also interviewed faculty at both schools.
Data collection was conducted in two middle schools in the Pacific Northwest. One school is located in the inner city, the other a rural area. Two programs were chosen in order to compare and contrast the experiences of at-risk students in very different school settings (see Lomotey & Swanson, 1989). Both of the schools in this study have been designated as middle schools. However, the two schools differed widely in their size, scheduling, course offerings, instruction, and program goals. For all practical purposes, the rural middle school in this study closely resembled a junior high school. The inner-city




48

school, however, more closely embraced the middle-school philosophy (see Alexander & George, 1981 for more on middle school philosophy and structure).
For example, the rural school followed a seven-period, seven-teacher schedule with no core classes or team teaching. The inner-city school, in contrast, utilized a three-period humanities core class (either self-contained or team-taught) along with a daily advisory class. The advisory class emphasized study skills, peer relations, and academic guidance. (Descriptions of both schools can be found in Chapter IV.)
It is important to acknowledge the constraints that program structure imposes on special programs. The students in the inner-city alternative program spent at least three periods each day with the core teacher. At the rural school, however, the teacher's alternative class consisted of only one 45-minute period each day.
Each of the schools included a designated at-risk program. The programs' goals and methods were very different, however, as were their student populations. The inner-city program included students with histories of substance abuse, violence, and delinquent behavior, whereas the rural program specifically excluded students with such behaviors in an attempt to help more "motivated" students.
Two students were selected at each school from an atrisk class. Students were selected to participate through




49

purposive sampling. Merriam (1988) defined purposive sampling (also called criterion-based sampling) as the process of selecting subjects or situations from which one can learn the most. Purposive sampling allows the researcher to investigate both variation and typical attributes within a sample population. At both schools, students were chosen because the teachers believed those students would benefit from individual attention. In addition, students exhibited behaviors which the teachers believed to be similar to that of other students in the programs. Purposive sampling allows selection of subjects to demonstrate the full range of behaviors under investigation. That is, "the object of the game is not to focus on the similarities that can be developed into generalizations, but to detail the many specifics that give the context its unique flavor" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 201). Maximum diversity in sampling can not only provide additional detail, but can also corroborate deductions.
At both schools, students were chosen because the teachers believed those students would benefit from individual attention. Students were asked whether they would be interested in participating in a study about middle school students' feelings about school. Using repeated observations, interviews, and photographic exercises over the course of 6 months, case study data were compiled on each of the four participants. In addition,




50

follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the following academic year in order to assess the students' transitions between at-risk and regular programs.
Initially, meetings with the principals of each of the two schools provided details on the two programs. In the inner-city school, the researcher met with the alternative program coordinator and observed the at-risk class for several class periods. The coordinator selected two students (one male, one female) perceived to be typical atrisk students as potential subjects.
The first student, a white, eighth-grade female, was selected because the coordinator perceived her to be a typical at-risk student--experiencing problems with family relations, school attendance, and drug/alcohol abuse. The second student, a black eighth-grade male, was also deemed to be a typical at-risk student. In addition, the student was involved in a street gang. Both students were considered to be bright by both the classroom teacher and program coordinator. After a period of two weeks, however, the gang-involved male had only attended school on one day. Consequently, another student was selected from the class-also a black, eighth-grade male.
In the rural school, the at-risk program was
relatively new and composed of two language arts classes and two mathematics classes. Students were identified as at risk by virtue of their failing grades. Students who




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were considered to have severe behavior problems were not placed in the program. The researcher met with the language arts teacher and observations were conducted in two classes on several occasions. The teacher selected two students (one male, one female) perceived to be typical atrisk students for potential subjects. Both were seventhgrade students. According to the teacher, the female was experiencing problems with self-esteem and difficulty forming relationships with her peers. The male appeared confident and friendly, but unmotivated to do his school work. All four students were amenable to participate in a series of formal and informal interviews to be conducted over the remainder of the school year and into the summer. More specific details on the schools, programs, and students are contained in Chapter IV. Observation
Observation is generally a critical step in the initial collection of data for a qualitative study (Merriam, 1988). observations lasted from one to three hours for each classroom visit. Each school visit included some general classroom observation time in addition to interviews. Each of the two schools were visited at least 20 times.
Interview
In this study, the researcher primarily used
unstructured interviews with the participants in an effort




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to draw out opinions and attributions. occasionally a more structured format was employed to explore specific issues. The available attribution theory questionnaires were deemed inappropriate as the basis for interviews because of their superficial nature (e.g., Likert-scale design).
Interviews were conducted with the permission of parents and school personnel. In some instances, the students were exempted from some classroom work in order to meet for interviews. Both program teachers were extremely flexible in allowing students to be interviewed during class time. Both teachers explained that they believed that one-to-one time with an adult was more beneficial for these students than any academic tasks would be. The researcher spent over 125 hours with the four students over the course of six months.
Semistructured interview. Some semistructured
interviews were used in order to explore specific topics. For example, students were asked to describe hypothetical situations in which they might experience emotions such as anger, happiness, or shame in order to investigate whether their responses corresponded with Weiner's attribution framework.
Unstructured interview. Middle-school students seem most comfortable with an unstructured format; they will answer specific questions but are most at ease when conversing in a less formal manner. Because the success of




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an interview is strongly dependent upon the relationship between the interviewer and respondent (Merriam, 1988), a casual and nonthreatening atmosphere was provided in all interview situations. Interviews were conducted in one corner of the classroom, in the student lounge, or in a private office.
Photographic interview. A camera record provides a
method of recording information and assessing individual's perceptions (Collier, 1979).
Through the insider's view via photography, the
researcher becomes a part of the phenomenon, and a
personal knowledge is achieved. The researcher
begins to "see as they see" and "feel as they
feel." Thus the purpose of observation is not
simply description and analysis but understanding.
(Ziller, 1990, p. 21)
Photography may be used to provide descriptive data that might not otherwise be available (Damico, 1985; Ziller, 1990). The use of photographic techniques provided valuable information from the students that might not otherwise have been elicited. Using the photographs added details to help confirm hypotheses.
One way of doing this is to ask subjects to take
photographs that are representative of some aspect of their lives. The specific directions are dependent upon the purpose of the study. In this study, students were asked to take photographs that answered the question "Who am I?"
The subjects were given a camera with 24 film
exposures. The use of the camera was fairly simple;




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students were instructed how to use it and demonstrated their capability to use it before leaving to take their photographs. The specific directions that were given to the students are as follows:
This is a 24 exposure camera that can be used to take photographs both outside and indoors. You should take
at least 10 pictures but may take all 24 if you like.
You should take pictures that would answer the
question, "Who am I?" You should not worry about how
"good" the photographs are. Instead, concentrate on
taking pictures that show what is important in your
life. When you finish, return the camera to me and I
will develop the photographs. Then you will choose 10
pictures that, viewed together, would represent your
world. We will discuss why you took those pictures
and what they mean to you. You may take the pictures
yourself or have someone else take them for you. I will provide duplicates of the pictures for you to
keep. These pictures will not be shown to anyone else
or published in any way.
The researcher brought the developed photographs to a later meeting and asked the student to describe what each of the photographs meant and in what way they represented his or her life. Students were told to choose 10 photographs and explain why they would include them in an album that showed "Who am I?"
Ziller (1990) asserted that there are several benefits to using this process of photo-elicitation. "Respondents are able to represent themselves in any framework they please; the approach is simple; and there is a quality of rich revealingness about the self-representation" (p. 35).
Record Keeping
Qualitative study requires stringent record keeping. In this study, observation and interview were the primary




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methods of data collection. Field notes of observations, note-taking after interviews, and transcriptions of recorded interviews formed the body of data used for analysis. Immediately after observations, field notes were written in order to preserve as accurate an accounting of the settings and participants as possible. Merriam (1988) maintained that "participant observation . gives a firsthand account of the situation under study and, when combined with interviewing . allows for a holistic interpretation of the phenomenon being investigated" (p. 96).
Merriam (1988) proposed three primary methods of recording interview data: tape-recording, note-taking during interview, and note-taking after interview. Merriam suggested that tape-recording is generally preferable because it allows for verbatim transcription for analysis. Several of the interviews with each subject in this study were recorded and transcribed. However, all of the students appeared uneasy whenever the recorder was used. Similarly, students were much less open when note-taking was utilized during the interviews. Consequently, notetaking following the interview was the primary method of recording that was used.
Merriam (1988) stated that although there are obvious problems with this third method of recording, it is preferable when "writing or recording during an interview




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might be intrusive" (p. 81). Subjects provided much more personal data when neither recording or note-taking were used during the interview process. After each interview, reflective notes were recorded, including subject responses, descriptions of subject behavior, and observer comments.
Data Analysis
Following data collection, qualitative techniques of data analysis are used to determine patterns or themes. Qualitative, or inductive, data analysis involves sifting through and organizing the data, usually through a process of coding, and then developing themes or looking for patterns in the data (Merriam, 1988).
Coding consists of uncovering similarities in the
data, whether that data comes from interview, observation, photographs, or other sources. The data are categorized into workable units. For example, one student might report feelings of anxiety in school immediately prior to testing. Another student may have said that he stopped trying in class because he could not compete with the "smart kids." These responses might be coded as "fear of failure." Meaningful units of description, separated out for analysis, are integrated to build a complete, descriptive picture.
Yin (1989) detailed three dominant modes of analysis for case study design: pattern-matching, explanation-




57
building, and time series. In this study, pattern-matching was utilized as the primary mode of data analysis. Within each unit and subunit (total case, school, student), analysis was conducted for each aspect of Weiner's attributional framework (locus of causality, stability, controllability) to discern patterns of attributions. In addition, Yin (1989) specified three lesser modes of analysis: embedded-unit analysis, repeated observation, and case survey. This study included embedded-unit analysis as described, as well as repeated observation. The repeated observations served to provide not only more complete data within a single setting, but also as a crosssectional method of data collection--that is, at a second site as one level of embedded analysis.
Validity and Reliability
Internal Validity
Internal validity is the degree to which the
conclusions presented follow logically from the data (Merriam, 1988). "Establishing validity necessitates demonstration that the propositions generated, refined, or tested match the causal conditions that obtain in human life" (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984, p. 219).
Merriam (1988) argued that "one of the assumptions underlying qualitative research is that reality is holistic, multidimensional, and ever-changing" (p. 167). Internal validity may be affected by many problems,




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including history, maturation, and mortality of subjects, as well as selection and regression. However, the detailed descriptive methods commonly used in qualitative research provide "the reader with a depiction in enough detail to show that the author's conclusion 'makes sense'" (Firestone, 1987, p. 19). In fact, because of the data collection and analysis techniques used in qualitative research, internal validity is usually quite strong (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984; Merriam, 1988).
One way to ensure that research conclusions are valid is to use triangulation. Triangulation, the use of two or more methods of data collection, provides additional confidence in study findings (Cohen & Manion, 1980). In this study, several data collection techniques were used: observation, interview, and photography. Cohen and Manion (1980) asserted that "multiple methods are suitable where a controversial aspect of education needs to be evaluated more fully" (p. 262). The use of alternative programs and the motivations of at-risk youth are certainly controversial.
Lincoln and Guba (1985) stated,
It is only reasonable to assert that the
investigator's judgment can be relied upon to the
extent that he or she interacts with the
phenomenon over time so that its etiology,
including its history and its present context, can
be fully understood and appreciated. (p. 102)
The use of repeated observation and interviews over a period of several months in this study provided the




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researcher with a strong basis for the conclusions presented in Chapters IV and V. External Validity
External validity is the ability to generalize to other situations from the results of a study (Merriam, 1988). Goetz and LeCompte (1984) argued that, because of the nature of qualitative study, it is inappropriate to suggest that a study's results are generalizable to another situation. Instead, "external validity depends on the identification and description of those characteristics of phenomena salient for comparison with other, similar types. . [after which] results may be translated for applicability across sites and disciplines" (p. 229). In other words, with thorough description of the context of the study, the reader is best able to discern whether the results are applicable to other situations.
The researcher made every effort to provide as
detailed a description as possible in each of the four cases and final conclusions presented in this study. Such description should allow the reader to determine whether the conclusions presented apply to contexts of interest to the reader.
Reliability
Reliability is generally held to be the extent to which a study's findings can be replicated (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984; Merriam, 1988). This interpretation,




60
however, presumes "that there is a single reality which if studied repeatedly will give the same results" (Merriam, 1988, p. 170).
Reliability can be considered somewhat differently in qualitative research. "In qualitative studies, researchers are concerned with the accuracy and comprehensiveness of their data. Qualitative researchers tend to view reliability as a fit between what they record as data and what actually occurs in the setting under study" (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 44). Again, accurate recording of techniques and triangulation provide the reader the necessary documentation to determine the "fit" between the data and conclusions in a study. "A good guideline for doing case studies is therefore to conduct the research so that an auditor could repeat the procedures and arrive at the same results" (Yin, 1989, p. 45).
Investigator Bias
Potential biases are a critical issue in qualitative research. Awareness of those biases is, for the reader, one of the best tools for providing perspective into the study's reported results. Documentation of techniques and careful recording of field notes, including observer comments, helps guard against the introduction of subjectively influenced data into researcher conclusions (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982).




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Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggested several techniques to "provide a system of checks and balances [against researcher bias]" (p. 108). They are (a) member checks (rechecking data and interpretations with original data sources), (b) debriefings by peers (reviewing procedures and findings with professional peers), (c) triangulation (cross-checking through the use of multiple methods of data collection), (d) prolonged engagement and persistent observation, (e) use of reflexive journals, and (f) use of the independent audit (examination of the researcher's processes and conclusions by an external auditor). All of the above methods will be used in the course of this study.
The greatest potential bias to this study is the
relationship that the investigator developed with each of the four students. In each case, the researcher became an adult confident and mentor to the student. This allowed the researcher to see through the students' eyes the perceptions of being at risk. The researcher employed rigorous interview recording and transcribing practices as well as journal entries in an attempt to minimize subjectively biased recall of the interviews during data analysis.
Ethical Issues
The ethics of research practice are of concern in any study, but particularly so in case study research. The researcher needs to be aware of these issues and devise




62

safeguards that will help ensure that the rights of subjects are not violated.
Bogdan and Biklen (1982) suggested four guidelines to protect against violating ethical concerns. They are
1. Protect subjects' identities.
2. Treat subjects with respect and seek their cooperation in the research.
3. Abide by any agreements you make in negotiating permission to do your study.
4. Tell the truth when you write up and report your findings.
The researcher made every attempt to adhere to these guidelines in conducting this study. Subjects were informed that they would remain anonymous in all study results.




CHAPTER IV
AT-RISK STUDENTS IN TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLS:
AFFECTIVE AND ACADEMIC BEHAVIORS IN
AN ALTERNATIVE-CLASSROOM SETTING
Introduction
The purpose of this study was to determine the
attributions of at-risk students who have been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and identify the implications for school organization. Four students were observed and interviewed between February and November of 1991. Interviews with faculty and staff added to the contextual picture of the school program and at-risk tracking.
In this study, the perceptions of four at-risk
students in two middle schools were compared and contrasted using an embedded-unit, single-case design. Weiner's theory of achievement motivation and emotion, utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability (1979, 1980, 1985), as well as the literature on tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general were used as a framework for this study.
The following research questions, grounded within the literature on at-risk, dropouts, tracking, and attribution theory, guided data collection in this study:

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1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of
causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students?
2. Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally?
3. Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives?
4. Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable?
The Settings: Two Middle Schools
This chapter contains seven sections. The first
section is an overview of the two middle-school settings used in this study. The second section is a profile of the inner-city middle school, including a description of the campus, the alternative program, a typical alternative class, and each of the two students. A similarly-detailed description of the rural middle-school's program is contained in the third section. The fourth and fifth sections contain narrative data on each school, including descriptions of the programs and student interviews. Comparisions across the four students are related in the sixth section. The two schools are compared and contrasted in the final section.




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Data collection was conducted in two middle schools in the Pacific Northwest, Inner-City Middle School and Rural Middle School (all names in this study have been changed to protect the identity of the informants). Two programs were chosen in order to compare and contrast the experiences of at-risk students in very different school settings (see Lomotey & Swanson, 1989). Both of the schools in this study were designated as middle schools. However, the two schools differed widely in their size, scheduling, course offerings, instruction, and program goals. For all practical purposes, the rural middle school in this study closely resembled a junior high school. The inner-city school, however, more closely embraced the middle-school philosophy (see Alexander & George, 1981 for more on middle school philosophy and structure).
For example, the rural school followed a seven-period, seven-teacher schedule with no core classes or team teaching. The inner-city school, in contrast, included a three-period humanities core class (either self-contained or team-taught) along with a daily advisory class. The advisory classes emphasized study skills, peer relations, and academic guidance. Although Rural Middle was structured more like a junior high school, its small population (approximately 225 student and 9 full-time teachers) fostered a friendly atmosphere.




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It is important to acknowledge the constraints that program structure imposes on special programs. The students in the inner-city alternative program spent at least three periods each day with the alternative program core teacher. At the rural school, however, the teacher's alternative class consisted of only one 45-minute period each day. Inner-city's students spent three times as much class time with their alternative teacher than Rural's students spent with theirs.
Each of the schools included a designated at-risk program. The programs' goals and methods were very different, however, as were their student populations. The inner-city program included students with histories of substance abuse, violence, and delinquent behavior, whereas the rural program specifically excluded students with such behaviors in an attempt to help more "motivated" students.
Two students were selected at each school from an atrisk class. Students were selected to participate through purposive sampling. Merriam (1988) defined purposive sampling (also called criterion-based sampling) as the process of selecting subjects or situations from which one can learn the most. Purposive sampling allows investigation of both variation and similarities within a sample population. At both schools, students were chosen because the teachers believed those students would benefit from individual attention. In addition, students exhibited




67
behaviors which the teachers believed to be similar to that of other students in the programs.
Students were asked whether they would be interested in participating in a study about middle school students' feelings about school. Using repeated observations, interviews, and photographic exercises during the period of time from February through June of 1991, case study data were compiled on each of the four participants. Follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the 1991-92 academic year in order to assess the students' transitions between at-risk and regular programs.
Initially, meetings with the principals of each of the two schools provided details on the two programs. The atrisk morning class at Inner-City Middle was a three period core class of language arts, social studies, and reading. The alternative program coordinator supplied information on potential subjects. Several observations of the at-risk class were conducted. The coordinator selected two eighthgrade students, Jaime and Michael, perceived to be typical at-risk students, for potential subjects.
At Rural Middle, the at-risk program was relatively new and composed of two language arts classes and two mathematics classes. Students were identified as at risk by virtue of their failing grades. Students who were considered by the principal to be severe behavior problems were not placed in the program. Observations were




68
conducted in two language arts classes on several occasions. The teacher selected two seventh-grade students, Elizabeth and Jordan, perceived to be typical atrisk students, for potential subjects. All four students were amenable to a series of formal and informal interviews to be conducted over the period of the study.
The majority of interview data was collected during the spring of the 1990-91 academic year. Students were also contacted throughout the summer and approximately 6 weeks and 10 weeks into the 1991-92 school year. Both Elizabeth and Jordan entered the eighth grade, remaining at Rural Middle. Michael and Jaime started City High School as freshman.
Profile of an Inner-city School
The following section is a profile of Inner-City Middle School. A description of the campus and the alternative program are contained within this section. In addition, a typical day in the alternative class is detailed. Two students, Jaime and Michael, were selected from Inner-City's alternative program to participate in this study. Demographic data on these students are also contained in this section.
The Campus
Inner-City Middle School has a sixth through eighth
grade population of approximately 575 students. Located in a large, metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest, Inner-




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City's student body is comprised of approximately 35% black, 60% white, and 5% Asian and Hispanic students.
The campus of Inner-City Middle is situated in an
older, predominately residential neighborhood. Well-kept landscaping surrounds a two-story brick school building. The building itself is over 50 years old, yet appears sturdy and cheery. The halls are brightly lit and spacious. The main office for attendance and administration is large and welcoming. Wall posters, activity announcements, and awards decorate the walls.
Four wide stairwells provide access to the second floor of the building. Room numbers, offices, and bathrooms are clearly marked with bright painted lettering. Graffiti and litter are minimal. The large classrooms have high ceilings, numerous windows, and several large chalk boards. Traditional classroom desks and chairs form rows. The heating system is insufficient in many of the classrooms; during the winter most students wear layers of clothing in order to adjust to temperature changes in the building throughout the day.
The atmosphere throughout much of Inner-City Middle is that of organized chaos. Some students dash from class to class like bundles of energy. Others amble along, unconcerned at the sounding of the tardy bell. Students are friendly to and curious about visitors.




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The Alternative Program
Housed within the school was a community-linked
alternative program designed to assist students at risk of school failure. The program's mission statement read, in part, that the program was "designed to offer everyone a chance to experience joy, fun, gratitude, tenderness, love, accomplishment and victory." The program was in its fourth year in the 1990-91 school year when this study began. The program targeted students with low self-esteem, failing academic performance, and poor attendance. Students in the program often had histories of negative behaviors, which may include fighting, vandalism, theft, drug or alcohol abuse, physical or emotional battering, and sexual activity.
Students were referred for the program by teachers,
administrators, counselors, or parents, and then evaluated by the program coordinator. The principal espoused the goal of tapping into the unrecognized potential of at-risk students. He stated that the alternative program was designed to provide at-risk students with improved academic and social skills in order to be able to succeed in other settings.
According to the principal and assistant principal, the program instructors utilized a variety of modified instructional techniques, recognizing the diverse learning styles of students. The principal considered chemical




71
abuse and gang involvement to be the two main obstacles to success for these students. There were approximately 80 students, grades 6 through 8, enrolled in the alternative program in the 1990-91 school year. The students in the program represented a variety of backgrounds. Many of the students' families were receiving public assistance. Students often left home without eating, so breakfast was provided in the morning core class.
The alternative program consisted of a small sixthgrade core, and two mixed seventh- and eighth-grade cores. In the morning core class observed in this study, about two-thirds of the students were male, and about one-half the class was white. There were 24 students assigned to the class; attendance rarely exceeded 18 students on any given day. Students frequently arrived late for one reason or another, and attendance varied from student to student. The same teacher was responsible for all three subjects.
The teacher of the seventh- and eighth-grade core
classes, Mrs. Samples, was on a temporary, 1-year contract. The regular teacher was on sabbatical during the 1990-91 school year. At the end of the school year, the teacher on leave decided not to return.
Because of decreased funding, the program structure was revised for the 1991-92 school year. The program was revised into a seventh- and eighth-grade core in which the students will be mainstreamed into regular classes mid-




72

year. To maintain contact with the students and assess their transition, each student is assigned to one period of study skills with the alternative-program teacher. At midyear, targeted sixth graders become a core class for the remainder of the school year. The sixth-grade teacher from the 1990-91 academic year becomes the master teacher for the program.
Mr. Warren served as classroom aide in the at-risk
program when this study began. The 1990-91 school year was his first with the program also. His primary duties included assisting the classroom teacher with supervision and preparation of instructional materials. Mr. Warren renewed his contract and planned to return as classroom aide for the 1991-92 school year. However, Mrs. Ferguson, the program coordinator, decided not to rehire Mr. Warren as aide for the alternative program. She believed he was too aggressive and controlling to be of benefit to the students.
Mrs. Ferguson maintained an office located in the rear of the classroom. She was in the classroom approximately 30% of the time. The remainder of the school day (and beyond) she worked as an outreach contact to parents and community, served as a liaison between the school and police/court system for some students, organized fund raisers and field trips, and coordinated transition for atrisk students between elementary, middle, and high school.




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The principal and the assistant principal at InnerCity Middle School were extremely committed to the success of the alternative program. For example, the principal struggled to provide continued funding for the program. He also encouraged the program coordinator in her endeavors to foster community support for the program. Both the principal and assistant principal considered the at-risk population to be much larger than what the school could serve.
Each praised the program coordinator as being
something of a patron saint of the at risk. Mrs. Ferguson was, in their estimation, tough but loving, and willing to commit an abundance of time and energy to the at-risk students. Although the principal and assistant principal maintained an active interest in the program, they were both willing to defer to Mrs. Ferguson on most issues involving the students, with the exception of severe discipline problems.
Mrs. Ferguson appeared, on first meeting, to be a
bundle of energy. She was interested in talking about "her kids" and their needs, but was very protective of them. In her opinion, one of the more common problems the students suffered from was the lack of a consistent adult role model. She wanted to choose two students for the study whom she believed could benefit from one-to-one time with an adult.




74
Mrs. Ferguson, in addition to coordinating the program at Inner-City, also served as co-director of the district summer program designed to involve students in the school system. Weekly summer camps conducted at various school sites served students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The other director, Mr. Ford, worked for the parks and recreation department and collaborated with Mrs. Ferguson throughout the year to provide after-school activities for the at-risk students. A Typical Core Class in the Alternative Classroom
The morning core class at Inner-City included reading, language arts, and social studies. Class began each morning at 8:30 a.m. At the beginning of the school year, breakfast was scheduled for approximately 15 minutes prior to the 8:30 bell. By mid-year, however, students were provided with breakfast during the first part of class. Breakfast generally consisted of juice or milk, an apple or orange, and a sweet pastry, roll, muffin, or pancakes.
The atmosphere of the alternative class seemed
contrary to that of the rest of the building. Students were either boisterous and out of control or sullen and defensive. On any given day, the mood of the students was unpredictable.
As the bell rang, some students were already in their seats. Others wandered to their desks while a few last stragglers came through the door. About five students




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consistently arrived at school late, usually during the first two class periods. First period reading class started with the admonition from Mrs. Samples or Mr. Warren to "quiet down," after which the announcements were read. For the next 40 minutes or so, students were required to read silently. Mrs. Samples recorded daily how much each student had read.
Often, students sat quietly or rested their heads on their desks during the reading period. However, after approximately 15 or 20 minutes, many students were restless and started to whisper among themselves. At this point, Mr. Warren and Mrs. Samples, who sat at desks on opposite sides of the room, started warning the students who were talking. "How many pages have you read, John? I don't think you've been getting much done lately." "I don't appreciate your talking and disrupting the others who are trying to read." Or, "I hope I'm not going to have to have you in here for lunch." Generally, the warnings were ineffectual. Students ceased talking momentarily, then resumed with efforts to be less conspicuous.
Some days Mr. Warren or Mrs. Samples seemed to have a lower tolerance for the persistent talking and sent students to the back office for a little "talk." Such talks usually involved berating the student for a bad attitude and poor work habits. Sometimes the student listened silently, appearing bored; other times the student




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might lash out defensively. "I wasn't the only one talking. Why do you always pick on me?" If the student was lectured by both Mrs. Samples and Mr. Warren, the other students had free reign to talk and move about.
At the end of the period, students were allowed a 5minute break. Students who had annoyed either adult might be forced to sit in the room without a break. Language arts was usually taught during second period and social studies would be taught third period, although occasionally the two classes would be reversed.
Language arts class focused primarily on spelling and grammar. Mrs. Samples began the class by giving directions for the daily activity, sometimes introducing or reviewing material. On spelling day, the students spent most of the period copying spelling words from a list, looking up definitions in the dictionary, and copying those definitions. Spelling lists generally included about thirty words. As with silent reading, students often became bored part way through the assignment or rushed to complete it, and then began talking or acting out. On other days, students might work on worksheets to learn rules of grammar. Occasionally, they worked on poetry or literature. Mrs. Samples and Mr. Warren regularly worked at their desks, but they sometimes walked around monitored student work. Students were frequently off task. Often, the class was admonished as a whole. "There's too much




77
talking going on. Don't make me take your break away." Or, "I'm really tired of this behavior. I will not tolerate it much longer." Sometimes, individuals were reprimanded.
Students attended a 20-minute advisor/advisee class between second and third period. For third period, the core class returned to Mrs. Samples class for social studies. Social studies was conducted in much the same way as language arts. Students read books, answered written questions, or watched films. The students' behavior was much the same as in the other two periods. Students appeared bored, were off task, and looked for other ways to entertain themselves. Mrs. Samples was often frustrated with the students' behavior and seemed unable to control the classroom. If there was a negative event (such as a fight) early in the day, the classroom atmosphere became tense and increasingly negative as the day progressed. Jaime
Jaime was a 13.6 year-old eighth grader when this study began. She appears Caucasian, but is also half Japanese-Hawaiian. She was physically mature and sexually active. At 5' 9" tall, she more closely resembled a young woman of 16 to 18 than a middle-school student.
All information about Jaime must be considered with the caveat that Jaime compulsively exaggerated. For example, she described City High School as having over




78
1,000 new transfer students in the 1991-92 school year when the total school population was less than 1,000. In another instance, she reported that a friend's dog was losing weight because he was very old--nearly 50. When questioned, "You mean in dog years?" She replied, "No, in people years!" Most of the details related here have been corroborated with school staff or her family when possible; however, there are some instances of conflicting data. In these cases, as accurate an account has been reconstructed as was possible.
Jaime's mother was 15 years old when Jaime was born. Jaime's mother allowed her parents (Jaime's grandparents) to adopt Jaime and raise her as their own. She was raised believing that her mother and her aunts were older sisters. Jaime's biological father was killed in a motorcycle accident when Jaime was 2 years of age.
At age 10, Jaime's grandmother became terminally ill from diabetes. During the final stages of the illness, Jaime was told that her "mom" was really her grandmother. Jaime met her biological mother again when the mother returned to town for the grandmother's funeral.
At this point, Jaime became, from her own account, uncontrollable. Her mother left town again after her grandmother's funeral. Her grandfather (actually her stepgrandfather), whom she calls her dad, sent her to Florida to live with one of her aunts for most of the year. There




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she made friends with a group of kids that were actively involved with drugs and sex. She "learned a lot on the street," and became involved with the police for various offenses ranging from fighting to shoplifting.
After nearly a year, her grandfather provided for Jaime to come home. In the spring of 1991, her mother moved back to the area. Her mother has four other children, three of whom live with her. Jaime is the oldest child. The youngest is less than two years old. Jaime alternately lived with her grandfather, her mother, and her aunts during the course of this study. At times, her various boyfriends lived with her. Jaime was living with her grandfather in a small, one-bedroom house about onehalf mile from Inner-City Middle and three miles from City High School at the end of data collection for this study.
Mrs. Samples and Mrs. Ferguson both described Jaime as intelligent and creative. Mrs. Ferguson said, "She has the ability to be a real scholar." Her attendance was one of the major handicaps to her success in school. The absenteeism was related to many different issues; Jaime had a history of fighting, and she had been picked up by the police several times. She was on probation throughout the spring of the 1990-91 school year. Jaime reported using alcohol and may have used other drugs as well.
Jaime had six different boyfriends over the course of the study. All were between 17 and 22 years of age. She




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reported being sexually active with each of them. Jaime has periodically received medical treatment for various sexually transmitted diseases.
Jaime began the 1991-92 school year approximately
three months pregnant. She said she was undecided whether to keep the child or give it up for adoption. She was enrolled in regular classes and a special teen-parenting class at City High School.
Approximately five weeks into the school year, Jaime had already missed portions of 17 days of school--"I just didn't feel like going"--and had dropped two of her six classes. Because of her numerous absences, she was failing all of her classes and was unlikely to earn any credits for the fall 1991 school term. By early October, she was only attending school from approximately 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.. Jaime was observed and interviewed for over 35 hours between March and October of 1991. Michael
Michael was a 13.7 year-old eighth grader at the beginning of this study. He is black, and was fairly advanced physically for his age. Michael lived with his mother and aunt in the inner city about one mile away from Inner-City Middle during the course of this study. He was an only child. His biological father and mother were never married. He visited his father approximately once every other month. His mother was involved with another man whom




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Michael considered to be his father, but who passed away when Michael was nine years old.
Michael was athletic and interested in all types of sports. He used most of his leisure time to play basketball or football. He also enjoyed cooking and watching television.
Michael was a bright young man with an impressive
vocabulary and spontaneous sense of humor. However, he was quick to be defensive and often spoke out at inappropriate times. His speaking and acting out in class have caused him problems for the past several school years. However, Michael generally got along well with his teachers and peers. He was pleasant and friendly for the most part. Because of his outbursts, however, he was sent out of class and disciplined enough times to warrant his placement in the at-risk program.
According to Mrs. Ferguson, Michael was academically
successful in the at-risk program at Inner-City Middle, but did not make much progress at modifying his behavior. Michael also participated as a junior counselor in Mrs. Ferguson's summer program. He performed well as a counselor for the younger groups of children, but he often misbehaved when involved with children closer to his own age. Subsequently, Mrs. Ferguson stopped using him as a counselor for the latter part of the summer.




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In the 1991-92 school year at City High School,
Michael was enrolled in regular classes for the entire school day. He was a member of the ninth-grade football squad. By the sixth week of school, his attendance had been good, but his grades were marginal in most of his classes. His teachers reported that approximately five weeks into the fall term, Michael began failing to complete assignments and was frequently tardy to class. Michael was suspended the seventh week of school in the 1991-92 school year after a physical confrontation with the varsity football coach. Michael was observed and interviewed for over 35 hours between March and October of 1991.
Profile of a Rural School
The following section contains a profile of Rural Middle School. A description of the campus and the alternative program are contained within this section. In addition, a typical day in the alternative class is detailed. Two students, Elizabeth and Jordan, were selected from Rural Middle's alternative program to participate in this study. Demographic data on these students are also contained in this section. The Campus
Rural Middle is located in the Pacific Northwest.
About 15 miles removed from the nearest sizeable city and 30 miles from a large metropolitan area, Rural Middle's community is primarily supported by an agricultural and




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industrial economy. The student population at Rural Middle School during the 1990-91 school year consisted of approximately 225 seventh and eighth graders, 99% of whom were white.
A long, winding road off the interstate freeway leads to the city in which Rural Middle is located. The town's main shops are established on either side of this same street. Rural's campus is one of the first buildings on the edge of town. To one side of the school is a recreational field; behind the school is one of the district's elementary schools.
The school is built around a commons area in a
slightly irregular rectangular shape. Classrooms in each leg of the building may be entered from either side. The building is approximately 18 years old and is under renovation to add storage and locker space. Classrooms are constructed in pairs; sliding walls separate them and can be opened to form one large room. This allows teachers to open the walls and lead group activities between classes.
The main office area is rather small, but students are greeted by a friendly secretary and seem to feel comfortable stopping in to ask for help. The cafeteria bustles at lunch time as students wait for hot lunches or sit down to eat a bag lunch.
Classrooms are well lit and spacious. Desks and
chairs are sometimes arranged in rows, sometimes arranged




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randomly for discussion or group activities. Floors are carpeted to help absorb noise. Walls are covered with posters and student work. Students are mostly respectful and friendly, willing to give directions or answer questions. There is an air of small-town closeness throughout the school.
The Alternative Program
The at-risk program was comprised of two math classes in effect for the entire 1990-91 school year, and two language arts classes which began just after semester change in late February. Students were assigned to the classes on the basis of failing grades but were not placed in the program if they were considered by the principal to be a severe discipline problem. In the 1991-92 school year, declining funding allowed for only one class each of mathematics and language arts. Students were assigned to the program on the basis of percentile scoring on the statewide standardized achievement test administered the previous year.
The principal, Mr. Durnan, had concurrently served as principal of one of the two feeder elementary schools and the middle school until the 1990-91 school year. Consequently, he was well acquainted with half of the students as they entered the middle school. He stated that he was confident he knew which students were "problems"




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within a week of the beginning of the school year, even with new students.
The at-risk math teacher was identified by the
principal as a teacher who had "had some problems" in the past. In fact, Mr. Durnan considered the math teacher his "personal project," in need of mentoring to better his teaching skills. He was described by Mr. Durnan as a teacher who was "only here to collect a paycheck." The math teacher was reluctant to have anyone observe or interview in his class. He was reassigned to the nearby elementary school for the 1991-92 school year.
Mrs. Willowes, the language arts teacher, was a
substitute teacher for several years after completing her teacher training. The 1990-91 school year marked her first contract position. She was hired as a five-sevenths time teacher. In February, she was offered the position of atrisk language arts instructor for two periods in the afternoon. Because the program was not fully funded, Mrs. Willowes was offered aide pay to teach the at-risk classes.
Mrs. Willowes was very congenial. Mr. Durnan had told her only that some students in her class would be involved in a study. Mrs. Willowes was concerned about improving her teaching techniques; she seemed to genuinely care about the students and how she could best help them. She was eager to have some of her students participate in the study so they could receive extra individual attention.




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The sixth-period at-risk language arts class contained eight seventh- and eighth-grade students: five white females (one eighth grade, four seventh grade) and three white males (all seventh grade). The seventh-period atrisk class was comprised of eight white males, five seventh graders and three eighth graders. A Typical Class Period in the At-Risk Language Arts Class
Both the sixth- and seventh-period language arts class usually progressed similarly on any given day. Mrs. Willowes greeted students by name as they entered class. "Billy--I heard about your math test. Congratulations!" "Hi Suzy. How'd the game turn out?" Or, "Ben! You got your hair cut! It looks great!" Mrs. Willowes was particularly attentive to any student who looked dejected, and often took a few minutes to confer with the student.
The students retrieved their work folders from a bin on one side of the room, then took their seats before the bell rang. Class usually began with a few words of encouragement from Mrs. Willowes, for example, "I'm really pleased with how well you all worked on your projects yesterday. We'll be continuing those today." After this brief introduction, the class read silently for the first 10 minutes of class. Mrs. Willowes worked individually with a student who had a second-grade reading ability. Students read quietly and generally stayed on task. After reading, students took about five minutes to write in a




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daily journal. Mrs. Willowes walked around to make sure that everyone was working.
Next, Mrs. Willowes introduced the day's activities. She would generally include at least two different activities during the class period so that students would not become bored. Activities included memorizing prepositions, writing poems and stories, learning grammar, drilling and testing spelling skills, reading literature, and reviewing study skills.
Students sometimes groaned about unfavored activities, but Mrs. Willowes made an effort to make the learning less painful. For example, she challenged each of her two classes to learn all of the 50 most common prepositions, promising an ice cream party to each class if everyone could memorize the prepositions. The students helped each other to learn them, and both classes qualified for the party. She rewarded students with praise and recognition for good work; she taught the students to appreciate help and good work done by others. Mrs. Willowes took class time to discuss issues such as self-esteem and respect for others.
When students were off task, a few calm words from
Mrs. Willowes generally prompted them to get back to work. "Jenny, you've just got a few minutes left to finish up." Mrs. Willowes was never abrupt or angry when chiding a student. Students in Mrs. Willowes' class reported feeling




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more successful and appreciated while in her classroom. The atmosphere in her class was almost always pleasant and secure.
Elizabeth
Elizabeth posed a striking contrast to Jaime. Elizabeth was a 12.7 year-old seventh grader at the beginning of this study. She was generally quiet and unassuming, and she had had few conflicts with her peers or school personnel. She was identified as at-risk by virtue of her failing grades. Her attendance was somewhat sporadic because of illness, although many of her illnesses during the time of this study seemed exaggerated. For example, Elizabeth missed nearly a week of school after deciding she had bronchitis. She never went to the doctor, but a friend had been diagnosed as having bronchitis and Elizabeth reported many of the same symptoms. So she stayed home because she had heard that it took at least a week to get over bronchitis.
Elizabeth was the youngest of four children. Her
parents owned and ran a small grocery store and gun shop. Her oldest brother was in his early 20s and worked for their parents. Her sister was 20 years old and unmarried with three children; she dropped out of school at the age of 14. Her other brother was 16 and lived at home with Elizabeth and her parents. He attended the nearby high




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school. He and Elizabeth fought constantly because he was "mean to her."
Elizabeth loved animals and collected strays. She had several dogs, a cat with kittens, and squirrels. She talked about her animals as if they were part of her family. Elizabeth was also very interested in fashion; she spent a great deal of time reading through magazines and trying out new clothing, hair, and make-up styles.
Elizabeth did not qualify to be in the at-risk
language arts program at Rural Middle School in the 1991-92 school year. The principal enrolled only students who were below the 30th percentile on a standardized assessment test, despite Mrs. Willowes' objections.
Elizabeth returned from her summer vacation to begin
the 1991-92 school year approximately 30 pounds lighter and with blond hair. She seemed to exude a new sense of selfconfidence and enthusiasm. Elizabeth was not enrolled in the at-risk program for her eighth-grade year. After nine weeks of school, she was maintaining passing grades in six of her seven courses. Elizabeth was described by her teachers as having a "much improved" attitude from the previous year. However, she was also described as having a short attention span and difficulty focusing on her work. She was more self-confident and outgoing. Several of her teachers voiced concern that Elizabeth was dressing inappropriately in an attempt to gain attention. Elizabeth




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was observed and interviewed for over 30 hours between March and October of 1991.
Jordan
At the beginning of this study, Jordan was a 13.3 year-old seventh grader who was extremely physically immature. At 4' 8" in height, he was one of the smallest seventh-grade boys. Jordan was outgoing and appeared selfconfident, despite his recent record of failing grades.
Jordan lived with his mother and stepfather and
younger sister. His father lived about 200 miles away, and Jordan generally visited him for several weeks during summer vacation. His stepfather had a son and a daughter who lived with their mother during the 1990-91 school year, but spent most weekends at Jordan's house. Jordan's stepbrother and stepsister moved in with Jordan's family during the summer. Jordan considered his stepbrother and stepsister to be among his best friends until they moved in with him. In fact, he described himself as feeling closer to them than to his real sister. Jordan and his stepbrother began having difficulties getting along after his stepbrother moved in and started attending the local high school. Jordan's parents were divorced when he was approximately three years of age, and he has had contact with his biological father infrequently since that time. His mother remarried when he was nine years old and he said he liked his stepfather a great deal.




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Jordan was active in the school chorus; he was a
frequent soloist in school concerts. Jordan also enjoyed shop and home economics. He made wood projects for his home and sewed some of his own clothes. Jordan loved sports, but he was often at a disadvantage because of his small size. He excelled in physical education class because of his enthusiasm and energy.
Jordan began the 1991-92 school year in regular
classes. Jordan reported doing fine in all his classes, but admitted he was not completing all his work or studying enough for tests. Nine weeks into the school year (the end of the first quarter), he was passing all of his seven classes. Jordan was observed and interviewed for over 30 hours between March and October of 1991.
Inner-City Middle School
Two students, Jaime and Michael, were observed and
interviewed within Inner-City's at-risk program; data from those observations and interviews are contained in this section. Data on the program and staff are also contained in this section.
The Students
Jaime. Jaime was something of an enigma. Because of her complex family life, she developed her own set of values for dealing with everyday life. She was a survivor, but her actions did not always mesh with mainstream social values, particularly those endorsed by the school system.




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ATTRIBUTIONS OF TRACKED, AT-RISK, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS: ISOLATION OF ALIENATED AND MARGINAL STUDENTS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL ORGANIZATION By MARY MALMBERG YONEK A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1992 UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA LIBRARIES

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Copyright 1992 by Mary Malmberg Yonek

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Completion of my doctoral dissertation would not have been possible without the assistance and support of a number of people. I wish to thank my committee chair, Dr. Paul George, and committee members, Dr. Sandy Damico, Dr. Jim Hensel, and Dr. Dave Honeyman, for their patience and helpful suggestions in reading many drafts of this study. In addition, Dr. Damico, Dr. Joan Curcio, and Dr. Bob Ziller provided support and inspiration throughout my graduate career. The quality of my work and my experience at the University of Florida were much improved from my having known each of them. Several people enriched my life during my time spent in Florida and continue to do so, although now over a long distance. Leila Cantara provided both professional and emotional support. She provided encouragement when I most needed it. Her assistance in preparing my dissertation was invaluable. Michael O'Loughlin has been my close friend, sharing in the emotional process of graduate school. His sage advice and faith in me made the process bearable when it seemed otherwise. Kathy Carroll has been a good friend and confidant.

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I am grateful to family members who have been supportive during my educational pursuits. My parents, Donald and Irene Malmberg, have consistently expressed their love and confidence in me and my ability to successfully complete this part of my life. There is no way I can express the depth of my gratitude. My sister, Lynda Lovell, has unfailingly asserted her pride in my accomplishments. Her respect means a great deal to me. She has, throughout my life, been my friend and my role model. My brother, Wendell Malmberg, has been supportive and understanding. To the memory of my grandmother, Gertrude Owens Swindler, I owe my gratitude for many years of love and security. Two close friends have been a great help to me during this phase of my life. Ken and Suzanne Boone shared fun and laughter with me, improving my outlook on life. Suzanne, especially, took an interest in my study and helped me work through the rough spots; I admire her intelligence and sense of humor. To my husband, Joe, I am eternally grateful. His patience and understanding allowed me to complete this project. He is my best friend and my passion in life.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS iii ABSTRACT viii CHAPTERS I INTRODUCTION 1 Purpose of the Study 3 Definition of Terms 3 Rationale for the Study 5 Problem Statement 6 Significance of the Study 7 Questions of the Study 8 Study Limitations 9 Outline of the Study 9 II A LITERATURE REVIEW: SCHOOL ORGANIZATION AND TRACKING, AT-RISK PROGRAMS, AND ATTRIBUTION THEORY 11 School Organization and Tracking 11 Academic Achievement and Tracking: Empirical Findings 14 The Affective Domain and Tracking: Review of Research 17 Tracking the At -Risk Student 19 At-Risk Students and Programs 20 Research on the Characteristics of At-Risk Students 20 Research on At-Risk Programs 22 Developmental Perspectives 23 The Background of Attribution Theory 24 Heider's Naive Psychology of Action 2 5 Jones and Davis • s Theory of Correspondent Inferences 27 Kelley's Covariation Principle 30 The Contributions of Bernard Weiner 32 Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation 32

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Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion 33 Weiner's Achievement Motivation Model: Empirical Support 35 Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion Model: Empirical Findings 36 Summary 40 III METHODOLOGY 42 Qualitative Research 43 Research Design 44 Methods and Procedures 46 Sampling 47 Observation 51 Interview 51 Record Keeping 54 Data Analysis 56 Validity and Reliability 57 Internal Validity 57 External Validity 59 Reliability 59 Investigator Bias 60 Ethical Issues 61 IV AT-RISK STUDENTS IN TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLS: AFFECTIVE AND ACADEMIC BEHAVIORS IN AN ALTERNATIVE-CLASSROOM SETTING 63 Introduction 63 The Settings: Two Middle Schools 64 Profile of an Inner-city School 68 The Campus 68 The Alternative Program 70 A Typical Core Class in the Alternative Classroom 74 Jaime 77 Michael 80 Profile of a Rural School 82 The Campus 82 The Alternative Program 84 A Typical Class Period in the At-Risk Language Arts Class 86 Elizabeth 88 Jordan 90 Inner-City Middle School 91 The Students 91 The School: Inner-City Middle School's Alternative Program 106 Rural Middle School 110 The Students 110

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The School: Rural Middle School's Alternative Program 125 Comparison Across Students 130 Comparison Between Schools 134 V CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 139 Application of Findings to Research Questions.... 141 Relationship of Findings to Previous Research. 147 At-Risk Students and Programs 147 Tracking 149 Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion Model 154 Implications of Findings for Research 156 Implications of Findings for Practitioners 158 Recommendations 160 REFERENCES 163 APPENDIX CONSENT FORM 175 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 177

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Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy ATTRIBUTIONS OF TRACKED, AT-RISK, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS: ISOLATION OF ALIENATED AND MARGINAL STUDENTS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL ORGANIZATION By Mary Malmberg Yonek May, 1992 Chairman: Paul S. George Major Department: Educational Leadership The purpose of this study was to determine the attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. In this study the attributions of at-risk students were compared and contrasted within the framework of Weiner's theory of achievement motivation and emotion utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability as well as within the context of tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general. A case study approach using descriptive methods of data collected was used. In this study an embedded, single-case design was utilized. The overall unit of analysis was the alternative education setting. Two schools were chosen as subunits of analysis. One rural and one urban school were chosen in order to explore possible viii

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differences and similarities within divergent settings; faculty and staff were observed and interviewed. At another level of analysis, two students were chosen from each school for observation and interview, allowing for indepth exploration of students 1 attributions. Observations and interviews were conducted over the course of approximately 6 months in the 1990-1991 school year, and follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the 1991-1992 school year. Included in this study was unstructured interview time in an attempt to gain the maximum amount of information possible and to allow participants the opportunity to introduce information they believed to be relevant. Pattern-matching was utilized as the primary mode of data analysis. Within Weiner's framework, all four students attributed negative events to unstable or uncontrollable causes, allowing them to maintain a positive self -concept. Successes were mostly viewed as the result of increased effort, rather than innate ability. The rural program provided individualized attention and, thus, produced more positive affective and academic gains for those students than did the urban program. The findings suggest that programs that track at-risk students need to be carefully designed and monitored in order to provide individualized attention, qualified instructors, opportunities for student success, and appropriate behavioral and academic training.

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CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION The "at-risk" population in the educational system of the United States is growing rapidly (Bryk & Thum, 1989; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986) The disadvantages suffered by dropouts in the job market are increasing (Catterall & Stern, 1986) Stricter graduation requirements may be causing more students to fail to complete school (Archer & Dresden, 1987; McDill, Natriello, & Pallas, 1986; Tanner, 1989) Research into the at-risk and dropout problem has focused on the high-school-aged student and quantitative data collection (Tidwell, 1988) Much of this research has been based on the "High School and Beyond" study (see Jones et al., 1983). There are many research reports describing the characteristics of dropouts; attributes of students considered likely to dropout include low socioeconomic status, aggressive behavior, low academic achievement, nonparticipation in school-related activities, high absenteeism, Hispanic or black ancestry, retention of at least one grade level, inadequate social skills, or being male (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Levin, 1989; Rumberger, 1983; Svec, 1986; Valverde, 1987; Wells, 1990). 1

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2 There are few qualitative studies reported, however, that were designed to investigate the behaviors and motivations of at-risk students prior to dropping out, particularly at the middle-school level (Catterall & Stern, 1986; Farrell, Peguero, Lindsey, & White, 1988; Miller, Leinhardt, & Zigmond, 1988) Students who drop out tend to exhibit combinations of risk factors (Wells, 1990) Why do some students drop out of school, although others who seem equally at risk stay in school? Societal changes are causing many students to drop out at a younger age (LeCompte, 1987) ; however, there has been little research on the at-risk problem at the middle-school level (Barrington & Hendricks, 1989; Rumberger, 1987). This research is a case study of the at-risk phenomenon in the middle-school level. Examination of the predicament of at-risk youth requires intensive investigation into the problem; most previous research has only superficially investigated the issue (Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1986) "We advocate a comprehensive and sustained effort to examine the dropout problem. The failure to understand the problem will guarantee a great deal of wasted effort on the part of educators and the continued squandering of human resources" (Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1986, p. 438).

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3 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to determine the attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. Interviews with faculty and staff added to the contextual picture of the school program and at-risk tracking. There is little research reported on the process by which young people become at risk in our educational system. This study compared and contrasted the attributions of at-risk students within the framework of Weiner's (1979, 1980, 1985) theory of achievement motivation and emotion, utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, as well as within the context of tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general. Although much quantitative inquiry has been conducted, qualitative analysis of at-risk students is nearly nonexistent. A qualitative methodology will add to the depth of understanding of the at-risk problem. Definition of Terms For the purpose of this research, terms are defined as follows: Ability grouping is the practice of dividing students by academic capability in order to increase homogeneity (e.g., gifted, regular, and low tracks).

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4 Alternative program is an in-school program with a student-teacher ratio below 18:1, designed to provide intensive classroom help to students who have been targeted by the school as being at risk of dropping out. At-risk students are students who have been identified by the school staff as being in danger of not completing high school. In this study, the at-risk students are enrolled in special programs designed to increase the chances of their staying in school through graduation. Attribution theory is the general body of social psychology literature which attempts to formalize the everyday rules that people use to make judgments about behaviors and motivations of self and others. "Attribution refers to the process of inferring or perceiving the dispositional properties of entities in the environment" (Kelley, 1967, p. 193) Controllability is a dimension of causality determined by the amount of volitional or optional control that may be exerted by the individual. Curriculum tracking is the practice of grouping students according to interests and/ or professional goals (i.e., college preparatory, vocational-technical, or general diploma) Dropout is a youth who fails to graduate from high school within two years of his or her cohort class and is not enrolled in school.

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5 Locus of causality is a dimension of causality characterized by familiar location of a cause, either internal or external to the individual. Stability is a dimension of causality distinguished by temporal nature, varying from invariant (stable) to variant (unstable) Rationale for the Study The costs of dropping out — educational, social, and economic — in American society are staggering (Dollar, 1983; Levin, 1989; Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1986; Rumberger, 1983) Levin (1972) estimated nearly $80 billion in lost tax revenues, welfare and unemployment, and crime and crime prevention costs for high school dropouts between the ages of 25 and 34. Collectively, society suffers from increased rates of crime, the financial burdens of public assistance, lost employment revenues, and costs of rehabilitation. For the individual, the cost of dropping out may include loss of self-esteem, deficiency of skills needed to compete successfully in the job market, and lost opportunities for social and professional development (Steinberg, Blinde, & Chan, 1984) This is not to say that all dropouts become criminals or remain continually unemployed. However, as the median age of dropouts decreases and the skills needed in the job market increase, prospects for dropouts become bleak. Alleviating the dropout problem has become a primary concern for educators.

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6 Examining the context of becoming at-risk and the developmental process involved may help produce an adaptation of Weiner's attributional model which could be used with at-risk students. Problem Statement The purpose of this study was to determine the attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. Interviews with faculty and staff added to the contextual picture of the school program and at-risk tracking. There is little research reported on the process by which young people become at risk in our educational system. This study compared and contrasted the attributions of at-risk students within the framework of Weiner's (1979, 1980, 1985) theory of achievement motivation and emotion, utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability as well as within the context of tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general. Examination of the at-risk phenomenon from a qualitative perspective will help provide answers as to why students become at risk; without this knowledge, educators continue to address the problem from an adult perspective only. The data that will provide a solution must be

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7 collected from the students (Farrell, Peguero, Lindsey, & White, 1988) Answers to the at-risk problem can be found, in part, in research into the perspectives of students and teachers and parents of the world around them and how those perceptions affect behavior. Labeling students as at-risk from characteristics they possess leads to ineffective programs with no clear treatment focus. Significance of the Study By identifying how at-risk students perceive themselves and others, and how those perceptions subseguently affect their behavior, educators can retrain students to perceive both self and others more accurately and to modify their behavior. A developmental model that can be successfully applied to explain at-risk behaviors would provide the basis for prevention and intervention in the school setting. Some of the behavioral mechanisms that contribute to the state of being at risk have been identified through completion of this study. Attribution theory, from the field of social psychology, provided a theoretical basis from which to begin examination of the at-risk phenomenon. That is, what are the attributions of self and others as experienced by at-risk students? How are they perceived by others in the school setting? Such knowledge will contribute to a developmental model and recommendations for

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8 ameliorating the current, growing crisis of at-risk students A case study approach also provided insight into the organizational aspects of at-risk programs. Because of the proliferation of programs that track at-risk students outside the traditional school structure, research data needs to be collected that document the effects of such grouping programs. Questions of the Study The data in this study were collected in two schools using a case-study approach. Although any attempt to generalize this study's results should be considered by comparison to the settings and methodology presented here, the following research questions, grounded within the literature on at risk, dropouts, tracking, and attribution theory, guided the data collection in this study: 1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students? 2. Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally? 3 Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives?

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9 4 Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable? Study Limitations The data in this study were collected utilizing ethnographic technigues. The results of this study are limited in the generalizations that can be drawn because of the use of qualitative methodology. Any attempt to generalize to other situations should be considered by comparison to the contexts represented in this study. The specific methodological constraints are described in Chapter III. A second limitation of this study was the time of the year of data collection. Beginning the study near the end of the academic year prevented observation of the development of subjects 1 behavior patterns within the alternative program from the beginning of the school year. This was mediated to some extent, however, by the use of multiple observations and interviews over a 6-month period and follow-up interviews in the subsequent school year. Outline of the Study Chapter II contains a review of the literature on tracking, at-risk students, and attribution theory and includes potential implications for the at-risk. The methodology of the study is detailed in Chapter III. Findings of the study are presented in Chapter IV. Chapter

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10 V contains conclusions and implications of the study's results as well as suggestions for further research.

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CHAPTER II A LITERATURE REVIEW: SCHOOL ORGANIZATION AND TRACKING, AT-RISK PROGRAMS, AND ATTRIBUTION THEORY School Organization and Tracking No two schools are the same. Factors such as local, state, and federal political agendas, community pressures, parent involvement, student characteristics, and faculty/ staff commitment and experience all combine to make each school program unigue (Newmann, 1989) In addition, schools are constantly changing in an attempt to conform to changes in society (Patterson, Purkey, & Parker, 1986) Students enter the school system with varying backgrounds, abilities, and expectations. In an effort to cope with the diverse characteristics and abilities of students, educators devised methods of sorting or tracking students into groups — hoping to make teaching and learning easier (Oakes, 1983) Because students differ in knowledge, skills, and learning rate, it seems logical that grouping them according to those attributes would provide instructional efficiency (Goodlad, 1984) The teacher should be able to pace the lesson appropriately and supply curriculum at the correct level of difficulty. Tracking has been used in the school system since the 1800s, when teachers began grouping students 11

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12 within the one-room schoolhouse according to their abilities and interests (Oakes, 1987) There are two basic types of tracking — ability or achievement tracking and curriculum tracking (Sedlak, Wheeler, Pullin, & Cusick, 1986) Ability grouping arranges students by perceived ability, usually measured by IQ scores, ranking on standardized tests, teacher recommendations, academic achievement, or a combination of these. Students may be assigned to gifted, regular, or remedial tracks for all subjects, or may be selected out for various subjects. Practices vary widely from school to school. Some school systems begin ability grouping at the elementary level; others begin tracking at the middle school or junior high level. Curriculum tracking classifies students by outcome goals, for example, college preparation, vocationaltechnical, or general diploma. Curriculum tracking is most widely used at the high-school level. Slavin (1989) identified two types of tracking — between-class or within-class. Between-class grouping is identified by non-random assignment to classes. For example, ability assignments as well as departmentalization are between-class groupings. Within-class grouping may include ability grouping (reading or math groups, for example) mastery learning, or cooperative learning (heterogeneous subgrouping) Slavin (1987) argued that

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13 much of the dissent over the results of grouping is due to research that fails to recognize tracking as several distinct practices. Similarly, Gamoran (1987b, 1989) asserted that successful resolution of the tracking debate requires quantified differentiation of types of grouping and methods of instruction within the classroom. Research on grouping arrangements has been conducted for nearly a century (Slavin, 1989) Over 20 years ago, the National Education Association (1968) reported that "despite its increasing popularity, there is a notable lack of empirical evidence to support the use of ability grouping as an instructional arrangement in the public schools" (p. 44) Although much of the reported research indicates that tracking has little or no positive result in most situations, the practice continues to be widespread (Hallinan, 1987a; Oakes, 1986, 1989; Trimble & Sinclair, 1987) Opponents have argued that tracking perpetuates preexisting racial and economic inequalities (England, Meier, & Fraga, 1988; Oakes, 1985, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1976). In addition, tracking may produce lower self-esteem, and higher incidence of school misconduct, drop-out rates, and delinquency (Goodlad, 1984; see also Esposito, 1973.) Ability and curriculum groupings also tend to persist over long periods of time and restrict access to educational opportunities (Hallinan, 1987b; Rosenbaum, 1980)

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14 Academic Achievement and Tracking: Empirical Findings Nevi (1987) argued that "research supports tracking" (p. 24) He referred, however, to only one meta-analysis when he concluded that tracking did not provide negative academic achievement for average and below-average students and often afforded significant gains for gifted students. Kulik and Kulik (1987) conducted a meta-analysis examining a total of 109 studies of between-class grouping programs and within-class grouping programs. They concluded that significant gains were found for students in programs specially designed for the talented/gifted. They also cautioned against acceptance of Slavin's (1987) conclusions. Slavin (1987) in a review of studies of abilitygrouped classes at the elementary level, concluded that the overall effects of ability grouping were near zero for students of all achievement levels. Regrouping by selected subjects (math or reading) provided positive gains if the instructional level and pace were adapted to student performance level and if the regrouping was for only one or two periods per day. Slavin (1989) also concluded that the majority of literature on gifted programs at the elementary level is "small, inconclusive, and methodologically inadeguate" (p. 164) Consequently, Slavin argued that justification for tracking high-ability students was currently lacking (1989, 1990b). Slavin (1989) concluded

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15 that successful grouping plans utilize heterogeneous grouping for most of the day, are flexible for student placement, and adapt the level and pace of instruction to the readiness of the group. Slavin (1990b) also argued that the use of gifted programs should be decreased, while increasing the use of cooperative learning methods and, if necessary, differentiating within classes. In a meta-analysis of 50 studies, Noland and Taylor (1986) judged that ability grouping did not increase academic achievement. Gamoran and Mare (1990) in an analysis utilizing the "High School and Beyond" data, posited that track assignment reinforced academic inequalities among highand low-SES students. This finding was mediated to some extent by the fact that blacks and females are partly compensated for their initial disadvantages by track assignment and subsequent increased achievement compared to blacks and females who are randomly assigned to tracks. Kerckhoff (1986) in a study of ability grouping in British secondary schools, examined data from a birth cohort tracked through early adolescence. He concluded that curricular grouping produced significant gains for high-track students and losses for low-track students compared to non-tracked students. In contrast, Natriello, Pallas, and Alexander (1989), using the "High School and Beyond" data, found that students in all tracks made gains.

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16 However, students in the academic (high) track gained more than students in general or vocational tracks. Students in all three tracks gained more than those who dropped out. In an investigation of minority track assignment, England, Meier, and Fraga (1988) found that nonwhite students were proportionately underrepresented in high tracks, and overrepresented in special education and low tracks. In addition, black students received a disproportionately large share of disciplinary actions. Vanfossen, Jones, and Spade (1987) found that academic performance was not the only basis for curricular-track placement. Other factors included SES, size limitations in courses, and faculty/staff perception of ability. Their findings strongly supported the contention that students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds have differing access to curriculum. Slavin (1990a) in a "best-evidence synthesis" of achievement effects of ability grouping in secondary schools, found zero overall achievement effects at all grade levels. Slavin 's findings contrasted with some earlier studies, most notably those of Kulik and Kulik (1982, 1984, 1987), which argued that students in high tracks made positive gains, while students in low tracks made no gains or negative gains. Slavin (1990a) reconciled this conflict by arguing that those studies often compared students in existing tracks. No statistical procedure can

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17 adequately control for such large preexisting differences as those that exist between highand low-track students. Slavin's review included only studies which met a strict set of methodological criteria. The Affective Domain and Tracking: Review of Research In an account of highand low-track eighth-grade students, Metz (1978) described the affective responses of low-track students towards school: They took the school as they found it and did not question the administrators' and teachers' right to define what they should learn, how they should learn it, or how they should behave. However, though they accepted these definitions as inevitable, they did not embrace them. They remained alien and separate within it [the school]. (p. 81) Metz found, in contrast, that high-track students participated in and were committed to the development of classroom activities and discipline. Similarly, in a review of ethnographic research, Gamoran and Berends (1987) found distinct differences between student attitudes and self -percept ion in different tracks. In addition, teachers perceived high-track students more positively than lowtrack students. Eder (1981) in an analysis of a first grade classroom, concluded that lower-ability students were grouped such that they were exposed to conditions less likely to encourage learning. These students experienced a more disruptive learning environment than did the highertrack students.

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18 In support of tracking, Kulik and Kulik (1982) stated, "students seemed to like their school subjects more when they studied them with peers of similar ability, and some students in grouped classes even developed more positive attitudes about themselves and about school" (p. 426) This conclusion was based on a review of fifteen studies of tracking which included self -concept measures. Seven studies reported higher self-concept for students in grouped classrooms, while six studies reported higher selfconcept for students in ungrouped classrooms. Kulik and Kulik did not detail the differences between the studies which might explain the contrasting conclusions. Their argument that grouped students exhibit higher self -concept, therefore, is not convincing. In a 1984 review of accelerated programs, Kulik and Kulik found no clear pattern of affective outcomes. Most researchers have asserted that tracking negatively affects students' selfesteem and self -concept. Noland and Taylor (1986) in a meta-analysis of 50 studies conducted between 1967 and 1983, concluded that ability grouping provided negative affective outcomes in areas such as self-esteem and self -concept. Gamoran (1987a) called for further research into the attitudes and expectations of tracked students (see also Schwartz, 1981).

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19 Tracking the At-Risk Student Tracking practices have clear implications for structuring programs for students at risk. Although research generally shows few or no positive academic or affective effects from tracking, at-risk programs have created a new form of curriculum tracking. At-risk programs often focus on remedial instruction with minimal emphasis on social skills development. The programs often target students with low self-esteem and failing academic marks. Students are often perceived as special education students, although they are not provided with the same special services. Catterall (1987) concluded that grouping at-risk students at the high-school level (for a counseling workshop) resulted in little positive gains in performance, persistence, or attitude for the participants. After follow-up conversations with participants, Catterall hypothesized that the program may have resulted in social bonding among the participants that subsequently lead to nonparticipation. "The workshop may have resulted in a cohesive peer group within the school that looked to itself for sources of satisfaction in daily school life, but not to teachers or to regular school activities" (p. 534) Tracking at-risk students in the school setting may result in the type of peer-group bonding suggested by Catterall leading to further alienation and misbehavior.

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20 At-Risk Students and Programs Approximately 25% of high school students drop out before graduation (Catterall, 1989) However, graduation rates vary widely across racial and economic groups and between urban and rural areas. Dropout rates may exceed 50% in some areas. The term "at-risk" has been widely used over the past decade with varying definitions. In this study, the term "at-risk" is used to describe students who have been targeted in the school setting as unlikely to graduate from high school. These students have been placed in special programs in an attempt to provide them with more individualized instruction and attention in the hopes of improving their chances of success in school. Research on the Characteristics of At-Risk Students Research on students who leave school early has focused primarily on the characteristics of at-risk students or on school intervention programs (Finn, 1989) Students who ultimately drop out tend to exhibit patterns of behavior such as absenteeism, truancy, disruptive classroom behavior, and delinquency (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Levin, 1989; Svec, 1986; Valverde, 1987; Wells, 1990) Strahan (1988) in a study of academically at-risk seventh graders, concluded that by the seventh grade, marginal students were already well aware of their

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21 inadequacies in school. Strahan studied journal entries of 10 students who were retained at the end of their seventh grade year. He also examined the journals of a comparison group; the comparison group had sixth-grade achievement profiles similar to those of the marginal group but had been more successful in the seventh grade. The marginal group was below average in achievement. The students failed most subjects, were frequently absent, and misbehaved more often than the comparison group. In addition, the marginal students focused on merely surviving in school rather than on succeeding. Teachers perceived the students as capable but lazy. The focus of researching the personal and social characteristics of dropouts has given many educators the impression that dropouts are "deviant, deficient, or negligent with regard to school. This focus contributes to a pathological view of these youth and deflects attention from the school itself" (Wehlage, 1989, p. 2). Although these characteristics are indicative of the problem, they are merely symptomatic (Wehlage, 1986) Students displaying such behaviors are already in the process of withdrawing from the school system. Services for at-risk students have generally targeted students labeled at risk because of characteristics they possess. Programs often have no rationale or design other than hoping to help students succeed.

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22 Research on At-Risk Programs Most major studies of at-risk programs have centered on the characteristics of students, not questioning the effectiveness of schools in retaining at-risk students (Wehlage, 1989; Wehlage, Rutter, & Turnbaugh, 1987). Those studies that have examined at-risk program effectiveness often exhibit poor methodology, incomplete data, or small samples (Slavin, 1989) There is some evidence, however, that some approaches are more effective in serving the needs of the at risk. Coleman and Hoffer (1987) in analyzing the "High School and Beyond" data, concluded that Catholic schools are more effective than public schools at retaining at-risk students. This appears to be because the Catholic schools generally provided more personalized attention and means for student involvement. Programs that are not specialized to deal with the affective consequences of being at risk are ineffective. "Children either labelled 'failure' or faced continuously with little or no prospect of success come to regard themselves as failures" (Goodlad, 1966, p. 11) Most intervention programs have focused on remediation and affective interaction. However, little consideration has been given to the developmental process of becoming at risk.

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23 Developmental Perspectives If such behaviors are symptoms of withdrawal, then what is the developmental process that precedes dropping out? The literature is meager in this area. Finn (1989) related two models to explain the process of dropping out: the frustration-self-esteem model and the participationidentification model. Proponents of the frustration-self-esteem model espouse the view that persistent school failure lowers self-esteem. In an attempt to experience success, the individual engages in alternate behaviors — oftentimes delinquent or, at the least, inappropriate. Under conditions of low social control, these young people turn to delinquent behavior to raise their self-esteem. ... It follows that, if these youngsters' experiences at school were altered sufficiently to raise their self-esteem their disruptive and delinquent behavior would subside. (Gold & Mann, 1984, p. 19) The participation-identification model is characterized by the idea that students' participation within the school stimulates feelings of identification in the school setting. Students who do not participate may not identify or create a bond in the school setting and are subsequently at risk of alienation. Finn (1989) stated that the participation-identification model contains two major premises. First, students who identify with school have an internalized conception of belongingness — that they are discernibly part of the school environment and that school constitutes an

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24 important part of their own experience. And second, these individuals value success in schoolrelevant goals. (p. 123) Although these two models may serve as a starting point for identifying the developmental process of becoming at risk, neither model suffices as a comprehensive framework. In fact, Finn recommended additional research (focusing on the student) in order to document: (a) the form and extent of participation among students as they mature through the grades, (b) the ways in which participation and school outcomes are translated into levels of identification with school, (c) the role of successful outcomes and identification in mediating further participation, and (d) the relationship of these two central constructs to other correlates of school performance, including educational aspirations, expectations, attitudes toward school and school subjects, and academic self -concept, (p. 13 6) The Background of Attribution Theory Attribution theory is a collection of hypotheses and frameworks, anchored in the field of social psychology, that attempts to explain and predict how people perceive the causes of events and how they subsequently behave. Attribution theorists postulate that individuals, after observing an event and reviewing known facts, construct an attribution (s) about why the event occurred. The attribution (s) subsequently affects the individual's behavior and/or emotions. People make attributions about other people and situations in an attempt to make sense and order out of events. Attribution theorists propose that by

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25 understanding why people make certain attributions, an individual can better predict and control how others behave and react emotionally (see Babcock, 1989; Frieze & Bar-Tal, 1979; Harvey, Weary, & Stanley, 1985; Hewstone, 1983, 1989; Kassin & Baron, 1985; Shaver, 1983; Young & Marks, 1986). Contributors to attribution theory have concentrated on three major questions: (a) What are the antecedents of an attribution? (b) What are the contents of the attribution process? and (c) What are the consequences of the attributions? (Frieze & Bar-Tal, 1979). There are many different attribution models, but the following sections of this chapter will review the basic contributors to attribution theory as they apply to this study. Heider's Naive Psychology of Action Fritz Heider's (1958) work The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations formed the basis for what was to become known as attribution theory. Heider was interested in the perceptions of "naive" people in everyday life. He argued that common-sense psychology was important to scientific research for two reasons. First, our commonsense perceptions guide our actions in everyday life and must therefore be taken into account by the scientist. One can talk about a "naive psychology" which gives us the principles we use to build up our picture of the social environment and which guides our reactions to it. An explanation of this behavior, therefore, must deal with common-sense psychology regardless of whether its assumptions and principles prove valid under scientific scrutiny. If a person believes that the lines in

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26 his palm foretell his future, this belief must be taken into account in explaining certain of his expectations and actions, (p. 5) Second, Heider maintained that the intuitive understanding of the naive psychologist could help provide truths of value to the scientific psychologist. "Fruitful concepts and hunches for hypotheses lie dormant and unformulated in what we know intuitively" (pp. 5-6) Heider 's hypotheses about causation were based on three assumptions. First, understanding a person's behavior reguires thorough description of how the person perceives his own world. Second, people want to predict and order their environment. Third, people look for certain properties or dispositions in others in order to explain their behavior. These dispositional properties are generally stable, predictable, and controllable, and allow the individual to structure his or her world in an organized manner. Humans, by nature, must create some order or schema to make sense of their world. Man is usually not content simply to register the observables that surround him; he needs to refer them as far as possible to the invariances of his environment. Second, the underlying causes of events, especially the motives of other persons, are the invariances of the environment that are relevant to him; they give meaning to what he experiences and it is these meanings that are recorded in his life space, and are precipitated as the reality of the environment to which he then reacts. (p. 81)

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27 These dispositional properties include factors within the person and within the environment. Examples include ability and task difficulty. Heider envisioned the results of an action to be a combination of forces within and without the individual (p. 82) Heider (1958) described can (ability) and trying (effort) as dispositional properties of the individual, whereas difficulty and luck are environmental dispositions. Ability and difficulty are relatively stable properties, that is, one would not expect them to vary from instance to instance for the same task. Effort and luck, however, are unstable. The attribution process is subject to potential biases or misattributions. A person may attribute one's actions according to his or her own desires or needs. This is known as egocentric attribution. Examples include claiming to be unable to do something that one does not wish to do, blaming fate for one's actions, taking credit for doing something or not doing something (i.e., stealing) when in fact the opportunity was unavailable. Misattribution may occur when information regarding an action is incomplete or when egocentric biases distort the process (see also Ross, 1977; Weary, 1981; Zuckerman, 1979.) Jones and Davis's Theory of Correspondent Inferences Jones and Davis (1965) expanded on Heider's (1958) work. They proposed to "construct a theory which

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28 systematically accounts for a perceiver's inferences about what an actor was trying to achieve by a particular action" (p. 222). Jones and Davis's definition is as follows: Correspondence refers to the extent that the act and the underlying characteristic or attribute are similarly described by the inference. Correspondence of inference declines as the action to be accounted for appears to be constrained by the setting in which it occurs, (p. 223) For example, if Susie spends a good deal of time every day helping Beth with her math assignment, one might infer that Susie is a considerate and cooperative young girl. However, if Susie earned extra recess time or improved her grade by helping Beth, one would probably attribute her behavior less to her personality. In the first case, one infers a high correspondence between Susie's behavior and her personality, whereas in the second situation there is a belief that there is less correspondence between her behavior and her personality because of constraints inherent in the situation — that is, the rewards associated with the helping behavior (Smith, Gelfand, Hartmann, & Partlow, 1979) Jones and Davis considered the element of choice to be fundamental to their theory. All situations involve choices of behavior with different effects; in fact, situations generally involve multiple effects for various potential choices made by the actor. The theory of correspondent inference is based on the assumption that effects common to different choices are not factors in

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29 deciding which action to take. Instead, it is the noncommon effects that are informational about the choice the actor makes. For example, Mr. Boone was considering buying a house and had narrowed his decision down to two houses. House A was $125,000, a 15 minute drive from his work, and nicely landscaped. House B shared all the same attributes. Although it might be assumed that all these features influenced Mr. Boone's decision in narrowing down his search because both houses share those qualities, that knowledge does not help make any inferences about his ultimate decision. One needs to know, instead, what the houses do not have in common to infer something about his decision regarding which house to buy. In addition to knowing the noncommon effects of an action, it is also helpful to know the assumed social desirability of those effects. In the above example, house A may have a hot tub, house B does not. This knowledge may be helpful to the extent that it is assumed Mr. Boone would enjoy having a hot tub. If Mr. Boone buys house A, it might be assumed that the hot tub influenced his decision if it is believed that a hot tub was a socially desirable benefit of owning the house. However, the maximum knowledge is to be gained when considering effects low in social desirability. If it is assumed that most people would enjoy having a hot tub, then one learns little new

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30 about Mr. Boone by virtue of the fact that he would enjoy one also. "The fewer distinctive reasons a person might have for an action (assuming he has some) and the less these reasons are widely shared in the culture, the more informative that action is concerning the characteristics of the person" (Kelley, 1967, pp. 208-209). Jones and Davis (1965) introduced two further concepts to the study of attribution: relevance and personalism. Relevance refers to the extent to which an individual s choices effect the perceiver — either positively or negatively. In general, individuals tend to be favorably disposed towards someone whose actions benefit them and negatively disposed towards someone whose actions hinder or disturb them. Although an effect may be relevant to an individual, it may or may not have been intended to affect that individual by the original actor. This is the concept of personalism: "to distinguish between choices which are conceivably affected by the presence of the perceiver and choices which are not conceivably so affected" (p. 247) High relevance and high (perceived) personalism directly increase the extremity of the individual • s evaluation of the actor. Kelley 's Covariation Principle Kelley (1967) added to the foundations of attribution theory by defining four criteria for external attributions. Kelley argued that an individual, when making an

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31 attribution, employs certain analytic criteria to verify that "the impression reflects the inherent properties of the entity and not his own characteristics or some peculiar interactions with the entity" (p. 197) Those criteria are 1. Distinctiveness: the impression is attributed to the thing if it uniquely occurs when the thing is present and does not occur in its absence. 2. Consistency over time: each time the thing is present, the individual's reaction must be the same or nearly so. 3. Consistency over modality: his reaction must be consistent even though his mode of interaction with the thing varies. 4. Consensus: attributes of external origin are experienced the same way by all observers, (p. 197) Kelley postulated that the extent to which a person's attributions match the criteria of distinctiveness, consistency, and consensus determines the individual's confidence of attributions about the world (see also Dix & Herzberger, 1983; Howard & Levinson, 1985.) Kelley also specified five sources of error in the process of attribution, borrowed partly from Heider's (1958) work. Kelley (1967) stated that error may result from ignoring the relevant situation, making egocentric assumptions, relevant effects have affective significance for the observer, the surrounding situation is misleading, deliberate investigator attempts to induce error. Kelley 's work, especially that on misattribution, has provided the basis for much research in the field of causal attribution.

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32 (See also DiVitto & McArthur, 1978; Howard & Levinson, 1985; Kelley & Michela, 1980.) The Contributions of Bernard Weiner Although the attribution theories of Jones and Davis (1965) and Kelley (1967) focused on the process and antecedent of an individual's inferences, Bernard Weiner (1972, 1974) developed a theory that centered on the consequences of causal attributions. Weiner contributed a cognitive perspective to the research on attribution theory focusing on academic striving. Weiner 's Theory of Achievement Motivation Weiner (1972, 1974) examined achievement-oriented behavior and the attributions of success and failure. His theory was originally known as the theory of achievement motivation. He initially postulated four major categories of causal attribution: ability, task difficulty, luck, and effort. These four categories were examined within the context of two causal dimensions: locus of control (internal-external) and stability (low-high) Ability and effort are classified as internal within the dimension of locus of control. Task difficulty and luck, however, are categorized as external locus because it is assumed that the individual has little control over them. Luck and effort are perceived as unstable because they may vary from trial to trial, whereas task difficulty and ability are

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33 stable because they would probably not vary across time for a particular task. Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion Weiner (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987) later reconceptualized his achievement theory of motivation and emotion within three dimensions: locus of causality, stability, and controllability. Locus of causality may be internal or external. For example, lack of effort is an internal attribution, whereas a too difficult task is external. Stability is the temporal nature of a cause — enduring or changing. Lack of ability is construed as stable; bad luck is unstable. Controllability is the degree of volitional influence that can be exerted over a cause. Effort can be controlled, for example, whereas ability cannot. Each dimension is associated with a number of psychological consequences. Emotions such as pity, shame, gratitude, hopelessness (hopefulness) pride (self-esteem) guilt, and anger result from the individual's attributions of causality within Weiner's three dimensions. The locus dimension affects self-esteem. Attributions to internal factors for success increase self-worth (Robison-Awana, Kehle, & Jenson, 1986) whereas attributions to internal factors for failure decrease selfesteem. The stability dimension relates to changes in expectancy of success and failure and also regulates

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34 affective reactions. Feelings of hopelessness may result when the future is seen as stable and negative — the individual sees no hope of change for the better. Finally, the controllability dimension of causality affects sentiments and evaluations of others. If another person fails or is in need of aid because of a controllable cause, such as lack of effort, then that person often elicits anger and is negatively evaluated. On the other hand, if failure or need is due to an uncontrollable cause such as a physical handicap, then that person elicits sympathy and is positively evaluated. (Weiner, 1983, p. 531) Changes in expectancy of success, Weiner (1985) claimed, were influenced by the perceived stability of the cause of the event. He proposed three corollaries to what he termed the "expectancy principle." 1. If the outcome of an event is ascribed to a stable cause, then that outcome will be anticipated with increased certainty, or with an increased expectancy, in the future. 2. If the outcome of an event is ascribed to an unstable cause, then the certainty or expectancy of that outcome may be unchanged or the future may be anticipated to be different from the past. 3. Outcomes ascribed to stable causes will be anticipated to be repeated in the future with a greater degree of certainty than are outcomes ascribed to unstable causes. (p. 559) Bar-Tal (1982) summarized the attribution process as follows: Pupils who tend to attribute success to internal, mainly stable or controllable, causes, and who attribute failure to internal-unstablecontrollable causes, tend to exhibit adaptive, mastery-oriented achievement behavior. That is, they tend to approach rather than avoid achievement tasks, tend to persist in the face of failure, and tend to perform achievement tasks

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35 with greater intensity. Pupils who tend to attribute success to external causes and failure to internal-stable-uncontrollable causes show a very different pattern. These pupils tend to exhibit maladaptive, helpless achievement behavior. That is, they tend to avoid achievement tasks, tend to give up in the face of failure and do not perform achievement tasks with great intensity. (p. 190) Weiner (1983) also argued that it is important to consider attributions within the framework of the subject's perception. That is, although effort may generally be considered unstable, that may change to a stable trait if the person views himself or herself as lazy. Weiner maintained that, although an attribution perspective might seem to be simple logic, the framework of attribution theory was not only sound but also valuable to researchers. When critics charge that an attributional approach is "mere" common sense, they are exclaiming that the relations pointed out or predicted by the theory represent shared knowledge. That the individual parts or components [of the theory] are naively shared underscores their veridicality, thus further supporting the certainty of the empirical relations and thereby providing a strong foundation for theory building. (Weiner, 1985, p. 570) Weiner 's Achievement Motivation Model: Empirical Support Within an academic context, Weiner 's model has been generally supported (Cramer, 1989; Weiner, 1985). Research has focused on the four categories of ability, task difficulty, luck, and effort within the dimensions of locus of control and stability (see also Stipek & Weisz, 1981).

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36 Rizley (1978) reported that depressed college students rated dispositional (internal) factors to be more important for failure but less important for success than did nondepressed students. Apparently depressed students are more likely to blame themselves for failure, although less likely to take credit for success (see also Self, 1990) In studies of youths 1 (mean age 15.6 years) perceptions of delinguency, Abrams, Simpson, and Hogg (1987) found that young people attribute delinguent actions to external (situational) terms rather than to individual attributes. The authors concluded that experience of and associations with delinquency (for example, males and urban residents) cause individuals to attribute situationally, whereas those less close (females and rural residents) attribute causality more to internal factors (for example, mental instability or criminality) Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion Model: Empirical Findings Weiner's revised theory (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985) focused on the affective reactions of individuals to success and failure. Weiner theorized that the affective reactions governed by locus of causality, stability, and controllability should hold true in social settings as well as academic ones. However, the majority of the research employing Weiner's revised model utilized achievement situations (Evans & Engelberg, 1988) Research relating

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37 Weiner's model to affect have predominately centered on alcoholism, loneliness, and depression (Guttmann, 1982) In an investigation of college students' affective reactions to an examination grade, Forsyth and McMillan (1981) found support for Weiner's three-dimensional model (locus of causality, stability, and controllability) However, they believed the controllability dimension to be more important than the stability dimension in determining affect. This is in contrast with Weiner's (1979) proposal. Guimond, Begin, and Palmer (1989) agreed with Weiner's theory, in part, but stated that actual affective responses were mediated by cultural background. For example, social science students (with, presumably, increased knowledge of economic and social disadvantage) were less likely to attribute failure dispositionally than were the poor and unemployed. Willig, Harnisch, Hill, and Maehr (1983), in a cross-cultural study of grades four to eight, also found that causal attributions and motivational needs differ for Anglo, Hispanic, and black students. Similarly, Kashiwagi (1986) asserted that Japanese adolescents are more likely to attribute failure to lack of effort or other internal factors while they are more likely to attribute success to external factors. In addition, Japanese consider luck to be a strong mediating influence for success or failure. The individual's perception of luck does not relieve him or her of the responsibility to

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38 try hard (effort) but luck may cause unanticipated effects. Kashiwagi believed this negative attributional pattern to be cross-nationally atypical; he speculated that the Japanese evaluate themselves negatively because their culture glorifies modesty and criticizes individuality. Weiner and Handel (1985) reported that, in the laboratory setting, children as young as 5 and 6 years of age are able to discriminate between the emotions that would be elicited from lack of trying (anger) versus lack of ability (pity) However, only older children acted on this knowledge. That is, they were less likely to reveal responses that they believed would cause anger in another person. Strayer (1986) found, in accordance with Weiner and Handel (1985) that young children (two groups, mean ages 53.2 months and 91.2 months) understood that certain situations provoke certain emotional responses such as anger or happiness. Kramer (1985) found that gifted middle-school females attribute achievement to effort and failure to lack of effort. The students' beliefs about success and failure developed within a framework based on their school experiences — specifically student-teacher relationships, social competence, and developing self -concept. Covington and Omelich (1985) proposed a resolution of Weiner' s theory with self-worth theory in their study of undergraduate students. They postulated that the emotion

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39 of shame shares an abilitylinked component (humiliation) and an effort-linked component (guilt) In addition, the authors contended that the coping method of the student (failure-avoiding or failure-accepting) would influence the strength of the ability/effort to affect linkage. Similarly, Burke, Hunt, and Bickford (1985) reported support for Weiner's revised model but suggested consolidating Weiner's model with self -theory. In a study of college students, they concluded that students with high self-esteem internalized successful results on an examination more than did those students with low selfesteem. They elaborated on Weiner's theory, however, to say that "internalization of causality, when it involves attributions to stable dispositional sources, is qualified by consistency of feedback with existing self-esteem and concomitant expectancies for performance" (pp. 328-329) Applications of attribution theory for therapy commonly include attempts to change ascriptions of failure to lack of effort, bad luck, or excessive task difficulty rather than lack of ability (Weiner, 1988). Weiner asserted, however, that subjects would benefit from being directed to focus on errors of omission and commission. Then, "the client directly reaches a new conclusion by paying attention to other causal antecedents" (p. 103) Young and Marks (1986) posited that between counselor and client there should be a match on "attributions of

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40 responsibility for both the problem and solution" (p. 327) in order to avoid misunderstanding and conflict (see also Lepper & Dafoe, 1979) Summary The majority of researchers on tracking have reported that grouping students by perceived ability or curriculum does not produce significant academic gains. In addition, low-track students may suffer from lower self-esteem and self -concept than non-tracked students of similar ability. One of the common characteristics of at-risk students is poor social skills and low self-esteem. The practice of tracking at-risk students, then, may have increased negative effect on students self-concept unless the alternative program provides considerable attention to the affective domain. Although most of the previously cited research supports Weiner's Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion, there are some serious limitations to the application of these studies. Most of the research was conducted with college or high school students. In addition, the subjects were usually given hypothetical information with the experiments conducted in a laboratory setting. The present study was designed to apply Weiner's model to a specific population — middle-school, at-risk students. Interviewing students in the school setting over a period of months allows insight into the perspective of

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41 the students. Weiner (1982) called for further study in this manner: If one wishes to study the content of emotions, emotional life, and the meaning of emotions, then one must turn to those who experience these feelings. There should be greater attention paid to the emotions experienced in everyday life, (p. 205)

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CHAPTER III METHODOLOGY The purpose of this study was to determine the attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and to identify the implications for school organization. This chapter contains a description of the research methods of this study of the attributions of middle-school adolescents tracked into alternative programs for at-risk students. A case study approach using descriptive methods of data collection was used. The following research questions, grounded within the literature on at-risk, dropouts, tracking, and attribution theory, guided the data collection in this study: 1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students? 2 Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally? 3 Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives? 42

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43 4 Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable? In order to investigate these questions, a qualitative methodology was selected. Qualitative Research Jacob (1987) argued that "one of the most exciting areas for future research is adapting qualitative traditions to the study of naturally occurring cognitive behavior in classrooms" (p. 39) because "qualitative traditions offer researchers a richer and fuller understanding of education" (p. 38) Qualitative research, with its variety of data collection techniques, has great potential for making new and significant contributions to what is currently known about the process and practice of education (Merriam, 1988) Qualitative methods of data collection and analysis provided an opportunity for depth and greater understanding into the predicament of at-risk students. The interacting variables observed in many classroom situations can best be examined holistically. Qualitative research allows the investigator to report findings within the broader context of the situation under study. "To divorce the act, word, or gesture from its context is, for the qualitative researcher, to lose sight of significance" (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 27). Descriptive research is undertaken when description and explanation are sought, when

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44 it is not possible or feasible to manipulate the potential causes of behavior, and when variables are not easily identified or are too embedded in the phenomenon to be extracted for study. (Merriam, 1988, p. 7) Research Design Case study has long been used in other disciplines; it has recently begun to be recognized as a valuable and valid research approach in education (Merriam, 1985) Case study technique involves exploration of a naturally occurring individual unit; units of study may be the individual, classroom, event, or a community, for example (Cohen & Manion, 1980) The results of the investigation are written up as descriptive analyses of the particular unit. There are two types of case studies: single case and multiple case. Within each type, there may be holistic (single) or embedded (multiple) units of analysis (see Yin, 1989) In this study of attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into alternative programs, an embedded, single-case design was utilized. The overall unit of analysis in this study was the alternative-education setting. Two schools were chosen as subunits of analysis. One rural and one urban school were chosen in order to explore possible differences and similarities within divergent settings. At another level of analysis, two students were chosen from each school to be observed and interviewed. This sampling

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45 technique allowed for in-depth exploration of students' attributions. Yin (1989) argued that "the subunits can often add significant opportunities for extensive analysis, enhancing the insights into the single case (p. 52) Chassen (1969) contended that intensive research is preferable over extensive research (small N versus large N) because "the investigator has a far greater opportunity to achieve a sense of direction and steady progress than he could possibly have in a succession of extensive studies" (p. 39) A case study selects the research issues of interest and provides rich detail into those relevant issues (Bromley, 1986; Merriam, 1988). The case study also allows for a progressive inquiry into a particular situation. The end product is not a given before the researcher even begins; instead, the qualitative approach allows the researcher to follow emergent meaning and adapt to changes as they arise. Such an emergent design is crucial for the researcher to maintain the right to intuit and derive new questions (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) The subjective nature of the situation under examination requires exploration and interpretation Although attribution theory was chosen to guide initial observations and interviews, the study included unstructured interview time in an attempt to gain the

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46 maximum amount of information possible and to allow participants the opportunity to introduce information they believed to be relevant. In this study, data were analyzed at each level within the framework of attribution theory and the literature on tracking and at-risk youth. Methods and Procedures This study utilized several different data collection techniques, including observation and interview, in an attempt to gain insight into the perception and attributions of at-risk students. One way of "getting inside" the culture is to use different methods of data collection to supplement and corroborate field notes (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984) such as interview and photographic exercises. Data collection in this study was based on observation, interview, and photo-elicitation. Participant observation in qualitative research usually implies some degree of "going native" as a researcher attempts to gain a level of acceptance within the distinct culture under study. The goals of this study and the technique of using repeated interviews demanded a greater level of acceptance and understanding from the subjects than might be needed with other research designs. As such, informal settings and casual attire fostered acceptance from the middle-school students. An alternative is to participate with the children not as an authority figure (an adult) but a§ a quasi-friend. It is difficult for an adult to be accepted by a child as an equal, but you can move

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47 toward being a tolerated insider in children's society. (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 128) Sampling The majority of the research focusing on at-risk students has been conducted with subjects at the high school level. Many programs, however, have been implemented in recent years at the middle-school level with the intention of identifying and treating adolescents at risk of dropping out before those students reach high school and are legally old enough to leave school. There was little research, however, on the attitudes and attributions of students in such alternative programs. In this study, the examination of those attitudes and attributions will contribute to a greater understanding of the at-risk student. The researcher also interviewed faculty at both schools. Data collection was conducted in two middle schools in the Pacific Northwest. One school is located in the inner city, the other a rural area. Two programs were chosen in order to compare and contrast the experiences of at-risk students in very different school settings (see Lomotey & Swanson, 1989) Both of the schools in this study have been designated as middle schools. However, the two schools differed widely in their size, scheduling, course offerings, instruction, and program goals. For all practical purposes, the rural middle school in this study closely resembled a junior high school. The inner-city

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48 school, however, more closely embraced the middle-school philosophy (see Alexander & George, 1981 for more on middle school philosophy and structure) For example, the rural school followed a seven-period, seven-teacher schedule with no core classes or team teaching. The inner-city school, in contrast, utilized a three-period humanities core class (either self-contained or team-taught) along with a daily advisory class. The advisory class emphasized study skills, peer relations, and academic guidance. (Descriptions of both schools can be found in Chapter IV.) It is important to acknowledge the constraints that program structure imposes on special programs. The students in the inner-city alternative program spent at least three periods each day with the core teacher. At the rural school, however, the teacher's alternative class consisted of only one 45-minute period each day. Each of the schools included a designated at-risk program. The programs' goals and methods were very different, however, as were their student populations. The inner-city program included students with histories of substance abuse, violence, and delinquent behavior, whereas the rural program specifically excluded students with such behaviors in an attempt to help more "motivated" students. Two students were selected at each school from an atrisk class. Students were selected to participate through

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49 purposive sampling. Merriam (1988) defined purposive sampling (also called criterion-based sampling) as the process of selecting subjects or situations from which one can learn the most. Purposive sampling allows the researcher to investigate both variation and typical attributes within a sample population. At both schools, students were chosen because the teachers believed those students would benefit from individual attention. In addition, students exhibited behaviors which the teachers believed to be similar to that of other students in the programs. Purposive sampling allows selection of subjects to demonstrate the full range of behaviors under investigation. That is, "the object of the game is not to focus on the similarities that can be developed into generalizations, but to detail the many specifics that give the context its unique flavor" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 201) Maximum diversity in sampling can not only provide additional detail, but can also corroborate deductions. At both schools, students were chosen because the teachers believed those students would benefit from individual attention. Students were asked whether they would be interested in participating in a study about middle school students' feelings about school. Using repeated observations, interviews, and photographic exercises over the course of 6 months, case study data were compiled on each of the four participants. In addition,

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50 follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the following academic year in order to assess the students* transitions between at-risk and regular programs. Initially, meetings with the principals of each of the two schools provided details on the two programs. In the inner-city school, the researcher met with the alternative program coordinator and observed the at-risk class for several class periods. The coordinator selected two students (one male, one female) perceived to be typical atrisk students as potential subjects. The first student, a white, eighth-grade female, was selected because the coordinator perceived her to be a typical at-risk student — experiencing problems with family relations, school attendance, and drug/alcohol abuse. The second student, a black eighth-grade male, was also deemed to be a typical at-risk student. In addition, the student was involved in a street gang. Both students were considered to be bright by both the classroom teacher and program coordinator. After a period of two weeks, however, the gang-involved male had only attended school on one day. Consequently, another student was selected from the class — also a black, eighth-grade male. In the rural school, the at-risk program was relatively new and composed of two language arts classes and two mathematics classes. Students were identified as at risk by virtue of their failing grades. Students who

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51 were considered to have severe behavior problems were not placed in the program. The researcher met with the language arts teacher and observations were conducted in two classes on several occasions. The teacher selected two students (one male, one female) perceived to be typical atrisk students for potential subjects. Both were seventhgrade students. According to the teacher, the female was experiencing problems with self-esteem and difficulty forming relationships with her peers. The male appeared confident and friendly, but unmotivated to do his school work. All four students were amenable to participate in a series of formal and informal interviews to be conducted over the remainder of the school year and into the summer. More specific details on the schools, programs, and students are contained in Chapter IV. Observation Observation is generally a critical step in the initial collection of data for a gualitative study (Merriam, 1988) Observations lasted from one to three hours for each classroom visit. Each school visit included some general classroom observation time in addition to interviews. Each of the two schools were visited at least 20 times. Interview In this study, the researcher primarily used unstructured interviews with the participants in an effort

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52 to draw out opinions and attributions. Occasionally a more structured format was employed to explore specific issues. The available attribution theory questionnaires were deemed inappropriate as the basis for interviews because of their superficial nature (e.g., Likert-scale design). Interviews were conducted with the permission of parents and school personnel. In some instances, the students were exempted from some classroom work in order to meet for interviews. Both program teachers were extremely flexible in allowing students to be interviewed during class time. Both teachers explained that they believed that one-to-one time with an adult was more beneficial for these students than any academic tasks would be. The researcher spent over 125 hours with the four students over the course of six months. Semistructured interview Some semistructured interviews were used in order to explore specific topics. For example, students were asked to describe hypothetical situations in which they might experience emotions such as anger, happiness, or shame in order to investigate whether their responses corresponded with Weiner's attribution framework Unstructured interview Middle-school students seem most comfortable with an unstructured format; they will answer specific questions but are most at ease when conversing in a less formal manner. Because the success of

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53 an interview is strongly dependent upon the relationship between the interviewer and respondent (Merriam, 1988) a casual and nonthreatening atmosphere was provided in all interview situations. Interviews were conducted in one corner of the classroom, in the student lounge, or in a private office. Photographic interview A camera record provides a method of recording information and assessing individual's perceptions (Collier, 1979) Through the insider's view via photography, the researcher becomes a part of the phenomenon, and a personal knowledge is achieved. The researcher begins to "see as they see" and "feel as they feel." Thus the purpose of observation is not simply description and analysis but understanding. (Ziller, 1990, p. 21) Photography may be used to provide descriptive data that might not otherwise be available (Damico, 1985; Ziller, 1990) The use of photographic techniques provided valuable information from the students that might not otherwise have been elicited. Using the photographs added details to help confirm hypotheses. One way of doing this is to ask subjects to take photographs that are representative of some aspect of their lives. The specific directions are dependent upon the purpose of the study. In this study, students were asked to take photographs that answered the question "Who am I?" The subjects were given a camera with 24 film exposures. The use of the camera was fairly simple;

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54 students were instructed how to use it and demonstrated their capability to use it before leaving to take their photographs. The specific directions that were given to the students are as follows: This is a 24 exposure camera that can be used to take photographs both outside and indoors. You should take at least 10 pictures but may take all 24 if you like. You should take pictures that would answer the question, "Who am I?" You should not worry about how "good" the photographs are. Instead, concentrate on taking pictures that show what is important in your life. When you finish, return the camera to me and I will develop the photographs. Then you will choose 10 pictures that, viewed together, would represent your world. We will discuss why you took those pictures and what they mean to you. You may take the pictures yourself or have someone else take them for you. I will provide duplicates of the pictures for you to keep. These pictures will not be shown to anyone else or published in any way. The researcher brought the developed photographs to a later meeting and asked the student to describe what each of the photographs meant and in what way they represented his or her life. Students were told to choose 10 photographs and explain why they would include them in an album that showed "Who am I?" Ziller (1990) asserted that there are several benefits to using this process of photo-elicitation. "Respondents are able to represent themselves in any framework they please; the approach is simple; and there is a quality of rich revealingness about the self -representation" (p. 35) Record Keeping Qualitative study requires stringent record keeping. In this study, observation and interview were the primary

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55 methods of data collection. Field notes of observations, note-taking after interviews, and transcriptions of recorded interviews formed the body of data used for analysis. Immediately after observations, field notes were written in order to preserve as accurate an accounting of the settings and participants as possible. Merriam (1988) maintained that "participant observation gives a firsthand account of the situation under study and, when combined with interviewing allows for a holistic interpretation of the phenomenon being investigated" (p. 96). Merriam (1988) proposed three primary methods of recording interview data: tape-recording, note-taking during interview, and note-taking after interview. Merriam suggested that tape-recording is generally preferable because it allows for verbatim transcription for analysis. Several of the interviews with each subject in this study were recorded and transcribed. However, all of the students appeared uneasy whenever the recorder was used. Similarly, students were much less open when note-taking was utilized during the interviews. Consequently, notetaking following the interview was the primary method of recording that was used. Merriam (1988) stated that although there are obvious problems with this third method of recording, it is preferable when "writing or recording during an interview

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56 might be intrusive" (p. 81) Subjects provided much more personal data when neither recording or note-taking were used during the interview process. After each interview, reflective notes were recorded, including subject responses, descriptions of subject behavior, and observer comments Data Analysis Following data collection, gualitative techniques of data analysis are used to determine patterns or themes. Qualitative, or inductive, data analysis involves sifting through and organizing the data, usually through a process of coding, and then developing themes or looking for patterns in the data (Merriam, 1988) Coding consists of uncovering similarities in the data, whether that data comes from interview, observation, photographs, or other sources. The data are categorized into workable units. For example, one student might report feelings of anxiety in school immediately prior to testing. Another student may have said that he stopped trying in class because he could not compete with the "smart kids." These responses might be coded as "fear of failure." Meaningful units of description, separated out for analysis, are integrated to build a complete, descriptive picture. Yin (1989) detailed three dominant modes of analysis for case study design: pattern-matching, explanation-

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57 building, and time series. In this study, pattern-matching was utilized as the primary mode of data analysis. Within each unit and subunit (total case, school, student), analysis was conducted for each aspect of Weiner's attributional framework (locus of causality, stability, controllability) to discern patterns of attributions. In addition, Yin (1989) specified three lesser modes of analysis: embedded-unit analysis, repeated observation, and case survey. This study included embedded-unit analysis as described, as well as repeated observation. The repeated observations served to provide not only more complete data within a single setting, but also as a crosssectional method of data collection — that is, at a second site as one level of embedded analysis. Validity and Reliability Internal Validity Internal validity is the degree to which the conclusions presented follow logically from the data (Merriam, 1988) "Establishing validity necessitates demonstration that the propositions generated, refined, or tested match the causal conditions that obtain in human life" (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984, p. 219). Merriam (1988) argued that "one of the assumptions underlying gualitative research is that reality is holistic, multidimensional, and ever-changing" (p. 167). Internal validity may be affected by many problems,

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58 including history, maturation, and mortality of subjects, as well as selection and regression. However, the detailed descriptive methods commonly used in qualitative research provide "the reader with a depiction in enough detail to show that the author's conclusion 'makes sense'" (Firestone, 1987, p. 19). In fact, because of the data collection and analysis techniques used in qualitative research, internal validity is usually quite strong (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984; Merriam, 1988). One way to ensure that research conclusions are valid is to use triangulation. Triangulation, the use of two or more methods of data collection, provides additional confidence in study findings (Cohen & Manion, 1980) In this study, several data collection techniques were used: observation, interview, and photography. Cohen and Manion (1980) asserted that "multiple methods are suitable where a controversial aspect of education needs to be evaluated more fully" (p. 262) The use of alternative programs and the motivations of at-risk youth are certainly controversial Lincoln and Guba (1985) stated, It is only reasonable to assert that the investigator's judgment can be relied upon to the extent that he or she interacts with the phenomenon over time so that its etiology, including its history and its present context, can be fully understood and appreciated. (p. 102) The use of repeated observation and interviews over a period of several months in this study provided the

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59 researcher with a strong basis for the conclusions presented in Chapters IV and V. External Validity External validity is the ability to generalize to other situations from the results of a study (Merriam, 1988) Goetz and LeCompte (1984) argued that, because of the nature of gualitative study, it is inappropriate to suggest that a study's results are generalizable to another situation. Instead, "external validity depends on the identification and description of those characteristics of phenomena salient for comparison with other, similar types. [after which] results may be translated for applicability across sites and disciplines" (p. 229) In other words, with thorough description of the context of the study, the reader is best able to discern whether the results are applicable to other situations. The researcher made every effort to provide as detailed a description as possible in each of the four cases and final conclusions presented in this study. Such description should allow the reader to determine whether the conclusions presented apply to contexts of interest to the reader. Reliability Reliability is generally held to be the extent to which a study's findings can be replicated (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984; Merriam, 1988). This interpretation,

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60 however, presumes "that there is a single reality which if studied repeatedly will give the same results" (Merriam, 1988, p. 170). Reliability can be considered somewhat differently in qualitative research. "In qualitative studies, researchers are concerned with the accuracy and comprehensiveness of their data. Qualitative researchers tend to view reliability as a fit between what they record as data and what actually occurs in the setting under study" (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 44). Again, accurate recording of techniques and triangulation provide the reader the necessary documentation to determine the "fit" between the data and conclusions in a study. "A good guideline for doing case studies is therefore to conduct the research so that an auditor could repeat the procedures and arrive at the same results" (Yin, 1989, p. 45). Investigator Bias Potential biases are a critical issue in qualitative research. Awareness of those biases is, for the reader, one of the best tools for providing perspective into the study's reported results. Documentation of techniques and careful recording of field notes, including observer comments, helps guard against the introduction of subjectively influenced data into researcher conclusions (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982)

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61 Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggested several techniques to "provide a system of checks and balances [against researcher bias]" (p. 108). They are (a) member checks (rechecking data and interpretations with original data sources) (b) debrief ings by peers (reviewing procedures and findings with professional peers) (c) triangulation (cross-checking through the use of multiple methods of data collection) (d) prolonged engagement and persistent observation, (e) use of reflexive journals, and (f) use of the independent audit (examination of the researcher's processes and conclusions by an external auditor) All of the above methods will be used in the course of this study. The greatest potential bias to this study is the relationship that the investigator developed with each of the four students. In each case, the researcher became an adult confident and mentor to the student. This allowed the researcher to see through the students' eyes the perceptions of being at risk. The researcher employed rigorous interview recording and transcribing practices as well as journal entries in an attempt to minimize subjectively biased recall of the interviews during data analysis. Ethical Issues The ethics of research practice are of concern in any study, but particularly so in case study research. The researcher needs to be aware of these issues and devise

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62 safeguards that will help ensure that the rights of subjects are not violated. Bogdan and Biklen (1982) suggested four guidelines to protect against violating ethical concerns. They are 1. Protect subjects 1 identities. 2. Treat subjects with respect and seek their cooperation in the research. 3. Abide by any agreements you make in negotiating permission to do your study. 4. Tell the truth when you write up and report your findings. The researcher made every attempt to adhere to these guidelines in conducting this study. Subjects were informed that they would remain anonymous in all study results.

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CHAPTER IV AT-RISK STUDENTS IN TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLS: AFFECTIVE AND ACADEMIC BEHAVIORS IN AN ALTERNATIVE-CLASSROOM SETTING Introduction The purpose of this study was to determine the attributions of at-risk students who have been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and identify the implications for school organization. Four students were observed and interviewed between February and November of 1991. Interviews with faculty and staff added to the contextual picture of the school program and at-risk tracking. In this study, the perceptions of four at-risk students in two middle schools were compared and contrasted using an embedded-unit, single-case design. Weiner's theory of achievement motivation and emotion, utilizing the dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability (1979, 1980, 1985), as well as the literature on tracking, at-risk, and attribution literature in general were used as a framework for this study. The following research questions, grounded within the literature on at-risk, dropouts, tracking, and attribution theory, guided data collection in this study: 63

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64 1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students? 2 Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally? 3 Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives? 4 Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable? The Settings: Two Middle Schools This chapter contains seven sections. The first section is an overview of the two middle-school settings used in this study. The second section is a profile of the inner-city middle school, including a description of the campus, the alternative program, a typical alternative class, and each of the two students. A similarly-detailed description of the rural middle-school • s program is contained in the third section. The fourth and fifth sections contain narrative data on each school, including descriptions of the programs and student interviews. Comparisions across the four students are related in the sixth section. The two schools are compared and contrasted in the final section.

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65 Data collection was conducted in two middle schools in the Pacific Northwest, Inner-City Middle School and Rural Middle School (all names in this study have been changed to protect the identity of the informants) Two programs were chosen in order to compare and contrast the experiences of at-risk students in very different school settings (see Lomotey & Swanson, 1989) Both of the schools in this study were designated as middle schools. However, the two schools differed widely in their size, scheduling, course offerings, instruction, and program goals. For all practical purposes, the rural middle school in this study closely resembled a junior high school. The inner-city school, however, more closely embraced the middle-school philosophy (see Alexander & George, 1981 for more on middle school philosophy and structure) For example, the rural school followed a seven-period, seven-teacher schedule with no core classes or team teaching. The inner-city school, in contrast, included a three-period humanities core class (either self-contained or team-taught) along with a daily advisory class. The advisory classes emphasized study skills, peer relations, and academic guidance. Although Rural Middle was structured more like a junior high school, its small population (approximately 225 student and 9 full-time teachers) fostered a friendly atmosphere.

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66 It is important to acknowledge the constraints that program structure imposes on special programs. The students in the inner-city alternative program spent at least three periods each day with the alternative program core teacher. At the rural school, however, the teacher's alternative class consisted of only one 45-minute period each day. Inner-city's students spent three times as much class time with their alternative teacher than Rural' s students spent with theirs. Each of the schools included a designated at-risk program. The programs' goals and methods were very different, however, as were their student populations. The inner-city program included students with histories of substance abuse, violence, and delinguent behavior, whereas the rural program specifically excluded students with such behaviors in an attempt to help more "motivated" students. Two students were selected at each school from an atrisk class. Students were selected to participate through purposive sampling. Merriam (1988) defined purposive sampling (also called criterion-based sampling) as the process of selecting subjects or situations from which one can learn the most. Purposive sampling allows investigation of both variation and similarities within a sample population. At both schools, students were chosen because the teachers believed those students would benefit from individual attention. In addition, students exhibited

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67 behaviors which the teachers believed to be similar to that of other students in the programs. Students were asked whether they would be interested in participating in a study about middle school students 1 feelings about school. Using repeated observations, interviews, and photographic exercises during the period of time from February through June of 1991, case study data were compiled on each of the four participants. Follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the 1991-92 academic year in order to assess the students' transitions between at-risk and regular programs. Initially, meetings with the principals of each of the two schools provided details on the two programs. The atrisk morning class at Inner-City Middle was a three period core class of language arts, social studies, and reading. The alternative program coordinator supplied information on potential subjects. Several observations of the at-risk class were conducted. The coordinator selected two eighthgrade students, Jaime and Michael, perceived to be typical at-risk students, for potential subjects. At Rural Middle, the at-risk program was relatively new and composed of two language arts classes and two mathematics classes. Students were identified as at risk by virtue of their failing grades. Students who were considered by the principal to be severe behavior problems were not placed in the program. Observations were

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68 conducted in two language arts classes on several occasions. The teacher selected two seventh-grade students, Elizabeth and Jordan, perceived to be typical atrisk students, for potential subjects. All four students were amenable to a series of formal and informal interviews to be conducted over the period of the study. The majority of interview data was collected during the spring of the 199 0-91 academic year. Students were also contacted throughout the summer and approximately 6 weeks and 10 weeks into the 1991-92 school year. Both Elizabeth and Jordan entered the eighth grade, remaining at Rural Middle. Michael and Jaime started City High School as freshman. Profile of an Inner-city School The following section is a profile of Inner-City Middle School. A description of the campus and the alternative program are contained within this section. In addition, a typical day in the alternative class is detailed. Two students, Jaime and Michael, were selected from Inner-City's alternative program to participate in this study. Demographic data on these students are also contained in this section. The Campus Inner-City Middle School has a sixth through eighth grade population of approximately 575 students. Located in a large, metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest, Inner-

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69 City's student body is comprised of approximately 35% black, 60% white, and 5% Asian and Hispanic students. The campus of Inner-City Middle is situated in an older, predominately residential neighborhood. Well-kept landscaping surrounds a two-story brick school building. The building itself is over 50 years old, yet appears sturdy and cheery. The halls are brightly lit and spacious. The main office for attendance and administration is large and welcoming. Wall posters, activity announcements, and awards decorate the walls. Four wide stairwells provide access to the second floor of the building. Room numbers, offices, and bathrooms are clearly marked with bright painted lettering. Graffiti and litter are minimal. The large classrooms have high ceilings, numerous windows, and several large chalk boards. Traditional classroom desks and chairs form rows. The heating system is insufficient in many of the classrooms; during the winter most students wear layers of clothing in order to adjust to temperature changes in the building throughout the day. The atmosphere throughout much of Inner-City Middle is that of organized chaos. Some students dash from class to class like bundles of energy. Others amble along, unconcerned at the sounding of the tardy bell. Students are friendly to and curious about visitors.

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70 The Alternative Program Housed within the school was a community-linked alternative program designed to assist students at risk of school failure. The program's mission statement read, in part, that the program was "designed to offer everyone a chance to experience joy, fun, gratitude, tenderness, love, accomplishment and victory." The program was in its fourth year in the 1990-91 school year when this study began. The program targeted students with low self-esteem, failing academic performance, and poor attendance. Students in the program often had histories of negative behaviors, which may include fighting, vandalism, theft, drug or alcohol abuse, physical or emotional battering, and sexual activity. Students were referred for the program by teachers, administrators, counselors, or parents, and then evaluated by the program coordinator. The principal espoused the goal of tapping into the unrecognized potential of at-risk students. He stated that the alternative program was designed to provide at-risk students with improved academic and social skills in order to be able to succeed in other settings. According to the principal and assistant principal, the program instructors utilized a variety of modified instructional techniques, recognizing the diverse learning styles of students. The principal considered chemical

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71 abuse and gang involvement to be the two main obstacles to success for these students. There were approximately 80 students, grades 6 through 8, enrolled in the alternative program in the 1990-91 school year. The students in the program represented a variety of backgrounds. Many of the students 1 families were receiving public assistance. Students often left home without eating, so breakfast was provided in the morning core class. The alternative program consisted of a small sixthgrade core, and two mixed seventhand eighth-grade cores. In the morning core class observed in this study, about two-thirds of the students were male, and about one-half the class was white. There were 24 students assigned to the class; attendance rarely exceeded 18 students on any given day. Students freguently arrived late for one reason or another, and attendance varied from student to student. The same teacher was responsible for all three subjects. The teacher of the seventhand eighth-grade core classes, Mrs. Samples, was on a temporary, 1-year contract. The regular teacher was on sabbatical during the 1990-91 school year. At the end of the school year, the teacher on leave decided not to return. Because of decreased funding, the program structure was revised for the 1991-92 school year. The program was revised into a seventhand eighth-grade core in which the students will be mainstreamed into regular classes mid-

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72 year. To maintain contact with the students and assess their transition, each student is assigned to one period of study skills with the alternative-program teacher. At midyear, targeted sixth graders become a core class for the remainder of the school year. The sixth-grade teacher from the 1990-91 academic year becomes the master teacher for the program. Mr. Warren served as classroom aide in the at-risk program when this study began. The 1990-91 school year was his first with the program also. His primary duties included assisting the classroom teacher with supervision and preparation of instructional materials. Mr. Warren renewed his contract and planned to return as classroom aide for the 1991-92 school year. However, Mrs. Ferguson, the program coordinator, decided not to rehire Mr. Warren as aide for the alternative program. She believed he was too aggressive and controlling to be of benefit to the students. Mrs. Ferguson maintained an office located in the rear of the classroom. She was in the classroom approximately 30% of the time. The remainder of the school day (and beyond) she worked as an outreach contact to parents and community, served as a liaison between the school and police/court system for some students, organized fund raisers and field trips, and coordinated transition for atrisk students between elementary, middle, and high school.

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73 The principal and the assistant principal at InnerCity Middle School were extremely committed to the success of the alternative program. For example, the principal struggled to provide continued funding for the program. He also encouraged the program coordinator in her endeavors to foster community support for the program. Both the principal and assistant principal considered the at-risk population to be much larger than what the school could serve. Each praised the program coordinator as being something of a patron saint of the at risk. Mrs. Ferguson was, in their estimation, tough but loving, and willing to commit an abundance of time and energy to the at-risk students. Although the principal and assistant principal maintained an active interest in the program, they were both willing to defer to Mrs. Ferguson on most issues involving the students, with the exception of severe discipline problems. Mrs. Ferguson appeared, on first meeting, to be a bundle of energy. She was interested in talking about "her kids" and their needs, but was very protective of them. In her opinion, one of the more common problems the students suffered from was the lack of a consistent adult role model. She wanted to choose two students for the study whom she believed could benefit from one-to-one time with an adult.

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74 Mrs. Ferguson, in addition to coordinating the program at Inner-City, also served as co-director of the district summer program designed to involve students in the school system. Weekly summer camps conducted at various school sites served students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The other director, Mr. Ford, worked for the parks and recreation department and collaborated with Mrs. Ferguson throughout the year to provide after-school activities for the at-risk students. A Typical Core Class in the Alternative Classroom The morning core class at Inner-City included reading, language arts, and social studies. Class began each morning at 8:30 a.m. At the beginning of the school year, breakfast was scheduled for approximately 15 minutes prior to the 8:30 bell. By mid-year, however, students were provided with breakfast during the first part of class. Breakfast generally consisted of juice or milk, an apple or orange, and a sweet pastry, roll, muffin, or pancakes. The atmosphere of the alternative class seemed contrary to that of the rest of the building. Students were either boisterous and out of control or sullen and defensive. On any given day, the mood of the students was unpredictable As the bell rang, some students were already in their seats. Others wandered to their desks while a few last stragglers came through the door. About five students

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75 consistently arrived at school late, usually during the first two class periods. First period reading class started with the admonition from Mrs. Samples or Mr. Warren to "quiet down," after which the announcements were read. For the next 40 minutes or so, students were required to read silently. Mrs. Samples recorded daily how much each student had read. Often, students sat quietly or rested their heads on their desks during the reading period. However, after approximately 15 or 20 minutes, many students were restless and started to whisper among themselves. At this point, Mr. Warren and Mrs. Samples, who sat at desks on opposite sides of the room, started warning the students who were talking. "How many pages have you read, John? I don't think you've been getting much done lately." "I don't appreciate your talking and disrupting the others who are trying to read." Or, "I hope I'm not going to have to have you in here for lunch." Generally, the warnings were ineffectual. Students ceased talking momentarily, then resumed with efforts to be less conspicuous. Some days Mr. Warren or Mrs. Samples seemed to have a lower tolerance for the persistent talking and sent students to the back office for a little "talk." Such talks usually involved berating the student for a bad attitude and poor work habits. Sometimes the student listened silently, appearing bored; other times the student

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76 might lash out defensively. "I wasn't the only one talking. Why do you always pick on me?" If the student was lectured by both Mrs. Samples and Mr. Warren, the other students had free reign to talk and move about. At the end of the period, students were allowed a 5minute break. Students who had annoyed either adult might be forced to sit in the room without a break. Language arts was usually taught during second period and social studies would be taught third period, although occasionally the two classes would be reversed. Language arts class focused primarily on spelling and grammar. Mrs. Samples began the class by giving directions for the daily activity, sometimes introducing or reviewing material. On spelling day, the students spent most of the period copying spelling words from a list, looking up definitions in the dictionary, and copying those definitions. Spelling lists generally included about thirty words. As with silent reading, students often became bored part way through the assignment or rushed to complete it, and then began talking or acting out. On other days, students might work on worksheets to learn rules of grammar. Occasionally, they worked on poetry or literature. Mrs. Samples and Mr. Warren regularly worked at their desks, but they sometimes walked around monitored student work. Students were frequently off task. Often, the class was admonished as a whole. "There's too much

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77 talking going on. Don't make me take your break away." Or, "I'm really tired of this behavior. I will not tolerate it much longer." Sometimes, individuals were reprimanded. Students attended a 20-minute advisor /advisee class between second and third period. For third period, the core class returned to Mrs. Samples class for social studies. Social studies was conducted in much the same way as language arts. Students read books, answered written questions, or watched films. The students* behavior was much the same as in the other two periods. Students appeared bored, were off task, and looked for other ways to entertain themselves. Mrs. Samples was often frustrated with the students' behavior and seemed unable to control the classroom. If there was a negative event (such as a fight) early in the day, the classroom atmosphere became tense and increasingly negative as the day progressed. Jaime Jaime was a 13.6 year-old eighth grader when this study began. She appears Caucasian, but is also half Japanese-Hawaiian. She was physically mature and sexually active. At 5' 9" tall, she more closely resembled a young woman of 16 to 18 than a middle-school student. All information about Jaime must be considered with the caveat that Jaime compulsively exaggerated. For example, she described City High School as having over

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78 1,000 new transfer students in the 1991-92 school year when the total school population was less than 1,000. In another instance, she reported that a friend's dog was losing weight because he was very old — nearly 50. When questioned, "You mean in dog years?" She replied, "No, in people years!" Most of the details related here have been corroborated with school staff or her family when possible; however, there are some instances of conflicting data. In these cases, as accurate an account has been reconstructed as was possible. Jaime's mother was 15 years old when Jaime was born. Jaime's mother allowed her parents (Jaime's grandparents) to adopt Jaime and raise her as their own. She was raised believing that her mother and her aunts were older sisters. Jaime's biological father was killed in a motorcycle accident when Jaime was 2 years of age. At age 10, Jaime's grandmother became terminally ill from diabetes. During the final stages of the illness, Jaime was told that her "mom" was really her grandmother. Jaime met her biological mother again when the mother returned to town for the grandmother's funeral. At this point, Jaime became, from her own account, uncontrollable. Her mother left town again after her grandmother's funeral. Her grandfather (actually her stepgrandfather) whom she calls her dad, sent her to Florida to live with one of her aunts for most of the year. There

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79 she made friends with a group of kids that were actively involved with drugs and sex. She "learned a lot on the street," and became involved with the police for various offenses ranging from fighting to shoplifting. After nearly a year, her grandfather provided for Jaime to come home. In the spring of 1991, her mother moved back to the area. Her mother has four other children, three of whom live with her. Jaime is the oldest child. The youngest is less than two years old. Jaime alternately lived with her grandfather, her mother, and her aunts during the course of this study. At times, her various boyfriends lived with her. Jaime was living with her grandfather in a small, one-bedroom house about onehalf mile from Inner-City Middle and three miles from City High School at the end of data collection for this study. Mrs. Samples and Mrs. Ferguson both described Jaime as intelligent and creative. Mrs. Ferguson said, "She has the ability to be a real scholar." Her attendance was one of the major handicaps to her success in school. The absenteeism was related to many different issues; Jaime had a history of fighting, and she had been picked up by the police several times. She was on probation throughout the spring of the 1990-91 school year. Jaime reported using alcohol and may have used other drugs as well. Jaime had six different boyfriends over the course of the study. All were between 17 and 22 years of age. She

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80 reported being sexually active with each of them. Jaime has periodically received medical treatment for various sexually transmitted diseases. Jaime began the 1991-92 school year approximately three months pregnant. She said she was undecided whether to keep the child or give it up for adoption. She was enrolled in regular classes and a special teen-parenting class at City High School. Approximately five weeks into the school year, Jaime had already missed portions of 17 days of school — "I just didn't feel like going" — and had dropped two of her six classes. Because of her numerous absences, she was failing all of her classes and was unlikely to earn any credits for the fall 1991 school term. By early October, she was only attending school from approximately 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jaime was observed and interviewed for over 35 hours between March and October of 1991. Michael Michael was a 13.7 year-old eighth grader at the beginning of this study. He is black, and was fairly advanced physically for his age. Michael lived with his mother and aunt in the inner city about one mile away from Inner-City Middle during the course of this study. He was an only child. His biological father and mother were never married. He visited his father approximately once every other month. His mother was involved with another man whom

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81 Michael considered to be his father, but who passed away when Michael was nine years old. Michael was athletic and interested in all types of sports. He used most of his leisure time to play basketball or football. He also enjoyed cooking and watching television. Michael was a bright young man with an impressive vocabulary and spontaneous sense of humor. However, he was quick to be defensive and often spoke out at inappropriate times. His speaking and acting out in class have caused him problems for the past several school years. However, Michael generally got along well with his teachers and peers. He was pleasant and friendly for the most part. Because of his outbursts, however, he was sent out of class and disciplined enough times to warrant his placement in the at-risk program. According to Mrs. Ferguson, Michael was academically successful in the at-risk program at Inner-City Middle, but did not make much progress at modifying his behavior. Michael also participated as a junior counselor in Mrs. Ferguson's summer program. He performed well as a counselor for the younger groups of children, but he often misbehaved when involved with children closer to his own age. Subsequently, Mrs. Ferguson stopped using him as a counselor for the latter part of the summer.

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82 In the 1991-92 school year at City High School, Michael was enrolled in regular classes for the entire school day. He was a member of the ninth-grade football squad. By the sixth week of school, his attendance had been good, but his grades were marginal in most of his classes. His teachers reported that approximately five weeks into the fall term, Michael began failing to complete assignments and was frequently tardy to class. Michael was suspended the seventh week of school in the 1991-92 school year after a physical confrontation with the varsity football coach. Michael was observed and interviewed for over 35 hours between March and October of 1991. Profile of a Rural School The following section contains a profile of Rural Middle School. A description of the campus and the alternative program are contained within this section. In addition, a typical day in the alternative class is detailed. Two students, Elizabeth and Jordan, were selected from Rural Middle's alternative program to participate in this study. Demographic data on these students are also contained in this section. The Campus Rural Middle is located in the Pacific Northwest. About 15 miles removed from the nearest sizeable city and 30 miles from a large metropolitan area, Rural Middle's community is primarily supported by an agricultural and

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83 industrial economy. The student population at Rural Middle School during the 1990-91 school year consisted of approximately 225 seventh and eighth graders, 99% of whom were white. A long, winding road off the interstate freeway leads to the city in which Rural Middle is located. The town's main shops are established on either side of this same street. Rural 1 s campus is one of the first buildings on the edge of town. To one side of the school is a recreational field; behind the school is one of the district's elementary schools. The school is built around a commons area in a slightly irregular rectangular shape. Classrooms in each leg of the building may be entered from either side. The building is approximately 18 years old and is under renovation to add storage and locker space. Classrooms are constructed in pairs; sliding walls separate them and can be opened to form one large room. This allows teachers to open the walls and lead group activities between classes. The main office area is rather small, but students are greeted by a friendly secretary and seem to feel comfortable stopping in to ask for help. The cafeteria bustles at lunch time as students wait for hot lunches or sit down to eat a bag lunch. Classrooms are well lit and spacious. Desks and chairs are sometimes arranged in rows, sometimes arranged

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84 randomly for discussion or group activities. Floors are carpeted to help absorb noise. Walls are covered with posters and student work. Students are mostly respectful and friendly, willing to give directions or answer questions. There is an air of small-town closeness throughout the school. The Alternative Program The at-risk program was comprised of two math classes in effect for the entire 199 0-91 school year, and two language arts classes which began just after semester change in late February. Students were assigned to the classes on the basis of failing grades but were not placed in the program if they were considered by the principal to be a severe discipline problem. In the 1991-92 school year, declining funding allowed for only one class each of mathematics and language arts. Students were assigned to the program on the basis of percentile scoring on the statewide standardized achievement test administered the previous year. The principal, Mr. Durnan, had concurrently served as principal of one of the two feeder elementary schools and the middle school until the 1990-91 school year. Consequently, he was well acquainted with half of the students as they entered the middle school. He stated that he was confident he knew which students were "problems"

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85 within a week of the beginning of the school year, even with new students. The at-risk math teacher was identified by the principal as a teacher who had "had some problems" in the past. In fact, Mr. Durnan considered the math teacher his "personal project," in need of mentoring to better his teaching skills. He was described by Mr. Durnan as a teacher who was "only here to collect a paycheck." The math teacher was reluctant to have anyone observe or interview in his class. He was reassigned to the nearby elementary school for the 1991-92 school year. Mrs. Wi Howes, the language arts teacher, was a substitute teacher for several years after completing her teacher training. The 1990-91 school year marked her first contract position. She was hired as a five-sevenths time teacher. In February, she was offered the position of atrisk language arts instructor for two periods in the afternoon. Because the program was not fully funded, Mrs. Willowes was offered aide pay to teach the at-risk classes. Mrs. Willowes was very congenial. Mr. Durnan had told her only that some students in her class would be involved in a study. Mrs. Willowes was concerned about improving her teaching technigues; she seemed to genuinely care about the students and how she could best help them. She was eager to have some of her students participate in the study so they could receive extra individual attention.

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86 The sixth-period at-risk language arts class contained eight seventhand eighth-grade students: five white females (one eighth grade, four seventh grade) and three white males (all seventh grade) The seventh-period atrisk class was comprised of eight white males, five seventh graders and three eighth graders. A Typical Class Period in the At-Risk Language Arts Class Both the sixthand seventh-period language arts class usually progressed similarly on any given day. Mrs. Willowes greeted students by name as they entered class. "Billy — I heard about your math test. Congratulations!" "Hi Suzy. How'd the game turn out?" Or, "Ben! You got your hair cut! It looks great!" Mrs. Willowes was particularly attentive to any student who looked dejected, and often took a few minutes to confer with the student. The students retrieved their work folders from a bin on one side of the room, then took their seats before the bell rang. Class usually began with a few words of encouragement from Mrs. Willowes, for example, "I'm really pleased with how well you all worked on your projects yesterday. We'll be continuing those today." After this brief introduction, the class read silently for the first 10 minutes of class. Mrs. Willowes worked individually with a student who had a second-grade reading ability. Students read quietly and generally stayed on task. After reading, students took about five minutes to write in a

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87 daily journal. Mrs. Willowes walked around to make sure that everyone was working. Next, Mrs. Willowes introduced the day's activities. She would generally include at least two different activities during the class period so that students would not become bored. Activities included memorizing prepositions, writing poems and stories, learning grammar, drilling and testing spelling skills, reading literature, and reviewing study skills. Students sometimes groaned about unfavored activities, but Mrs. Willowes made an effort to make the learning less painful. For example, she challenged each of her two classes to learn all of the 50 most common prepositions, promising an ice cream party to each class if everyone could memorize the prepositions. The students helped each other to learn them, and both classes gualified for the party. She rewarded students with praise and recognition for good work; she taught the students to appreciate help and good work done by others. Mrs. Willowes took class time to discuss issues such as self-esteem and respect for others. When students were off task, a few calm words from Mrs. Willowes generally prompted them to get back to work. "Jenny, you've just got a few minutes left to finish up." Mrs. Willowes was never abrupt or angry when chiding a student. Students in Mrs. Willowes' class reported feeling

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88 more successful and appreciated while in her classroom. The atmosphere in her class was almost always pleasant and secure. Elizabeth Elizabeth posed a striking contrast to Jaime. Elizabeth was a 12.7 year-old seventh grader at the beginning of this study. She was generally guiet and unassuming, and she had had few conflicts with her peers or school personnel. She was identified as at-risk by virtue of her failing grades. Her attendance was somewhat sporadic because of illness, although many of her illnesses during the time of this study seemed exaggerated. For example, Elizabeth missed nearly a week of school after deciding she had bronchitis. She never went to the doctor, but a friend had been diagnosed as having bronchitis and Elizabeth reported many of the same symptoms. So she stayed home because she had heard that it took at least a week to get over bronchitis. Elizabeth was the youngest of four children. Her parents owned and ran a small grocery store and gun shop. Her oldest brother was in his early 20s and worked for their parents. Her sister was 20 years old and unmarried with three children; she dropped out of school at the age of 14. Her other brother was 16 and lived at home with Elizabeth and her parents. He attended the nearby high

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89 school. He and Elizabeth fought constantly because he was "mean to her. Elizabeth loved animals and collected strays. She had several dogs, a cat with kittens, and squirrels. She talked about her animals as if they were part of her family. Elizabeth was also very interested in fashion; she spent a great deal of time reading through magazines and trying out new clothing, hair, and make-up styles. Elizabeth did not qualify to be in the at-risk language arts program at Rural Middle School in the 1991-92 school year. The principal enrolled only students who were below the 3 0th percentile on a standardized assessment test, despite Mrs. Willowes 1 objections. Elizabeth returned from her summer vacation to begin the 1991-92 school year approximately 30 pounds lighter and with blond hair. She seemed to exude a new sense of selfconfidence and enthusiasm. Elizabeth was not enrolled in the at-risk program for her eighth-grade year. After nine weeks of school, she was maintaining passing grades in six of her seven courses. Elizabeth was described by her teachers as having a "much improved" attitude from the previous year. However, she was also described as having a short attention span and difficulty focusing on her work. She was more self-confident and outgoing. Several of her teachers voiced concern that Elizabeth was dressing inappropriately in an attempt to gain attention. Elizabeth

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90 was observed and interviewed for over 30 hours between March and October of 1991. Jordan At the beginning of this study, Jordan was a 13.3 year-old seventh grader who was extremely physically immature. At 4' 8" in height, he was one of the smallest seventh-grade boys. Jordan was outgoing and appeared selfconfident, despite his recent record of failing grades. Jordan lived with his mother and stepfather and younger sister. His father lived about 200 miles away, and Jordan generally visited him for several weeks during summer vacation. His stepfather had a son and a daughter who lived with their mother during the 1990-91 school year, but spent most weekends at Jordan's house. Jordan's stepbrother and stepsister moved in with Jordan's family during the summer. Jordan considered his stepbrother and stepsister to be among his best friends until they moved in with him. In fact, he described himself as feeling closer to them than to his real sister. Jordan and his stepbrother began having difficulties getting along after his stepbrother moved in and started attending the local high school. Jordan's parents were divorced when he was approximately three years of age, and he has had contact with his biological father infreguently since that time. His mother remarried when he was nine years old and he said he liked his stepfather a great deal.

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91 Jordan was active in the school chorus; he was a frequent soloist in school concerts. Jordan also enjoyed shop and home economics. He made wood projects for his home and sewed some of his own clothes. Jordan loved sports, but he was often at a disadvantage because of his small size. He excelled in physical education class because of his enthusiasm and energy. Jordan began the 1991-92 school year in regular classes. Jordan reported doing fine in all his classes, but admitted he was not completing all his work or studying enough for tests. Nine weeks into the school year (the end of the first quarter) he was passing all of his seven classes. Jordan was observed and interviewed for over 30 hours between March and October of 1991. Inner-City Middle School Two students, Jaime and Michael, were observed and interviewed within Inner-City's at-risk program; data from those observations and interviews are contained in this section. Data on the program and staff are also contained in this section. The Students Jaime Jaime was something of an enigma. Because of her complex family life, she developed her own set of values for dealing with everyday life. She was a survivor, but her actions did not always mesh with mainstream social values, particularly those endorsed by the school system.

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92 Jaime maintained a passing grade average in the eighth grade despite behavior and attendance problems. In the fall of the 1990-91 school year, she earned a 2.70 grade point average with 16 full-day absences (reported full-day absences are in addition to tardies and partial-day absences) and 25 office referrals. In the spring of 1991, she earned a 2.75 grade point average with six full-day absences and 10 office referrals. She improved her attendance and behavior after being placed on juvenilecourt probation. Jaime : [My dad] didn't like it when I didn't come to school because he knew I'd be skipping and he'd always have the cops calling, or picking me up. 'Cause I'd have to go to JDH [juvenile detention] Even if I have a doctor's note that I'm not supposed to be in school, or if I get suspended, they'll stick me in. And then after 10 o'clock on a week night I got to be in the house, or after 12 o'clock on the weekend. And I'm not allowed to get in no more fights. Which I would 've loved to yesterday. I went to the mall, and my old best friend, she's mad at me because I wrote — they've got chalkboards down there, you know — I wrote we weren't best friends and she got mad and wrote that I had VD. I got mad and seen her. And I just wanted to yell at her, but I couldn't 'cause a cop was standing right there. City High School's attendance policy required that students have not more than 16 absences in any given class in order to receive semester credit for that class. By the end of October of her freshman year, Jaime had dropped two of her classes. In her remaining four classes, literature, mathematics, social studies, and teen parenting, she had exceeded the absence limit. At the end of the first quarter, she was failing everything except mathematics, in

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93 which she earned a "no grade" because of her absences. Very likely, she would not earn any credits for the fall semester of her freshman year. Jaime experienced some academic success at school. However, that success was infrequent because of her poor attendance. Her response to academic failure was apparent indifference. She reported that she could (ability) succeed, but chose (effort) not to. In the spring of eighth grade, she described her recently improved grades: Jaime : I'm finally getting good grades. Researcher : So what do you think makes the difference now that your grades are better? Jaime : I'm coming to school. Before I was sick and skipped school. She stated that middle school was harder than elementary school, but her failures were only because she had missed so much school. Researcher : What's the difference between elementary and middle school? Jaime : Middle school's harder. Classes. Teachers. I'd never had an "F" in my life 'til I came here. Here, the only reason I got F's is because I never come. Researcher : But you felt like you could do the work, but just didn't want to? Jaime : Yea. Jaime tried to engage in what she believed to be adult behaviors. She was independent; she roamed around the downtown streets at night time, ate and slept whenever she

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94 wanted, came and went as she pleased, and slept with whomever she liked. Jaime : [My boyfriend] got mad at me because my sisters and my mother told me that I wasn't able to see him unless we had an adult with us. Researcher : So you won't mess around? Jaime : Basically. What they put on me is that I'm not able to see him at all unless we're in a public restaurant or a public movie theater or out in the public. And we've got to have an adult — not one of my friends that are over 18, not one of his friends that are over 18, but his parents or my parents or somebody in my family that's over 18. And it's like, we're never going to be together. Researcher : But you can go out unsupervised with your friends, is that right? Jaime : Uh-huh. That's what I told my brotherin-law. I said, there's nothing keeping me from seeing him, 'cause tomorrow .I'm going to tell my sister I'm going to my friend's house and I'm going to go see him. They can't stop me. They won't find out. And if they do, it's their own fault. The following week Jaime reported that her family was letting her see the boyfriend anytime she wanted because, "they can't stop me anyhow." In many ways she was still very childlike. She sought attention in various ways. She attempted to shock when recounting stories: [My dad] died when I was two. You know how when they take, inject something in you when you're dead so you don't swell up? They didn't do that to him, he went like six sizes bigger than he normally was. His face was all puffed out. It was gross. She reported attempting suicide on several occasions. She planned on jumping from a bridge at least two separate times, but was stopped by friends or relatives. She said

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95 she knew she had "a lot to live for," but sometimes things just made her too sad. Events that could cause her to be viewed negatively were rarely reported by her as under her control. For example, when she attended school "hung over" on several occasions, it was always because someone had "spiked" her nonalcoholic drinks without her knowledge. Jaime did not want to accept responsibility for negative outcomes. She often reacted violently when she believed she was being blamed for something. She described an afternoon at the mall with a friend and the friend's puppy: [We were sitting down] and the puppy jumped off my lap and it's jaw went to the side, like it broke it's jaw, you know, and this old lady, she was sitting there, she jumped up, she goes, "You broke it's jaw, you dummy!" To me. I don't know. I just lost my temper and I went off on her. I said, "You better shut up you old bag. I'm going to hit you." Jaime constantly acted out against her family when away from the school grounds: promiscuous behavior, fighting, drinking, shoplifting, staying out all night, or other types of rule breaking. Occasionally she brought her aggression into the school; she reportedly made a written death threat against another student. In the classroom, she was generally passive and disinterested. She reported that school was boring for her. Jaime did not complete the photo-elicitation project. She reported that her camera had been stolen from her on the street by her ex-boyfriend. She said that her dad was

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96 going to buy her a new camera later that week when he got paid. Mr. Matthews did buy Jaime a new camera and she brought it with her to school the following Friday. Jaime was asked again to complete the project, but the camera somehow disappeared again and Jaime said she had no way of replacing it without her dad getting very angry with her. Jaime did, however, bring in a set of photographs which she had taken on her own just prior to the time she was requested to complete the photo-el icitation project. The photographs were taken, therefore, without the directions to answer the question, "Who Am I?" Her photographs were all taken on the downtown streets. They included pictures of her boyfriend, a park where she had spent the night with her friends, and various street people. As she showed the pictures, she described the lives of street people she knew: sleeping under bridges, begging for money, and stealing food. She wanted to emphasize that they were not bad people. Most of the young ones had run away from home and had no where to go. Jaime said she empathized with them. She said that they had little or no control over their lives. In June of 1991, Mr. Matthews reported that he "didn't know what to do" with Jaime. She sometimes stayed out all night with her friends. He said he thought he might have to "let her go her own way" for things to get better. At that time, she was going out with a 18 -year-old man. She

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97 said she knew he really loved her because he was willing to fight others for her. Jaime : He [the boyfriend] asked roe to marry him. Researcher ; Did he? Jaime : But I'm too young. But he told me, he goes, "Well, we could be engaged for a couple of years." Researcher : So do you like him a lot better than? Jaime : Yea. I can talk to him. He's different than all the other guys that I've gone with. I've said that once before, but this time it's true because, I mean, the first night I met him he got into one fight over me. The very first night I ever seen him he got into a fight with [old boyfriend] And then last weekend he got into a fight over me again with some 31 year-old man. Jaime seemed to deliberately attempt to become pregnant. Her use of birth control was infreguent, and one of her boyfriends reported that Jaime had often expressed a desire to have a baby. Before she became pregnant, Jaime said, "Everybody says I should have a baby 'cause I'm so good with kids." When asked if she thought she was old enough, she said, "Well, I'll probably wait a while. But everybody in my family was pregnant before they were 18." Jaime said that she could live with her grandpa and get extra Social Security money for her baby. The high school operated a day care. She planned on having the baby and continuing on with her life much the same as before. The teen-parenting teacher reported that Jaime showed little recognition of the seriousness of her situation. Her grandpa said that he would leave the decision about keeping

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98 the baby up to her, but that he would not be responsible for taking care of the child. Jaime had taken care of her nieces and nephews, so she said she knew something about the amount of care that an infant would require. She thought that baby sitting the kids was sometimes fun, sometimes boring. She described her niece, who suffered from a rare bone disease: Jaime : She got both of her casts off. They put another brace on so she can walk. She's got a scar from here down from her surgery. She's going to be two. When she met my ex-boyfriend, first thing she said to him was F You. Researcher : Where 'd she get that? Jaime : It's just 'cause her dad says it. She repeats everything. She's got a lot smarter because of her disability. You know that's what happens. Like blind people hearing better. She's so smart now. Researcher : That's great. Do they work with her a lot? Jaime : Not really. She has a doctor that comes to the house. Well, a nurse. Once every two weeks. And her doctor will talk to her about stuff. She knows these long words that I've never heard of. Like you'd look them up in a dictionary, and there they are! [Laughter] But she's really cute. Sometimes she said that she knew it was probably best for the baby to arrange for an adoption. Other times, she talked about her future life with her baby: night-time feedings, sleeping schedules, and baby sitting. Having a child seemed to be a way to security; a constant in her life of chaos. As her pregnancy progressed, she made plans with the assumption that she would keep her baby, even

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99 though she occasionally mentioned adoption. She acquired baby clothes, a crib, a car seat, and other baby items. Jaime projected a sense of sadness and resignation far beyond her age. Jaime wrote the following poem in the eighth grade: Even when there is war and many people die and nothing seems to get better Life goes on Even when your best friend moves away and never writes and you know you'll never find another one like her Life still goes on Even when you gain 10 pounds and you can't wear your favorite jeans and your vision is 20/40 Life still goes on Even when you're no longer living Life still goes on Michael Michael had the intelligence and humor to succeed in the classroom, but sometimes his defensiveness caused him problems. At Inner-City Middle School he was frequently chastised for speaking out in the classroom at inappropriate times. When asked what his main problem with school had been in the past, Michael replied, "I mess with the teachers too much." He explained why he was only earning a D in Health class: Michael : Well, I get my work done. It's just 'cause I get sent out of class too much. Stupid reasons. Like clearing my throat. Or staring at the ceiling. She [the teacher] thinks I'm getting smart and she'll just send me out. Stuff like that. Researcher : Is any of it true, or is it all accidental stuff? Michael : Well, you know, clearing my throat, you know, I was clearing my throat. I wasn't trying to get no one's attention or nothing. I was just

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100 clearing my throat. That's kind of stupid. That's the kind of stuff that happens. Researcher : Sometimes are you goofing off? Michael ; Sometimes I'm talking to somebody else. When she gives me a warning I just stop and that's all there is to it. But I haven't got kicked out lately; it's just every Monday. Researcher : Mondays are a bad day? Michael : Um-huh [nods yes] Michael maintained excellent attendance and passing grades his eighth-grade year at Inner-City Middle. In the fall of the 1990-91 academic year, he earned a 2.1 gradepoint average, with five full-day absences and 15 office referrals. In the spring of 1991, he earned a 2.2 gradepoint average, with three full-day absences and 10 office referrals. His office referrals were generally due to speaking or acting out in class at inappropriate times. Throughout the course of this study, whenever Michael described his problems in school, he would explain that he was improving his behavior; he understood why he was having problems and was in the process of changing his behavior. Michael : I can still bring them all up [his grades] Researcher : So what are you going to do to try to bring them up? Michael : Just work hard and all, don't talk to people, just get my work done. Researcher : 'Cause you really don't have a problem as far as your schoolwork, do you? Michael : Not at all. Researcher : It's just talking in class or whatever.

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101 Michael ; I've almost got that down. Just don't talk to the friends that I might get in trouble until, you know, it's a good time to talk, or if she doesn't mind a little whispering or something like that. And I get my work done and everything. Get that done first, you know, maybe I'll talk or just sit there or something. After six weeks at City High School, he had excellent attendance but was not excelling academically. In fact, Michael was receiving low C's and D's in all his classes. He reported that he thought he had about a C average, but knew he "could do a lot better." He claimed that he could do better; he just needed to try harder. After nine weeks at City High, Michael's grades had dropped and he had received a two-day suspension because of a physical confrontation with a faculty member. Michael reported that he "had words" with the teacher, who then told him to report to the detention room. Michael wanted to go to his locker first, but the teacher blocked his way and again told him to report directly to the detention room. Michael said he then "moved the teacher out of [his] way." Researcher ; Does that mean you shoved him? Michael ; Well, yea. Researcher ; So what did you learn from this experience? Michael ; [Responds immediately] Never do it again. Michael reported that he had earned "about a D average" on his first-quarter (nine weeks) grades at City High. When asked, "Did you fail any classes?" he responded, "Well, yea. Several of them." His counselor

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102 reported that Michael had failed drafting and mathematics. Michael met with his counselor at the beginning of the new quarter and said he planned on improving his grades in the second quarter: Michael : I've got to get my head into it. I'm doing better now — this quarter. Researcher : And so have you figured out what the problem was before, and how you're going to change it? Michael : Yea. I've got to hand in my work. Stay in my seat. Stay out of trouble. Michael had made almost the exact same observation at the end of eighth grade, but was still facing the same problems in his ninth-grade year. Michael experienced problems separating how to be successful and how to deal with his frustrations in class; he knew he had trouble with how he reacted to teachers. When asked, at the end of his eighth-grade year, how he could improve his performance at high school, he said: Michael : I'm just going to keep all my thoughts in until the last day of school. Researcher : You mean you're going to wait for four years? Michael : Each year? Researcher : Wait 'til the last day? Michael : Yea. Researcher : But don't you think that maybe by Christmas time you'll be ready to explode? Michael : Well, yea.

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103 After failing most of his classes the first quarter at City High, Michael said he knew he had to "get his grades up for the card that counts in January." He was well aware that his semester grades would be part of his permanent record, and would be looked at when he applied for college. "I've got to do what I got to do. Make the teacher happy. Then go tomorrow and do it all over again." Michael believed that he had the ability to succeed. When asked if he had any problem with his schoolwork, he said, "not at all." His primary problem was his inability to conform to classroom behavior standards. Michael said he would like to have an adult male around to talk to — someone who would understand his problems and allow him to talk things out. He lived with his mother and his aunt, and said he sometimes needed a male perspective: It kind of gets boring because all the people [I] have to talk to is women, and they don't understand. Girls talking to women they can understand, you know, but I'm a guy talking to women. They understand most of my problems in school, but not everything. Some interesting details emerged during a discussion with Michael regarding the photographs he took. Michael returned his camera after two days, with only eight pictures taken. When asked if he wanted to take any more pictures, he decided to keep the camera a little longer. Two days later he returned the camera with twelve pictures taken and said he was done.

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104 In discussing his photo project, Michael showed a picture of himself at the cemetery kneeling over the gravestone of the man he considered his dad. When asked what the significance of the photograph was, he said, "This one is to show that I have no man in my life to discipline me and to talk to me." Michael was asked if the pictures represented the central part of what was important in his life: his interests and his family. He said yes. Michael was distracted and did not really want to talk about what the pictures meant. He said, "That's just it. My life. I don't know what they mean. That's just all there is." Michael seemed to have a clear picture of what he wants to do, but not a realistic idea of how to achieve his goals. He wanted to attend college. Researcher : What do you have to do to get to college? Michael : Get good credits in high school. [Long pause] Be good and you'll do great. Researcher : So doing great — what does that mean from day to day? Michael : Discipline myself to study hard. Researcher : Study. What else? Michael : [Shrug] I don't know. Michael did not have much family support for his future college plans. He reported that his mother did not think he'd make it to college 'cause I act up in school." When

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105 asked how that made him feel, he said, "Kind of hurt me, but you get used to it after a while." At the end of his eighth-grade year Michael found out that he had been selected to be a junior counselor in Mrs. Ferguson's summer program. He said that although the job did not pay anything, he knew it was good experience and "looked good on a college application." Michael was anxious to start high school — to start over and get ready for college. Researcher : How [have you] changed or what [have you] learned about school [this year]? Michael : At the beginning I was doing pretty good, then I slacked off when. for most of the year. Then I started coming up and then I've just been staying at a steady level since then, you know? Researcher : So you think you're doing better than you were before, anyhow. So what do you think about high school? Do you feel positive about it? Michael : Yea, I'm ready to go! Researcher : Ready to go and get it over with? Michael : Yup. I want to go to college soon. Michael planned on working several jobs in order to pay for college, as well as looking into possible scholarships. Michael : I'm gonna' have a couple of jobs after school. I like to work. I like money. If you like money, you like to work. Researcher : Yes. Michael : But whenever I get money, I don't spend it. I just put it up. Researcher : Good. That's a hard thing to do for most people. Have you thought about scholarships?

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106 Michael : Yea. I'm going to try to play as many sports as I can without getting hurt, plus keep my grades up so I ve a better chance of maybe getting a sports scholarship or academic scholarship. He wanted to major in engineering at the local university, Florida State University, or an all-black college in Alabama. He thought it would probably be preferable to attend the local university in order to be able to live at home and reduce his expenses. "I want to work for NASA. I want to build rockets." He said that he planned on waiting to start a family until after he completed college; "I might get married, but kids, starting a family and everything, that'll have to wait. Not 'til I'm assured a job. A good job." The School: Inner-City Middle School's Alternative Program The program teacher, Mrs. Samples, was in her first year of teaching. She previously worked as a social services worker and said she felt confident in her knowledge of the problems the at-risk students faced. Her educational training focused primarily on working with special education students. She favored a strictly structured approach. On one occasion, after passing out drill worksheets, she said that, although she did not generally favor using rote instructional methods, she really thought it was "the only way to teach some of these kids". Jaime reported, however, that she did not like the alternative program for several reasons. One was because

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107 she did not like Mrs. Samples or Mr. Warren. The main reason, though, was because she did not believe they were "taught right." She said that the other core courses learned different material, whereas the alternative class did lower-level work that was not important. Mr. Warren, the classroom aide, was also a full-time counselor/supervisor at a facility for juvenile sex offenders run by the state. He said that he had taken on the job of classroom aide so that he could feel more productive by working "in the prevention stage, not the intervention stage". He said he had become burned out working with juvenile males who were "hard core" and unlikely to change their vicious and perverse behaviors. He saw their actions as a failure of the system to help the individual before the individual became too hardened and beyond help. He believed that he could better help by working with the at-risk students at Inner-City Middle School. The students generally reported dislike for Mr. Warren. He was aggressive and confrontational, and said things like, "I told you to do it now or "I'm in charge here and you'd better do what I told you." His hostile manner often provoked students to misbehave more than they might have otherwise. Mr. Warren reported that he viewed Mrs. Samples as an ineffectual teacher, and felt he was

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108 forced into the role of "the bad guy" because she could not control the class. Many of the faculty knew little about the at-risk program. Most seemed relieved that the "bad kids" were out of their classes. When questioned as to the whereabouts of the Mr. Warren, the teacher's aide, one of the teachers in the faculty lounge suggested looking "in that special ed room." When questioned further about the classroom's location, he gave directions to the at-risk classroom and identified Mrs. Samples as the teacher. Mrs. Samples often described the students' families when explaining student behavior. "Leon has a real problem with authority figures, particularly white authority figures. His mother called me a white bitch to my face. She s a drug runner in and so he s learned to be real distrustful of most everyone." She said that Michael's mother was "not real bright," and so could not even conceive of Michael graduating and going to college, much less providing any moral support. Her critical assessments of students' families were often voiced within hearing distance of other students. The alternative curriculum included a mentoring program which paired Inner-City Middle's students with students from City High School. The program was implemented to provide the at-risk students with the opportunity to talk to older teenagers. The school

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109 sponsored after-school gatherings throughout the year for the mentor program. Jaime reported that her male mentor demeaned and insulted her. Researcher : Somebody told me something about a pizza party last week. Did everybody go to that? Jaime : No. Just this class. Researcher : What's it for? Jaime : The alternative classes. We have to go. They pair us up with people from around here to talk to. I didn't like mine too much 'cause he called me a whore. Researcher : He called you a whore? Jaime : I asked him if we could go use the phone, so I could call my dad and tell him to pick me up after school. He goes, "Who you gonna' call — your pimp?" Researcher : That's not very nice. Jaime : I said, "I don't actually appreciate you talking about me that way," and left it at that. And then when we went downstairs, I was talking to one of my friends and then he goes, "Yea, I heard about that chick, she's a whore too." He goes, "Just like you. What corner do you stand on? Maybe I'll come pick you up sometime." Jaime thought that her mentor had "certain ideas" about her because she was a student in the at-risk classroom. Michael believed that being in the alternative program at Inner-City Middle caused him to be treated differently. Researcher : Do you think that being in the alternative class has made a difference for you? Michael : Yea. I shouldn't be in there. I should just be in a regular class. Researcher : So you don't think it's any good for you? Michael : Well, it has been good, 'cause I'm getting good grades. But still, I don't need to be in that type of class.

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110 Researcher : Do you think it's been a disadvantage to you at all to be in there? Michael : Morally. No, not morally, but [seemed to be searching for the right words] In a way it has. I don't know. They treat you differently in some ways. Researcher : Good or bad? Michael : In a way bad, in a way good. Researcher : How's it bad? Michael : Well, I know it's an alternative class, but for me it's like they're just picking out people who get in trouble. And put them in that class. You know? It's not right. Researcher : So do you think that gives you sort of a stigma, or a bad reputation? Michael : It's just not the right thing to do. Rural Middle School Two students, Elizabeth and Jordan, were observed and interviewed within Rural Middle's at-risk program; data from those observations and interviews are contained in this section. Data on the program and staff are also contained in this section. The Students Elizabeth Elizabeth was often ambivalent about school. She wanted success, but popularity with her peers was more of a priority. During her seventh-grade year, she worried a lot about how others viewed her and if she was accepted. Elizabeth routinely ridiculed herself in front of others in class. "I can't do this," or "I look stupid today." In Elizabeth's photo project, all of her pictures

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Ill were of her animals and her friends. The majority of the pictures were posed pictures of three different friends. The friends had dressed up, and were "modeling" for the pictures. There were no pictures of Elizabeth herself or of her family. She said, "We like to dress up. That's what I wanted to show. Cool outfits and stuff." In class, Elizabeth exhibited anxiety when the students were told to form groups of their own choice for cooperative-learning activities. She waited to see if others would ask her to join their group, sometimes looking downcast at her desk, other times saying loudly something like "Oh, I'll just work alone, I guess." She always looked relieved when invited to join others to work. Elizabeth's best days were days when she perceived she looked good and was noticed by others. For example, towards the end of the school year, one of her friends cut and colored her hair. She received a lot of attention from both teachers and students. When interviewed at the end of the day, she said "Everybody thought I looked great today. I like my hair so much better this way." In fact, Elizabeth spent much of her time thinking about her physical appearance. In May of her seventh-grade year, she was diagnosed as near-sighted. Subsequently, her parents bought her a pair of glasses. Elizabeth said that they improved her vision, but she did not like to wear them. "I look funny." Her glasses were mysteriously lost

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112 within one week; Elizabeth could not remember exactly where she'd left them or seen them last. Her parents could not afford to replace them. When Elizabeth was asked at the end of the school year if she felt any different than she did at the beginning of the year, she replied, "I guess everybody else looks at me different. Thinks I'm all grown up now." When asked how she'd changed over the summer (approximately 8 weeks into the next school year) she said, I'm really popular now. Everybody likes me and wants to be my friend. Researcher : Why is that? Elizabeth : Because I lost 27 pounds and look a lot better. Researcher : And you think it's because you lost weight that they want to be your friend? Elizabeth : Well, I feel better about myself, too. And that probably shows. 'Cause I like myself better, other people do too. Several of Elizabeth's eighth-grade teachers reported that she was more accepted among her peers than she had been the previous year. However, there were several cliques of popular girls who still made fun of Elizabeth and ostracized her from their groups. Researcher : Does Elizabeth seem to be fitting in better this year? Teacher : Yes. The kids definitely like her better. She seems much more in control and self-confident than she was last year. Researcher : She says she's really popular.

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113 Teacher : Well, I know she wants to be. But in my class there's a group of "the popular girls" who tell her to "shut up" whenever she speaks up in class. Most of the time they leave her alone, but they make fun of her if she tries to speak out and get any attention. Elizabeth decided to seek popularity in a different setting. Elizabeth worked at the nearby elementary school for one period during the morning as a teacher's assistant. During an interview approximately 10 weeks into the 1991-92 school year, Elizabeth described her new best friends. I have a lot of friends. I was going out with a guy over at that school — he's a sixth grader — but I was going out with him. Everybody says he's really popular. And he has a lot of friends, and stuff. And he is really popular and has a lot of friends. Everybody over there [the elementary school] is like really, really, really nice. While Elizabeth continued to work on resolving some of her self-concept problems, she had not learned how to control her academic life. At the end of the seventh-grade year, Elizabeth reported that she was not sure how she could do better in school the next year, except maybe to "study harder." She wanted to do well so she would not disappoint her parents. After two months in the eighth grade, Elizabeth was failing two of her seven classes with marginal passes in two other classes. She believed that she needed to "maybe work harder" or that someone should tell her social studies teacher to "be less boring." Elizabeth was earning a B average in a regular language arts class. Although the

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114 language arts teacher reported that she and Elizabeth mostly "steered clear of each other" because of a personality conflict, she also described Elizabeth as much improved from the beginning of the previous year. Elizabeth learned some things in the alternative languagearts class which had put her ahead in her new class. She enjoyed her new success in the class, though she seemed a bit surprised. After 12 weeks of the eighth grade, Elizabeth's grades seemed to have stabilized. She was still failing history; she was earning a marginal pass in science. Her language arts grade had slipped to a C+, but she was earning mostly B grades in chorus, physical education, teacher's assistant, and math. She earned a 2.16 average for the first guarter of eighth grade. Elizabeth reported that science and history were very difficult for her because of the amount of note taking required. She could not keep track of what was important and what was not necessary to write in her notes. In describing her quarter grades, she said, "History. I either got a D or an F in there too. ... It's hard. It's getting easier 'cause we just got books. I won't have to take notes all the time." Science she described as "really, really, really hard." Her science teacher said: If you looked at Elizabeth in class on any given day, you'd say to yourself, "Here's a kid who's got it together." And she really hasn't been absent. That's not the problem. But if you look in the grade book,

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115 she's got real mediocre and low scores. And the kids are allowed to correct their assignments to get 100%. She just doesn't. Elizabeth compared her performance in language arts in the 1991-92 school year (a C+) to the previous year, prior to her placement in the alternative class (failing) Researcher : In language arts you're doing a whole lot better than you did before. What's the difference? Elizabeth : I'm prepared for her. I don't know. Researcher : You and she are getting along better? Elizabeth : Yea. Researcher : And that makes that much of a difference in your grade? Elizabeth : Um-huh [yes]. 'Cause I can do better. She'll help more, now. Researcher : So you think she's changed? Elizabeth : [Nods affirmatively] Her previous academic failures were often attributed to others, therefore she had no control over them. Researcher : When you were getting bad grades in [that] class — how did that make you feel? Elizabeth : Mad. Researcher : Mad at her? Elizabeth : Mostly at her 'cause I tried and some grades I got good, and some grades I didn't. I tried but she wouldn't help me or anything. In Home Ec I did everything I was supposed to and she gave me a D+. I didn't deserve that. Researcher : And so you felt like you tried and you knew how to do the stuff, had the ability, but she was just penalizing you. Elizabeth : She didn't like me.

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116 Elizabeth's successes were described positively. She reported, however, that she had little control in some situations which caused her to fail. Researcher : [If you're praised by the teacher] how does that make you feel? Elizabeth : Good. Researcher : What do you think about? Elizabeth : Probably the effort I put in. Researcher : When you do well and you don't do as well, what do you see. Is there one big deciding factor? That you tried hard or didn't try hard, or do you feel like some things are easier for you than others? Elizabeth : Um. [long pause] Some things are easier than others. I was failing math, but now I'm passing well. Researcher : How did you do that? Elizabeth : Working. Researcher : A lot more effort? Elizabeth : Yea. Researcher : When you were failing before, did you know that you weren't trying very hard, or did you think? Elizabeth : I just thought I didn't know it. Couldn't do it. Before it was really hard, and now we're on fractions and it's easier for me. Elizabeth also described science class as "too hard." She explained, though, that a class being too hard did not mean she did not have the ability. Researcher : So why are you failing, do you think? Elizabeth: It's too hard.

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117 Researcher : Too hard for you? You just don't understand the stuff? Elizabeth : I understand it. It's just too hard for me. Researcher : I don't understand what you mean by "too hard" if you understand it. Elizabeth : Well, it's just frustrating. You sit here taking all these notes, you have to study, take notes, do a lot of work and listen to the teacher and all that stuff. Researcher : Too much stuff going on all at once? Elizabeth : Yea. Researcher : But you understand it? Elizabeth : Yea. Too many tests and quizzes. Although Elizabeth could not articulate her academic strategies, her overall performance had improved. Prior to her placement in the alternative program she was earning a 1.0, the semester of her placement that improved to a 1.2, and the first quarter of the following year she earned a 2.16 with only one failing grade. Elizabeth, when asked to rate how she felt about school on a 1-10 scale (after eight weeks of the eighth grade) rated her eighth-grade year as an eight and her seventh-grade year as only a four. "It's much easier. I'm more used to the teachers." She was apprehensive about moving on to high school, however. Researcher : What do you think about going to high school next year? Elizabeth : I don't want to. Researcher: How come?

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118 Elizabeth : I don't know. I just don't want to. I want to stay back in eighth grade. I want to see all my friends. Researcher : Yea, but they'll be going to ninth grade, won't they? Or are they? Elizabeth : No, all my friends are in sixth grade. they'll be in seventh grade. And so I'd get to see all them. That'd be funner. Elizabeth's home life was generally calm. She spent a lot of time with her older sister, however, who had quite a few problems. The sister was unmarried with three small children and, in the fall of 1991, was accused of abusing the youngest child. My sister got him [the five-month-old baby] tooken away from her. Because he broke his arm in his crib. She didn't know that. She didn't know what was wrong until the next day. until she took him to the doctor. The doctor said that she did it. And she [the doctor] had no evidence that she [the sister] did it. They took him away. Elizabeth was certain that her sister had not abused the child. She explained, however, that her sister had led a difficult life. Her father had kicked the sister out of the house when she was 14, and she had lived in a succession of foster homes until she had her first child at the age of 16. Jordan. Jordan was outspoken and friendly. For the most part, he was liked by his teachers and peers. Sometimes, though, his need to speak out and be noticed was a source of irritation to others. Jordan wanted to be liked by everyone, and talked quite a bit about his

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119 friends. He said he had "changed" when he started his seventh-grade year. Jordan : I've got more friends. A lot more. 'Cause I'm different this year. Researcher : So why did you decide to change and be different this year? Jordan : 'Cause it's a new school. I didn't know what the people were like. So I just thought I should change. Researcher : It paid off then? Jordan : Yea. I've got a lot of friends. Researcher : That's probably a real good feeling. Jordan : You can tell by looking at my yearbook. [Counts up autographs.] I have over 40 signatures. Researcher : Quite a few people. And you consider all of them to be your friends? Jordan : Uh-huh. [Nods yes emphatically.] Much like Elizabeth, Jordan did not seem to have a very clear idea of how to succeed. He stated on most occasions that he was doing "better," even when he had just received a bad mark. He attributed past poor grades to illness and absenteeism. "I wasn't here half the semester. I was either sick or I was pulled out. Couple family problems. Wasn't here that much." Jordan could not articulate any coping strategies for improving his grades or classroom behavior. Earlier in the month, Jordan had recounted that his math teacher had discussed with the class resources for help, such as friends or parents. Researcher : So what sort of plans do you have for next year? What if you run into some problems?

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120 Jordan : I don't know. Researcher : Did you learn anything about how to handle difficulties? [Pause — no answer.] This class helped you out, right? Jordan : Yea. 'Cause it's smaller. Researcher : So if that's not an option next year — if you're in a bigger class — and you start running into problems, what do you think you're going to do? Jordan : [Pause] I don't know. Just ask the teacher. Study harder. Researcher : You were telling me about a month or so ago about some things one of your teachers said to you about different resources, or something like that? People you could go to to get help? [Doesn't remember, shakes his head.] A teacher, or a parent, or another student? Jordan : Oh, I know. Yea. Someone who understands. Researcher : Does that seem like a practical thing to do? Jordan : Yea. I guess. 'Cause I'm getting better grades. Freguently, Jordan waited until the last minute to complete assignments. Because of this, the quality of his work often suffered. For example, a major portion of his social studies grade depended on a written report about France. Jordan received the assignment approximately four weeks before the due date. For about a week, he collected as much information as he could find. Then he waited until the night before the assignment was due to write his report. Consequently, he ran out of time and his project was missing several required sections.

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121 Jordan talked about test anxiety. "Most tests I just get so nervous about I just flunk." He said that he rarely did well on tests; on one seventh-grade mathematics test he earned an A and was extremely excited. "The kid right next to me was correcting it [the test] and I was like 'Whoa! No way!' He goes, 'Yea, look at it! 1 Pretty funny." When asked how teacher praise made him feel, Jordan said, "Makes me feel good. I'm getting a compliment and it's just like. you achieved something. Researcher : Does it mean you're smart? Jordan : No. But see, what you do is you try to achieve more and more goals until you get up to high school and that's education. That's the diploma. Researcher : What makes you want to try to achieve more and more? Jordan : Teachers. Parents. Grades. When asked how failing a test would make him feel, he said, "Makes you want to try even more." Researcher : Does it? Makes you want to try harder if you don't do well? Jordan : Yea. Researcher : Doesn't it frustrate you? Jordan : A lot! Researcher : It does both? You're frustrated but you want to try harder? Jordan : Yea. Questioned whether he felt in control of his school successes and failures, Jordan maintained that he did.

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122 •Cause I can work harder. Or take my homework and just throw it aside and do other things like I usually do. Well, I did. For a long time. ... I just took everything and put it in my locker. I hardly ever took things home. For the photo project, Jordan took all 24 pictures on the roll. He went through all of them and described who or what they were. He was then asked to choose approximately 10 for his "album" representing "Who Am I." He sorted through quickly and chose ten. Researcher : You went through those pictures pretty fast. Jordan : I was looking for the ones I'd picked out. Researcher : You'd already thought about it? Jordan : Yea. Researcher : O.K. And so tell me, why these? I notice these are all people and animal pictures. Jordan : Yea. These are my mom and dad. I had to put them in 'cause they're important to me. My aunt. I had to put her in. .1 needed a picture of me in there. And I had to get one of my dog Rusty. And Weiner [another dog]. ... I had to have my brother in there. I needed my sister in there. That was the only o.k. one of my sister. And my little sister. And my grandma, of course. Researcher : If you had to summarize "I took these pictures to show my life because ..." and finish the sentence? Jordan : Because everyone here means a lot to me. Researcher : So your world is people and animal oriented. Jordan : Yea. Jordan talked mostly about his family and sports. He expressed the desire to be part of a group. He seemed most

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123 secure when he could be in control of what was going on around him and be the center of attention. When asked what makes a person successful in school, Jordan said, "Brains." Researcher : Just the ability? Jordan : That, and you've got to try. It's just hard. Researcher : School's hard for you? Jordan : Yea. There's harder subjects. Probably. Researcher : Some of it more than other? Jordan : Yea. The hardest subjects' probably English and math. The rest is just easy. Researcher : But you said when you were failing last semester it was 'cause you weren't here. Not necessarily that it was hard for you? Jordan : Well, it was harder when I was here. Researcher : Is that because it was hard for you or because you missed so much? Jordan : [Long pause] Sort of both. Researcher : O.K. If you get a bad grade, how does that make you feel? Jordan : Bad. Sometimes I try to just laugh it off. Try to get back on task. Try not to bother with it until next guarter. Researcher : Just start over? Jordan : That's what I did last guarter. [Pause] But I didn't do very good. [Looks downcast] Jordan stated that he liked eighth grade better than he had the seventh grade. "I'd rate this year as an 'eight'. Last year was maybe a 'two'". He had some concerns, however, about his grades.

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124 Jordan : First quarter was sort of "ugh". Researcher : Is the quarter over? Jordan : Yea. We just started the second quarter. I haven't been doing too good. Except in English. Researcher : What does that mean, "Not doing too good?" Do you not turn in your work? Jordan : I turn in my work. I always turn in my work, it's just my scores. My scores aren't high. They're really low. Researcher : On your tests, you mean, or on your papers? Jordan : Both. Researcher : And so what's the problem? Jordan : [Nervous laughter, looks away] I don't know. He talked about the problems he experienced with notes and test-taking, much the same as Elizabeth had expressed. Researcher : How about science? Jordan : Mr. He said I'm not doin' good, but I'm not doin' bad. So it's about a D. C or a D. I know it's not an F, though. Researcher : O.K. And why did he say, or why do you think that you're not doing as well in there? Jordan : Well, my test scores aren't high. He said he didn't really count on that. But he said the opennote quizzes I'm getting low scores. 'Cause it's hard just to sit down and take notes. That's one reason. And another reason. I'd make an attempt at my work. ... I'd make an attempt, but he said that's it's just my scores aren't really high. Well, that's mostly what it is. They said they like working with me this year 'cause I got a positive attitude. Researcher : Do you think there's a change in your attitude? Jordan: Yea.

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125 Researcher : And what's that due to? Jordan : Well, it helps me 'cause I can get along with the teachers better. I don't have to fight with the teachers Researcher : Why is your attitude better this year than last? Jordan : 'Cause I'm not hanging around with the kids I did last year. Last year I was hanging around with a real bad group. And this year I'm not. I've got more seventh-grade friends than I do eighth-grade friends. Last year there was like the big popularity group. And in the seventh grade, there isn't a big popularity group. Jordan explained that he needed to spend more time on his work and be a little more conscientious in order to improve his grades. He was confident that he could make those improvements Jordan : Shouldn't be no problem [improving his scores]. If I try harder. Researcher : To get caught up? Jordan : Well, I'm caught up. It's just my grades aren't [laughs]. I'm ahead of my grades — my grades are way back there. So I should slow down. Take it slower. Instead of trying to rush through everything and get it done. The School: Rural Middle School's Alternative Program The principal, Mr. Durnan, was more than willing to share his philosophy on at-risk programs. When informed the purpose of the study would be to investigate the perceptions of students and why they were at-risk, he said, "Well, I can answer that guestion. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, now does it? I've seen most of these kids' parents when they were students, and they were losers

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126 too. You can't really do much when they come from families like these." His view of these students seemed to conflict with his desire to begin a special program to give them extra academic assistance. Further conversation, however, revealed that he believed the program might enhance the community's image of the school. Mrs. Willowes' program seemed to provide the students with a "safe haven" in the turbulent world of the middle school. Students sometimes had difficulty making the transition from the one-teacher, small -community environment of the elementary school to the multi-teacher, multi-subject commotion of the middle school. Elizabeth said, "I knew everybody before and when you're a sixth grader you're important but when you're a seventh grader you're nobody again." Elizabeth also reported that having the right teacher could make a big difference in a class grade. "I'm learning more because she's [the teacher] taking more time." Jordan said he was learning more in the alternative class 'cause she [Mrs. Willowes] explains it more. [She] goes over it thoroughly." Asked to describe a "perfect teacher," Elizabeth said, "Nice. And someone that knows what you're talking about and knows how to work on the same stuff as you. They'll take time and stuff, and not rush and stuff." Jordan explained how to persist, even after getting bad marks.

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127 Jordan : It's like, well, this teacher doesn't like me. So I'll just try to impress them and get them to like me. That's what my mom said. She said if a teacher don't like you, try to get them to like you. Be nice to them and try hard. Researcher : So you keep trying harder 'cause you think that that can make a difference? Jordan : Yea. Mrs. Willowes put forth a great deal of time and effort with individual students. One boy, John, could only read on the second-grade level when he entered her class in February. Mrs. Willowes spent the first 10 minutes of each class period working with John on his reading while the rest of the class read silently. John's reading skills, self-esteem, and attitude improved considerably. During an interview with Jordan, John wandered over after finishing his work. He wanted to know what the interview was about. Jordan, repeating the guest ion he had just answered, said, "Have you changed for the better this year and why?" John guickly said, "Well, of course I have. I can read now." His sense of pride was clearly evident. Initially, Jordan and Elizabeth were unsure about the alternative class. But at the end of the year, they both reported that they believed they had learned more because of their placement in the class. Jordan said: This is a good class for people that need help. At first I didn't think I needed help. Then I had to go to the office and Mr. Durnan said, "This is a class to help you 'cause you failed and if you guys don't want to take it, you don't have to." Some kids said, "I don't think so, 'cause I'd have to take it again next year." But then I said I would.

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128 Jordan said that the small class size and Mrs. Willowes' willingness to work with the students had made a big difference for him in language arts. Researcher : You think that that was what made the big difference between Mrs. Willowes 1 class at the beginning of the year and Mrs. Willowes 1 class at the end of the year, was that you were in that smaller class where you got more help? Jordan : Yea, when you're in smaller classes you get more one-on-one help. Researcher : So what about Mrs. 's class this year? How big a class is that? Jordan : It's not very. Well, it's big, but then it's not very big. It's like, something like 25 kids in there. Researcher : That's a lot. I mean, you were only in a class of eight last year. So eight, as opposed to 25, that's a big difference and you're getting a B+? Jordan : Well, last year I didn't really care for Mrs. and this year she's all nice. She's really nice. Researcher : Do you think she's different, or do you think you're different? Jordan : I think we're both different. She likes me more 'cause — I think she likes me more because — I'm not running around with anymore. Which was a really bad influence on me and everything. Researcher : But now, does that account for you getting a B+ in a big, regular class? Jordan : I'm trying harder. 'Cause I'm not really worrying about the people around me 'cause I know 'em better Researcher : So you're not as much worried about socializing or being popular? Jordan : Yea. Researcher : Worrying more about your schoolwork.

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129 Jordan : I'm just, like, being me now. Elizabeth said, "In a smaller class I learned more than last year. A lot more than last year." She also said that Mrs. Willowes spent more time explaining. Elizabeth : [Mrs. Willowes] takes it slower and she spends time on it and in Mrs. 's class [regular teacher] she keeps going and going and going. Researcher : Just keeps going even if you don't know it? Elizabeth : Yea. Mrs. Willowes worked with the students to teach them how to function cooperatively within a classroom setting. She spent time discussing self-esteem and teamwork, reinforced with cooperativelearning activities which emphasized social skills. Elizabeth said cooperativelearning groups helped her because "everybody helps and then you discuss all the answers and see which one sounds best. You could ask anybody in the group and they'd help you." By the end of the school year, students often worked together on projects, and encouraged each other on individual activities. During a quiz, for example, one student who finished early cheered on another student. "Come on, Matthew, I know you can do it! I'm just going to watch [you], 'cause I know you're going to finish soon." During a group interview, the student in the seventhperiod alternative class described an "ideal teacher." One student asserted that teachers do not necessarily have to be smart. Instead, it was important for teachers to be

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130 good with kids. All the students agreed, and also said that there should be more careful screening of teacher applicants. They said Mrs. Willowes was a good teacher because she was patient and understanding; they believed she cared about how they were doing. Mrs. Willowes described her goals for the alternative students. "I want to give them the confidence and skills to find success in other settings." She was concerned that for Elizabeth's and Jordan's classes, however, she had given the students the self-assurance they needed without the academic skills to back them up. She believed that by the end of the 1990-91 school year, the students were sure that they were ready to move back into a regular classroom setting. But they were still lacking in some academics because she had not had enough time with them. She worried that she might be repeating that mistake in the 1991-92 school year. "[After the first 12 weeks of school] they're already telling me how smart they are. They think they don't need to be in my class. Maybe I've built them up too much Comparison Across Students All four students are compared and contrasted in this section. Affective and academic reactions in school are described, as well as student perceptions of support from staff and parents.

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131 Jaime, Michael, and Elizabeth all described feelings of having no one to talk to or of feeling alone. Michael lived with his mother and aunt and said he needed a male role model. Jaime's grandfather worked a lot, and Jaime was passed from relative to relative and boyfriend to boyfriend in her search for security. Elizabeth desperately wanted to be popular. The four students had varying degrees of responsibility. Jaime rarely followed through with schoolrelated commitments. She would promise her teachers she would come to school, but often only came for one or two days before being absent again. In another example, she failed to return several of her books at the end of the eighth grade, and refused to pay the fines. "I didn't want the books in the first place and it's not my fault my little brother tore them up." Elizabeth lost her glasses. Jordan failed twice to return a parent -permission slip. Finally, Mrs. Willowes had the slip signed at a parent conference. Each of the students said that they alone were responsible for succeeding or failing. Jaime said that most of her failures were due to "bad habits," which she was going to work on changing "soon." Jordan said, "It's really all up to me." All four students, however, often cited teacher favoritism or teaching style when discussing low grades. "The teacher is boring," therefore Jordan was

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132 unable to pay attention; "She doesn't like me," so Elizabeth was graded unfairly; "She nags me all the time," causing Jaime to skip school. Three of the four students (all except Michael) largely blamed previous academic failure on absenteeism. It seems that, for Jaime, Elizabeth, and Jordan at least, poor attendance was perceived as an important factor in school failure. They could do the work, but had been absent too frequently. Elizabeth and Jaime improved their attendance from fall to spring of the 1990-91 school year, however, but did not significantly improve their grades. The students did not believe they could not do the work (lack of ability) when they failed, but instead said they had not tried. All of the students who participated in the study reported that middle school was much more difficult than elementary school. They responded to the question, "What's the difference between elementary and middle school?" Jaime : Middle school's harder. Classes. Teachers. I'd never had an "F" in my life 'til I came here. Jordan : Grade school is easy 'cause you can just breeze through the classes and get your teacher's help on anything, any time of the day. Here it's at lunch, or after school. When questioned about their feelings about receiving failing grades, all the students reported feeling dismayed, but thought they could do better. Jaime : I felt bad, 'cause my mom and my dad were both disappointed and I knew I could do better. But now

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133 I'm starting to get my grades back up. And my dad's got more trust in me now. Michael : I'll just work harder. Study. Get my grades up. None of the students were realistic about their academic situation; failing grades could always be improved to excellent grades. Elizabeth said, "Well, I got an F this time, but next time I'll get an A because I know I'm going to get an A." The students seemed to think that believing their grades would improve would be enough to make it happen. Academic improvement strategies were vague, at best. "Just pay attention as good as you can." Or, "Be good and you'll do great." None of the students reported receiving academic support from their parents. Their parents were either not interested, or expressed active disbelief in the student's ability. Rather than providing concrete suggestions for improvement or assisting with schoolwork, parents were perceived by the students as judgmental and disapproving. "They were really mad at me. They probably think that I can do better." "She [my mom] doesn't think I'll go [to college]. 'Cause I act up in school." The students generally believed that teachers were unfair and unhelpful. "I don't think Mrs. likes me," "I tried but she wouldn't help me or anything," or "She thinks I'm getting smart and she'll just send me out, stuff like that." They all seemed to think that grading

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134 methods were unclear or arbitrary. Elizabeth said she had been told by her social studies teacher that she had only earned 25 percent of the total possible points in the grading period, and declared: I don't believe him, though, because I've been getting better grades than that. I was going to go up and talk to him. He marked some things off — like what I was doing, and he marked them off that I wasn't doing them. So I was going to go talk to him. See if he'd change my grade. Because I don't believe him. Comparison Between Schools In this section, Rural Middle and Inner-City Middle are compared and contrasted. The two school's alternative programs were structured and taught very differently; the students in Rural Middle's program responded much more positively than did those in Inner-City's program. The definitions of "at-risk" at the two schools involved in this study were very different. At Inner-City Middle School, students were targeted for a combination of failing grades, misbehavior, and perceived low self-esteem. At Rural Middle School, misbehaving students were not allowed in the program. Instead, the students in that program were receiving failing grades but were not discipline problems. The students in Inner-City's alternative program were definitely "tougher" kids than the students in Rural Middle's alternative program. The program at Inner-City Middle included a threeperiod core class, whereas the program at Rural Middle was only one 45-minute class. The students at Inner-City spent

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135 more than three times as long each day with Mrs. Samples than the students at Rural Middle spent with Mrs. Willowes. However, the students at Inner-City did not seem to like Mrs. Samples, and resented having to spend so much time with her. They believed that neither she nor Mr. Warren liked them. In contrast, Rural Middle's students reported enjoying Mrs. Willowes 1 class and believed that she cared for them as well. Both Mrs. Ferguson (Inner-City Middle) and Mrs. Willowes (Rural Middle) concentrated a great deal of their time on making the students feel comfortable and confident. Mrs. Willowes believed that she had not had enough time to make considerable academic progress with the students, but that she had given them the opportunity to feel good about themselves and positive about school. Although Mrs. Ferguson worked with the students to make them feel secure, because of her numerous responsibilities, she was not able to spend much time with the class as a whole. Consequently, the mood in the classroom on most days was determined by Mrs. Samples. Mrs. Samples, unfortunately, was insecure in her own right and so could not contribute much guidance to the students. In both programs, students believed they were seen as different from other students, whether it was because they were in "bonehead" math, or because they were separated out for the core classes. At Inner-City Middle, students

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136 reported feeling stigmatized by their placement in the program. Both Michael and Jaime said they did not think that Mrs. Samples was a good teacher, and that they should not have been in the alternative program. In fact, both thought the program penalized students because they learned less, were exposed to different curriculum, and were viewed differently by others because of their placement in the program. At Rural Middle, both students knew they had been separated out for previous failures, but they believed that the extra attention was helpful. Elizabeth and Jordan thought that Mrs. Willowes cared about them and put in extra effort to help them and make sure they understood the work. They both thought that the alternative program had benefitted them. The smaller class size and Mrs. Willowes' willingness to help had made them feel more positive about language arts. Both programs espoused the goal of teaching the students coping skills, both academic and affective. Mrs. Willowes was, by the students' reports, more effective at teaching academic skills than was Mrs. Samples. Although Elizabeth and Jordan were still marginal in several of their classes, they were both maintaining a B/C average in a regular language-arts classroom in the eighth grade. Michael and Jaime, however, did not believe that they had

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137 learned much in the alternative core at Inner-City Middle. Neither is doing well at City High School. Elizabeth improved her grade point slightly after placement in the alternative program, from a 1.0 average in the fall of 1990 to a 1.2 average in the spring of 1991. Jordan's grades improved much more dramatically, from a 1.2 average in the fall of 1990 to a 2.4 average in the spring of 1991. In regular classes in the fall of 1991, Jordan earned a 2.2 average and Elizabeth earned a 2.16 average. Both students improved during and after placement in the program. In contrast, Jaime's and Michael's grades dropped dramatically after placement in regular classes at City High School. Jaime earned approximately a 2.7 throughout her eighth-grade year; she earned no credit in any of her classes for the first quarter at City High. Michael earned about a C average throughout eighth grade, but failed two of his first quarter classes, with marginal grades in his other subjects, for the first quarter at City High. Affectively, all four students were still struggling in the 1991-92 school year. Elizabeth and Jordan came out of the seventh grade feeling at least a little bit more positive about themselves because of Mrs. Willowes' efforts. Their desire to be popular and feel worthwhile seemed normal for their age. Several of Elizabeth's and Jordan's eighth-grade teachers reported that they were both more positive about

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138 school and more mature. Although neither had modified all their behaviors, they both said they felt much more positive about school in their eighth-grade year. Michael and Jaime, however, seemed to have the same negative pattern of problems at City High as they did at Inner-City Middle. Neither of them had learned how to control their behaviors or their environment. The fact that Michael and Jaime were making the transition to high school could be a possible explanation for their poor performance in the 1991-92 school year. However, their behaviors at City High were not much different from their behaviors at Inner-City Middle. They both had the same complaints about teachers, the same academic habits, and the same attendance patterns. Mrs. Samples had given both Jaime and Michael above average grades, but her grading policy often excused Jaime's absences and Michael's missing work.

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CHAPTER V DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS This chapter contains an overview of the study, relationship of the findings to previous research, implications of findings for research, implications of findings for practitioners, and recommendations. At-risk students and programs, tracking, and Weiner's model are discussed as they relate to this study. The purpose of this study was to determine the attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into an alternative program at the middle-school level and identify the implications for school organization. The "at-risk" population in the educational system of the United States is growing rapidly (Bryk & Thum, 1989; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986) Research into the at-risk and dropout problem has focused on the high-school-aged student and quantitative data collection (Tidwell, 1988) There are few qualitative studies, however, that investigate the behaviors and motivations of at-risk students prior to dropping out, particularly at the middle-school level (Catterall & Stern, 1986; Farrell, Peguero, Lindsey, & White, 1988; Miller, Leinhardt, & Zigmond, 1988) 139

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140 In this study of attributions of at-risk students who had been tracked into alternative programs, an embedded, single-case design was utilized. The overall unit of analysis in this study was the alternative-education setting. Two schools were chosen as subunits of analysis. One rural and one urban school were chosen in order to explore possible differences and similarities within divergent settings; faculty and staff were observed and interviewed. At another level of analysis, two students were chosen from each school for observation and interview. This sampling technigue allowed for indepth exploration of students attributions Observations and interviews were conducted over the course of approximately six months in the 1990-91 school year and follow-up interviews were conducted in the fall of the 1991-92 year. Observation data were recorded by hand or on computer for field notes. Formal interviews were recorded and transcribed. Unstructured interview data were entered into a journal log, along with observer comments. Attribution theory, specifically Weiner's (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987) theory of achievement motivation and emotion was chosen to guide initial observations and interviews. This study included unstructured interview time in an attempt to gain the maximum amount of information possible and to allow participants the opportunity to introduce information they believe to be

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141 relevant. In this study, data were analyzed at each level within the framework of attribution theory and the literature on tracking and at-risk youth. Pattern-matching was utilized as the primary mode of data analysis. The following broad questions guided data collection: 1. Considering Weiner's three dimensions of locus of causality, controllability, and stability, does attribution theory provide a framework for explaining and predicting the behaviors of at-risk students? 2 Do students in at-risk programs demonstrate a propensity to attribute causality of negative events externally? 3 Do students in at-risk programs view themselves as in control of the events that affect their lives? 4. Do at-risk students perceive of causal events as stable or unstable? Application of Findings to Research Questions In this study, four students who had been tracked into alternative-education programs at the middle-school level were observed and interviewed. Reactions of the students to various events, both academic and affective, were considered within Weiner's (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987) framework Weiner (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987) conceptualized his achievement theory of motivation and emotion within three dimensions: locus of causality, stability, and

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142 controllability. Locus of causality may be internal or external. For example, lack of effort is an internal attribution, whereas a too difficult task is external. Stability is the temporal nature of a cause, either enduring or changing. Lack of ability is construed as stable; bad luck is unstable. Controllability is the degree of volitional influence that can be exerted over a cause. Effort can be controlled, for example, whereas ability cannot. Each dimension is associated with a number of psychological consequences. Emotions such as pity, shame, gratitude, hopelessness (hopefulness) pride (self-esteem) guilt, and anger result from the individual's attributions of causality within Weiner's three dimensions. The locus dimension affects self-esteem. Attributions to internal factors for success increase self-worth (Robison-Awana, Kehle, & Jenson, 1986) whereas attributions to internal factors for failure decrease selfesteem. The stability dimension relates to changes in expectancy of success and failure and also regulates affective reactions. Feelings of hopelessness may result when the future is seen as stable and negative and the individual sees no hope of change for the better. Finally, the controllability dimension of causality affects sentiments and evaluations of others. If another person fails or is in need of aid because of a controllable cause, such as lack of

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143 effort, then that person often elicits anger and is negatively evaluated. On the other hand, if failure or need is due to an uncontrollable cause such as a physical handicap, then that person elicits sympathy and is positively evaluated. (Weiner, 1983, p. 531) Changes in expectancy of success, Weiner (1985) claimed, were influenced by the perceived stability of the cause of the event. He proposed three corollaries to what he termed the "expectancy principle." 1. If the outcome of an event is ascribed to a stable cause, then that outcome will be anticipated with increased certainty, or with an increased expectancy, in the future. 2. If the outcome of an event is ascribed to an unstable cause, then the certainty or expectancy of that outcome may be unchanged or the future may be anticipated to be different from the past. 3. Outcomes ascribed to stable causes will be anticipated to be repeated in the future with a greater degree of certainty than are outcomes ascribed to unstable causes. (p. 559) Bar-Tal (1982) summarized the attribution process as follows: Pupils who tend to attribute success to internal, mainly stable or controllable, causes, and who attribute failure to internal-unstablecontrollable causes, tend to exhibit adaptive, mastery-oriented achievement behavior. That is, they tend to approach rather than avoid achievement tasks, tend to persist in the face of failure, and tend to perform achievement tasks with greater intensity. Pupils who tend to attribute success to external causes and failure to internal-stable-uncontrollable causes show a very different pattern. These pupils tend to exhibit maladaptive, helpless achievement behavior. That is, they tend to avoid achievement tasks, tend to give up in the face of failure and do not perform achievement tasks with great intensity. (p. 190)

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144 Weiner (1983) also argued that it is important to consider attributions within the framework of the subject's perception. That is, although effort may generally be considered unstable, that may change to a stable trait if the person views himself or herself as lazy. Although the behaviors of the students differed in many respects, some interesting similarities emerged. All four students, despite their histories of academic failure, contended that they could succeed if they chose. Lack of effort was cited as the primary cause for failure (internal/unstable/controllable) All of the students believed that they had the ability to succeed (internal/ stable/controllable) In some instances they attributed failure to a too difficult task (external/unstable/ uncontrollable) Failure was never attributed to an internal and stable cause; according to Weiner' s theory, such an attribution would result in a negative selfconcept. All four students persisted in the face of failure, although to varying degrees. Mrs. Willowes' alternative class seemed to have given Elizabeth and Jordan both an academic and an affective advantage in the language arts class in the subseguent school year. Elizabeth and Jordan both reported that they could succeed in school; their eighth-grade year was rated as much better than their seventh-grade year had been. Both students improved their

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145 academic marks after their placement in the alternative program. However, both were still struggling in their classes with more rigorous academic reguirements: copious note taking, stricter grading, numerous tests and guizzes, or higher grading standards. Michael and Jaime seemed to have gained little, if any, benefit from Inner-City Middle School's alternative program. Michael's and Jaime's persistence seemed due more to their own psychological make-up than from anything the alternative program had taught them. In fact, Michael conscientiously attended school and seemed to want to succeed. Jaime, however, attended school sporadically. Her teachers reported that she was generally passive in class and worked on her assignments. She did not make up missed work, nor did she seem enthused about school when she was in attendance. Mrs. Willowes had given much positive encouragement to Elizabeth and Jordan in only about four months in the classroom. Neither could articulate, however, how to succeed at school in general. Both improved their behavior and grades in the subseguent school year. They reported that Mrs. Willowes had provided individual attention and caring which gave them the feeling that they were capable of succeeding. Neither program had a specific curriculum to increase self-esteem or to teach academic skills. However, Mrs.

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146 Willowes continually revised her lesson plans in an attempt to accommodate the learning pace and feelings of the students. Mrs. Willowes reported that she believed she should have emphasized study skills more in Elizabeth's and Jordan's classes, but said that she had run out of time. She was attempting to correct that in the alternative class in the 1991-92 school year by specifically teaching skills such as note taking, test taking, and organization. Content, not process, was emphasized in Mrs. Samples' classroom. Consequently, students were not able to transfer gains (if made) to other classes or into the following school year. The students were exposed to a diluted version of the regular curriculum and offered no specific strategies for academic or affective success. Mrs. Samples made the assumption that students were unable to cope with level of curriculum taught in the regular classes; in fact, Jaime and Michael seemed to be perfectly capable of doing more difficult work. Both needed to be challenged in their schoolwork and motivated to attend and succeed. Weiner's theory serves as a basis for explanation and prediction of these students' behaviors. In an effort to maintain self -concept and control of their environments, the students have attributed failure to either unstable or uncontrollable causes. Consequently, they can maintain

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147 some expectancy of future success, because the failures are not due to internal, stable, and/or controllable causes. In Inner-City's alternative program, students were not provided with academic or affective strategies for success. In the following school year, neither Jaime nor Michael were experiencing much success. Elizabeth and Jordan, however, improved their affective and academic performance in a regular classroom setting at Rural Middle School. Weiner's theory of achievement motivation and emotion may serve as a beginning point for constructing instructional approaches and curriculum that would better serve the needs of at-risk students. Providing the students the opportunity to feel successful and secure in a classroom environment seemed to make a definite difference for Elizabeth and Jordan. Relationship of Findings to Previous Research The results of this study are related to previous research in several different areas. The literature on atrisk, tracking, and attribution theory guided this research and is related to the present study. At-Risk Students and Programs All four participants in this study exhibited characteristics typical of at-risk students. Researchers (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Levin, 1989; Svec, 1986; Valverde, 1987; Wells, 1990) have found that at-risk students demonstrate behaviors such as absenteeism,

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148 truancy, nonparticipation in school-related activities, disruptive classroom behavior, and delinquency. In addition, at-risk students have often been retained at least one grade level, have ethnic ancestry, low socioeconomic status, inadequate social skills, and are male. Absenteeism was a problem for three of the four students involved in this study. Disruptive (attentionseeking) behavior was exhibited by all four students, though to varying degrees. All four participants were considered "typical" at-risk students in their programs. There is a paucity of literature on the effectiveness of at-risk programs in retaining students at the middleschool level. Coleman and Hoffer (1987) utilizing the "High School and Beyond" data, concluded that Catholic schools are more effective than public schools at retaining at-risk students. More personalized attention and means for student involvement were identified as key program attributes. In this study, Mrs. Willowes (Rural Middle) made earnest efforts to provide affective interaction. The comfort level of her students increased in language arts. The gains did not initially appear to transfer to school in general. However, after an adjustment period at the beginning of the eighth-grade school year, both Elizabeth and Jordan stabilized their grades in regular classes. Both were achieving higher marks and were reported as

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149 behaviorally improved by their teachers than they had prior to placement in the alternative program. Mrs. Ferguson (Inner-City Middle) provided counsel and support to her students; however, Mrs. Samples, the classroom teacher, generally contributed a negative attitude which was reflected in the overall classroom environment. Students disliked Mrs. Samples and Mr. Warren and did not want to attend the at-risk class. Students often ignored the teacher and seemed to incite each other to misbehave. Jaime became pregnant at the age of 13; early pregnancy is not uncommon for teenagers who exhibit other at-risk characteristics (MacLeod, 1987) Such behavior may be explained as an alternative to schooling, that is, the teenager can use motherhood as an occupation, relieving herself of the obligation to attend school in preparation for other work. Tracking The students who participated in this study had been removed from regular classes for some portion of the school day because they were considered to be at risk of school failure. Both of the programs observed in this study used what is undoubtedly a form of tracking. Students were tracked by their past academic performance and/or behaviors. However, neither program could be strictly classified as ability or curriculum tracking. Students

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150 generally represented a wide range of abilities and outcome goals. The literature on tracking is extensive; there is little research on the effects of isolating at-risk students. Within the existing literature on tracking, there are two overlapping bodies of research: effects of tracking on academic achievement and effects of tracking on the affective domain. Academic achievement Researchers on tracking have generally concluded that the overall academic effects of ability grouping are negligible for students of all levels (Noland & Taylor, 1986; Oakes, 1990; Slavin, 1987, 1989, 1990a, 1990b) The students who participated in this study all received passing marks within their alternative programs. They generally received low marks in other academic classes and better marks in elective classes such as chorus and home economics. In the subseguent academic year, the two students from Inner-City's alternative program were earning grades similar to their grades prior to placement in the program — failing or only marginally passing. Rural Middle's students, however, had improved their overall performance. They both still experienced difficulty with several of their reguired subjects, but their teachers reported that they were both working harder than they had prior to their placement in the alternative program.

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151 Researchers have also argued that tracking restricts access to educational opportunities (Hallinan, 1987b; Oakes, 1989, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1980). The curriculum in both programs differed from the standard school curriculum. At Inner-City Middle, the teacher provided a battery of worksheets and rote drills. The students reported that the work was too easy and generally boring. They also recognized that students in other classes were taught differently. At Rural Middle School, the curriculum differed primarily because the teacher had not taught the class before. Conseguently, she was continually revising her lesson plans and goals to match the learning pace of the students. The students believed that this was in their best interest and allowed them to "catch up." The affective domain Metz (1978) concluded that lowtrack students developed an alienated and separate attitude towards school. Similarly, Schwartz (1981) posited that "low-streamed students adopt an anti-academic subculture. Status in this group is based on defiance of school and teacher norms" (p. 101) The students from Inner-City Middle seemed to regard school as a chore, something to endure until a better option came along. Both Michael and Jaime believed that earning a degree was important but did not believe that school was a worthwhile experience. Classwork was viewed as having little relevance to real

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152 life. With few exceptions, the students believed that they were treated unfairly or arbitrarily by teachers. Jaime had no role models who exhibited positive attitudes about education. She had no consistent female friendships; the people who shaped her views were primarily her aunts and her various boyfriends. None of her aunts graduated from high school and all had children before the age of 18 None of her boyfriends had graduated from high school. She reported that none of these people viewed school as a priority. Michael wanted to graduate from high school and attend college, but said he had little reinforcement from home. He said that his friends were often in trouble in class for talking and acting out, the same as he was. He did not believe that he had learned much from Inner-City's alternative program. He reported feeling negatively towards Mrs. Samples and his other teachers The students in Mrs. Willowes' class, however, developed a positive attitude towards Mrs. Willowes as a teacher and towards language arts in general. All the students reported liking the class. Group interviews revealed that the students believed they had benefitted from placement in the class because of the individualized attention. Only two of the students were retained in the alternative class in the following school year. Elizabeth and Jordan reported feeling more positively towards school

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153 and about their ability to cope with the demands of middle school. Tracking the at-risk student Catterall (1987) in a study of intensive group counseling effects on at-risk students, found that the group counseling program resulted in group bonding and alienation from the traditional school program. Little of a positive nature appeared to spill over into the post-treatment regular classroom work and behavior of participants, nor were positive comparisons for treatment subjects reflected on an assessment of their basic self-concepts and attitudes towards fellow students, teachers, or the school. [The interventions] simply do not comprise an overwhelming social intervention, especially when the problem under attack had resulted from a decade of negative school experiences for many of the subjects, (p. 532) All of the students involved in this study recognized their differential status as at-risk students, although to varying degrees. At Inner-City Middle, dislike of the teacher and the classes seemed to be reinforced among the students. Students encouraged each other's misbehavior with laughter and comments. Students reported that their placement in the program was unfair; they believed that they were stigmatized or handicapped by their placement in an at-risk class. At Rural Middle, students expressed their belief that they received extra attention in the at-risk class and consequently reacted positively towards the teacher. Students referred to the alternative math class, however,

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154 as "bonehead math" and disliked the teacher. The interaction between the teacher and the students in both schools seemed to have a direct relationship on the students' attitudes towards and behavior in their classes. Weiner's Achievement Motivation and Emotion Model Weiner's revised theory (1979, 1980, 1982, 1985) focused on the affective reactions of individuals to success and failure. Weiner theorized that the affective reactions governed by locus of causality, stability, and controllability should hold true in social settings as well as academic ones. However, the majority of the research employing Weiner's revised model utilized achievement situations (Evans & Engelberg, 1988) Research relating Weiner's model to affect have predominately centered on alcoholism, loneliness, and depression (Guttmann, 1982) Weiner's theory has not been applied to at-risk students. However, attributions of students in this study followed those advanced by Weiner. For example, students' failures were attributed either externally or, if attributed internally, to unstable or uncontrollable causes (e.g., lack of effort or too difficult task). According to Weiner's theory, this allows the student to maintain a positive self -concept. Success was attributed to internal, controllable causes such as effort. This was true not only for academic tasks, but for affective outcomes as well. For example, Elizabeth

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155 reported that her new popularity, perceived by her as a success, was due to her efforts at losing weight, improving her appearance, and "being a better person." She perceived her new status as something she earned by her efforts, which conseguently improved her self -concept. In contrast, Jordan began having trouble in his relationship with his stepbrother. He attributed the problem entirely to his stepbrother. "He thinks he's cool now at his new school, but he's really just a jerk. He's different than he was before." Jordan perceived the conflict with his stepbrother to be the result of external, unstable, uncontrollable causes. Rather than believe that he had any part in the problem, he chose to attribute all the blame to his stepbrother. Elizabeth and Jordan were reported by their teachers to have only average skills. Michael and Jaime, however, were considered by their teachers to have at least aboveaverage intellects. Mrs. Willowes' class provided for and emphasized success and allowed students to internalize those successes. Elizabeth and Jordan reported feeling positively about their ability to succeed and therefore continued to persist, even when classes were difficult for them. Mrs. Samples' class, however, provided negative experiences on a day-to-day basis. Students were given passing marks on grade reports, but in the daily classroom setting were chastised for laziness and misbehavior.

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156 Students persisted in a half-hearted sort of way. They tried not to internalize failure, but both Jaime and Michael had entered a cycle of destructive behavior and academic performance at City High. Neither seems likely to succeed in the high-school setting. Implications of Findings for Research A number of findings in this study may have implications for other research in the area of tracked, atrisk adolescents. First, research in similar settings with similar methods would increase the depth of the literature in this area. The qualitative methods used in this study impose certain conditions on the generalizability of the results. A new form of tracking has been instituted in the American educational system. Students considered to be at risk are separated from other students for differential instruction and curriculum. Laosa (1984) wrote: In every era of U.S. history since colonial times, the nature of social policies toward children has been such that the children of some ethnic, racial, and language groups have been systematically isolated and excluded from preparations for full participation in the responsibilities and rewards of full citizenship, (p. 93) Research into the differential treatment of these students is crucial. Specifically, are students in at-risk programs afforded disparate access to educational opportunities? Oakes (1990) argued that disadvantaged, minority, and inner-city students are treated differently within the

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157 school system. "Teachers serving large proportions of these students place somewhat less emphasis on such essential curriculum goals as developing inquiry and problem-solving skills" (p. x) Researchers have shown that these are the students who are generally characterized as at risk. Another issue requiring additional research is the qualifications of teachers of at-risk programs. Oakes (1990) asserted that most secondary schools place their least qualified teachers with low-ability classes and their most qualified teachers with high-ability classes. Is this true of at-risk programs as well? Both of the teachers in this study were first-year teachers. Yonek (1991) in a pilot study for this research, observed and interviewed an at-risk program in which both of the teachers were firstyear teachers. Novice teachers have less experience to draw upon. Teaching an at-risk population probably requires a more extensive repertoire of techniques than that possessed by a first-year teacher. Rural Middle School's students attended only one period daily of alternative classes, whereas Inner-City Middle School s students attended a three-period block in the at-risk program. Yet Rural' s students performed better the following year than did Inner-City's. More research comparing results of programs with more similar time constraints would be helpful. Also, the two students from

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158 Inner-City's program were attempting to make the transition to high school at the conclusion of this study. Rural 's students, although they were enrolled in regular classes, were still in the same school setting. Longitudinal research could provide additional insight into long-term student successes. Mrs. Willowes reported that her eighthgrade students from the 1990-91 alternative class who had gone on to high school were passing all their classes. Longitudinal research could focus on the transition of alternative-program students from middle to high school, as well as from at-risk to regular classes. Finally, further research on Weiner's achievement motivation and emotion model in the at-risk setting is warranted. For example, are attributions mediated by cultural background (Guimond, Begin, & Palmer, 1989; Willig, Harnisch, Hill, & Maehr, 1983) or gender? Do these attributions persist over the length of the student's school career? Implications of Findings for Practitioners There may be implications for applying Weiner's theory to modify academic and affective behaviors in an at-risk setting. In this study, students responded to success and failure, both academic and affective, in accordance with Weiner's theory. Students attributed success to internal and controllable causes, which increases self-esteem. Students attributed failure, however, to external or

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159 unstable causes, in an attempt to maintain self-esteem (Weiner, 1988) Educators, recognizing this, could structure educational experiences for at-risk students that would provide additional opportunities for success. In addition, attributional training could help students identify their own negative attributional patterns. A more fundamental implication of this research for at-risk programs, perhaps, is for the organizational structure of at-risk programs within the school system. A plethora of at-risk programs has appeared, with little or no rationale for their creation or evaluation. At-risk programs, to be warranted, should address the particular affective and academic needs of their students. Uhlenberg and Eggebeen (1986) asserted: It is an erosion of the bond between parent and child — one characterized by parental commitment and willingness to sacrifice self-interest — that is a significant cause of the declining well-being of adolescents after 1960. (p. 38) Ideally, the goals of an at-risk program should include the same commitment and willingness to sacrifice from its faculty that Uhlenberg and Eggebeen argued as key to the parent-child relationship. Programs must serve the needs of the students, rather than dwelling on past failures. Mr. Ford, co-director of the summer program at Inner-City Middle, contended that there was no point in labeling families as functional or

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160 dysfunctional, or kids as at-risk or normal. "We're all dysfunctional to some degree." Instead of talking about how many strikes a kid has against him, let's get in and show him how to make choices. Living right is just about making the right choices. Some of the students don't know that they have alternatives. Just ask any kid — they know the difference between right and wrong. So don't sit around and tell them they're stupid when they make a bad choice. Just help them figure out what their options are and how to do it right next time. Mrs. Samples, at Inner-City Middle, spent little time discussing affective strategies with students. Instead, she berated students for inappropriate behavior, which seemed to encourage students to act out more in defiance. Mrs. Samples also did not tailor the program to the academic needs of the students. Students were resentful of the low level of instruction and material. They said that they were treated differently than other students. In contrast, Mrs. Willowes spent much of her time trying to make the students feel good about themselves, both affectively and academically. This seemed to carry over, to some extent, to regular classes in the following school year. The students maintained a positive attitude about school and most of their teachers. They believed that they had the ability to succeed. Recommendations Research on at-risk programs has concentrated on high school students. Wehlage, Rutter, and Turnbaugh (1987)

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161 detailed the components of an effective program for the high-school-age group: 1. Administration and organization: alternative programs such as schools-within-a-school or independent alternatives, small, personalized programs. 2. Teacher culture: teachers take on an "extended role," considering problems in the home, community, or peer group. Collegial relationships and professional cooperation promote enthusiasm and skill development. 3. Student culture: a voluntary program requiring that students apply and maintain commitment to rules, work expectations, and standards of behavior. The program also utilizes peer-monitored behavior and stresses a "family" atmosphere 4. Curriculum: individualized, clear objectives, prompt feedback, and an active role for students. Experiential learning provides for improved social skills, social experiences, and development of responsibility. The causal attributions of the students in this study, along with their perceptions of the programs they were placed in, would seem to suggest similar guidelines. There appears to be a definite need for evaluation of the effectiveness of such programs, for affective as well as academic outcomes. Rural Middle's alternative-education students reported that they were offered individual attention, were liked by

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162 their teacher, learned cooperative behavioral strategies, and experienced interesting learning activities. InnerCity's students, however, stated they felt isolated within the alternative classroom, did not like their teacher, seemed to develop a negative subculture, and believed the alternative curriculum was unchallenging and uninteresting.

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169 Lepper, M. R. & Dafoe, J. L. (1979). Incentives, constraints, and motivation in the classroom. In I. H. Frieze, D. Bar-Tal, & J. S. Carroll (Eds.) New approaches to social problems (pp. 309-336) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Levin, H. M. (1972) The costs to the nation of inadequate education Report to the Select Committee on Equal Educational Opportunity, U.S. Senate. Washinqton, D.C.: U.S. Goverment Printinq Office. Levin, H. M. (1989) Financinq the education of at-risk students. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 11 47-60. Lincoln, Y. S. & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry Beverly Hills: Saqe. Lomotey, K. & Swanson, A. D. (1989). Urban and rural schools research: Implications for school qovernance. Education and Urban Society 21 436-454. MacLeod, J. (1987) Ain't no makin 1 it: Leveled aspirations in a low-income neighborhood Boulder, CO: Westview Press. McDill, E. L., Natriello, G. & Pallas, A. M. (1986). A population at risk: Potential consequences of touqher school standards for student dropouts. American Journal of Education 94 135-181. Merriam, S. B. (1985) The case study in educational research: A review of selected literature. The Journal of Educational Thought 19 204-217. Merriam, S. B. (1988) Case study research in education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Metz, M. H. (1978). Classrooms and corridors: The crisis of authority in desegregated secondary schools Berkeley: University of California. Miller, S. E. Leinhardt, G. & Zigmond, N. (1988). Influencinq enqaqement throuqh accommodation: An ethnoqraphic study of at-risk students. American Educational Research Journal 25 465-487. National Education Association. (1968) Ability grouping (Research Summary 1968-S3) Washinqton, D.C.: Author.

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170 Natriello, G. Pallas, A. M. & Alexander, K. (1989). On the right track? Curriculum and academic achievement. Sociology of Education 62 109-118. Natriello, G., Pallas, A. M. & McDill, E. L. (1986). Taking stock: Renewing our research agenda on the causes and conseguences of dropping out. Teachers College Record 87 430-440. Nevi, C. (1987) In defense of tracking. Educational Leadership 44(6), 24-26. Newmann, F. M. (1989) Reducing student alienation in high schools: Implications of theory. In L. Weis, E. Farrar, & H. G. Petrie (Eds.), Dropouts from school: Issues, dilemmas, and solutions (pp. 153-177) Albany, NY: State University of New York. Noland, T. K. & Taylor, B. L. (1986, April). The effects of ability grouping: A meta-analysis of research findings Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 269 451) Oakes, J. (1983) Tracking and ability grouping in American schools: Some constitutional guestions. Teachers College Record 84.801-819. Oakes, J. (1985) Keeping track: How schools structure inegualitv New Haven: Yale University Press. Oakes, J. (1986) Tracking, inequality, and the rhetoric of reform: Why schools don't change. Journal of Education 168 (1) 60-80. Oakes, J. (1987) Curriculum inequality and school reform. Equity and Excellence 23.(1-2), 8-14. Oakes, J. (1989) Tracking in secondary schools: A contextual perspective. In R. E. Slavin (Ed.), School and classroom organization (pp. 173-195) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Oakes, J. (1990) Multiplying inequalities: The effects of race, social class, and tracking on opportunities to learn mathematics and science Santa Monica, CA: Rand. Patterson, J. L. Purkey, S. C. & Parker, J. V. (1986). Productive school systems for a nonrational world Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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171 Rizley, R. (1978) Depression and distortion in the attribution of causality. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 87 32-48. Robison-Awana, P. Kehle, T. J. & Jenson, W. R. (1986) But what about smart girls? Adolescent self-esteem and sex role perceptions as a function of academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology 78, 179-183. Rosenbaum, J. E. (1976) Making inequality: The hidden curriculum of high school tracking New York: John Wiley & Sons. Rosenbaum, J. E. (1980) Social implications of educational grouping. Review of Research in Education 8, 361-401. Ross, L. (1977) The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 10 (pp. 173-220) New York: Academic Press. Rumberger, R. W. (1983) Dropping out of high school: The influence of race, sex, and family background. American Educational Research Journal 20 199-220. Rumberger, R. W. (1987) High school dropouts: A review of issues and evidence. Review of Educational Research 57 101-121. Schwartz, F. (1981) Supporting or subverting learning: Peer group patterns in four tracked schools. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 12, 99-121. Sedlak, M. W. Wheeler, C. W. Pullin, D. C. & Cusick, P. A. (1986) Selling students short New York: Teachers College Press. Self, E. A. (1990) Situational influences on selfhandicapping. In R. L. Higgins, C. R. Snyder, & S. Berglas (Eds.), Self -handicapping: The paradox that isn't (pp. 37-68) New York: Plenum. Shaver, K. G. (1983) An Introduction to Attribution Processes Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Slavin, R. E. (1987) Ability grouping and student achievement in elementary schools: A best-evidence

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APPENDIX CONSENT FORM Dear Parent, I am a graduate student at the University of Florida in the Department of Educational Leadership. As part of my dissertation research I am gathering information on middle school students 1 feelings about their school experiences. I am working with two schools in the area. I would like your permission to interview your child as part of this study. I will arrange meetings with your child during the school day. Over the course of the school year, I will spend approximately 45 minutes per week with your child at school. All interviews will be prearranged with your child's teacher and will not interfere with classroom assignments or tests. Your child will be asked guestions about school and his/her emotions regarding school. For example, I will ask your child to describe likes/dislikes of classes and teachers, goals after finishing school, and feelings about success/failure on assignments. I will also ask your child to take a set of photographs reflecting his/her representation of the world. The set of photographs will become the property of your child. All participation in this study is voluntary. You and your child have the right to withdraw participation at any time. Your child may choose not to answer any guestion she/he does not want to answer. Participation is not related to grades or class evaluations. There will be no payment for participation in this study. All information from interviews is confidential. Each child will be assigned a pseudonym which will be the only name appearing on any written documents resulting from this project. Your child will not be named or identified in the study in any way. 175

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176 I have explained the purpose of my study to your child and your child has indicated an interest in participating in this study. Please discuss this with your child, and if you are willing to have your child be interviewed, sign, date and return this form. A duplicate copy is enclosed for you to keep. I can be contacted at home (206-896-9368 collect) or you may leave a message with your child's teacher ( ) if you have any guestions. Sincerely, Mary M. Yonek I have read and I understand the procedure described above. I agree to allow my child to participate in Mary Yonek 's study and I have received a copy of the description. Student Name Parent/Guardian Signature Date Second Parent/Witness Date

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Mary Malmberg Yonek was born in Burien, Washington, in 1962. She was educated in Highline Public Schools in Seattle, and graduated from high school in 1979. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Puget Sound in 1984. Over the next several years, she attended various colleges part-time in order to earn endorsements in the subject areas of mathematics and language arts. During 1985, Mary worked as an alternative-education teacher for Educational Clinics Incorporated, a private program for at-risk students. She was responsible for student advisement and instruction in mathematics, social studies, and language arts. In 1986, Mary taught eighthgrade social studies at Gray Junior High in Tacoma, Washington. From 1986-1988, she taught social studies, language arts, and mathematics at McKnight Middle School in Renton, Washington. In 1989, Mary earned a Master of Education degree in educational leadership from the University of Florida. From 1988 to 1990, she worked as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Educational Leadership while 177

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178 completing coursework toward the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Mary served as an educational consultant in the area of alternative education for at-risk students during completion of her dissertation.

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I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the deqree of Doc^d^r of Pjrjflosophy. Paui S George, Professor of Eduyy^ ) >ahdra B. Darnico Professor of Foundations of Education I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. a LiJtf4.?freSL_ James W. Hensel Professor of Educational Leadership I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. ^foneyman Associate Professor of Educational Leadership

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This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the College of Education and to the Graduate School and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. May, 1992 Dean, College of Educa Dean, Graduate School

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UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 3 1262 08285 351 5