Record for a UF thesis. Title & abstract won't display until thesis is accessible after 2008-02-29.

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Title: Record for a UF thesis. Title & abstract won't display until thesis is accessible after 2008-02-29.
Physical Description: Book
Language: english
Creator: Archer, Diane Alice M
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2007


Subjects / Keywords: Educational Administration and Policy -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Curriculum and Instruction (EDL) thesis, Ph.D.
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Statement of Responsibility: by Diane Alice M Archer.
Thesis: Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2007.
Local: Adviser: Behar-Horenstein, Linda S.
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0020760/00001

Material Information

Title: Record for a UF thesis. Title & abstract won't display until thesis is accessible after 2008-02-29.
Physical Description: Book
Language: english
Creator: Archer, Diane Alice M
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2007


Subjects / Keywords: Educational Administration and Policy -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Curriculum and Instruction (EDL) thesis, Ph.D.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Statement of Responsibility: by Diane Alice M Archer.
Thesis: Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2007.
Local: Adviser: Behar-Horenstein, Linda S.
Electronic Access: INACCESSIBLE UNTIL 2008-02-29

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Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2007
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2 2007 Diane Alice Marie Archer-Banks


3 To my late mom Elfreda Ve ronica Creary-Archer, my dedicat ed and loving husband Sim Hugh Banks, and my loving daughter Khadean Veroni ca Young. May this dissertation serve as a symbol of all that I have learned from each of you along this great journey, and a testimony of how the power of your unconditional l ove sustained me each and every day.


4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Numerous individuals have assisted me on this fulfilling and sometimes challenging journey. First and foremost I will forever be grateful to my bel oved husband Sim Hugh Banks III and daughter Khadean Young. Through their ki nd words and immense support, I was able to withstand the numerous challenges that I enc ountered. Each of them unconditionally made numerous individual sacrifices to ensure that I achieved my goal. In addition, Khadeans free spirit and positive outlook on life helped me to c ontinuously see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and Sims unconditional love, sense of humor, flexibility, compassion, and dedication kept me focused, especially on those da ys when I felt like giving up. Their belief in my abilities helped me to continuously believe in myself. I would like to thank my parents, but more specifically, my mother for instilling a thirst for knowledge and a drive to always achieve excelle nce. Her unconditional love and support has been a salient force in my life. In addition, th e guidance and support of my brothers and sisters and my grandfather, Arnold Crear y, at different junctures of my life laid the groundwork for me to successfully navigate this sometimes rugged terrain. Their willingness to always offer assistance and supportive words is greatly appreciated. To my el dest brother Everton Archer, I would like to say thank you for always be ther e and to my younger brother Norman Archer, I would like to say thank you for always providing me with the humor that made a challenging day seem less stressful. I would also like to thank my grandfather, Dadda, fo r instilling in me the desire to never give up, and my dad for transf erring his strong-willed pe rsonal trait to me. I would like to take this oppor tunity to also thank my di ssertation committee members for their continual guidance and support. However, I would like to specifically thank my committee chair Dr. Linda Behar-Horenstein for her invalu able mentoring and personal support. Through her unconditional guidance, support, and compassion, I was able to successfully navigate the


5 numerous life-changing events that occurred at va rious periods of this journey. I could always depend on her to listen to my concerns and assist me to discover empowering ways of remedying or coping with them. She will forever be a dear friend to me. I would also like to thank Dr. Cirecie West-Olatunji for agreeing to sit in as a committee member so that I could defend my dissertation within a prescribed time period. I w ill always be grateful to her for her kindness and dedication during this process. A special thanks to five of my very best friends Celia Earl e, Marcia Caton, Tyran Wright, Kathy Southwick, and Melissa Singleton (who I cons ider my sisters). Celias strong belief in God and devotion to excellence inspired me to follow her steps and achieve a doctoral degree. During each phase of this immense task, I c ould always depend on her to offer support and words of encouragement, but more so to be a friend. My best friend a nd first cousin Marcia generously provided me with an avenue to voice my frustrations and share my triumphs. She helped me to laugh on those dismal days when I felt discouraged, and remain rooted in the belief that God was truly in charge of my life. Tyrans invaluable suppor t and advice during each phase of my dissertation will always be reme mbered. Her professional/personal advice and support has kept me grounded on some very cha llenging days. Kathies constant mentoring, support and friendship enabled me to truly realize the strengths that I had. Her belief in me enabled me to grow in ways that I never imag ined. Melissas invaluable assistance at each juncture of this process assisted me persist despite the varying ch allenges that I faced. Added to this, she always provided a friendly ear to voice my concerns and frustrations. Special appreciation is extended to the staff members at PACE Center for Girls, Alachua who had a positive impact on my experiences, especially Michael Norowski, who was an invaluable coworker and friend. I would also like to thank Angela Rowe in the College of


6 Education Department of Administration and Poli cy for the friendliness and assistance that she always provided. Finally, I would like to thank God for the numer ous blessings and talent s that he provided me. I also thank him for keeping me healthy, sa fe and strong over the co urse of the doctoral program. He was truly the other footprint on my sands of time.


7 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 LIST OF TABLES................................................................................................................. ........10 LIST OF FIGURES................................................................................................................ .......11 LIST OF TERMS.................................................................................................................. .........12 ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... ............13 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION..................................................................................................................15 Theoretical Framework.......................................................................................................... .17 Competing Theoretical Perspectives......................................................................................18 Racial/Cultural Development Identity.............................................................................18 Critical Consciousness Theory........................................................................................19 Stereotype Threat Theory................................................................................................20 Purpose of the Study........................................................................................................... ....21 Research Questions............................................................................................................. ....21 Significance of Study.......................................................................................................... ....22 Limitations.................................................................................................................... ..........23 2 LITERATURE REVIEW.......................................................................................................24 African American Girls High School Experiences...............................................................24 African American Students Identity and Beliefs...................................................................28 African American St udents Identity...............................................................................28 African American Students Beliefs................................................................................31 African American Parental Involvement................................................................................32 Teachers Expectations/Beliefs Rega rding African American Students................................36 The African American Culture...............................................................................................38 Role of Communalism.....................................................................................................39 Role of Gender................................................................................................................40 Role of Parents................................................................................................................41 Summary........................................................................................................................ .........42 3 METHODS........................................................................................................................ .....45 Methodology.................................................................................................................... .......45 Gaining Access................................................................................................................. ......46 The Site....................................................................................................................... .....46 Participants................................................................................................................... ...47


8Participants Profile..........................................................................................................48 Instrumentation................................................................................................................ .......49 Data Collection Methods........................................................................................................51 Interviews..................................................................................................................... ...52 Focus Group Interviews..................................................................................................54 Journal Entries................................................................................................................ .56 Data Analysis.................................................................................................................. ........56 Researchers Subjectivity...................................................................................................... .58 Trustworthiness................................................................................................................ .......63 4 RESULTS........................................................................................................................ .......69 Research Question 1: How Do High School African American Girls View Their School Experience?.................................................................................................................... .....69 Types of School Experiences..........................................................................................69 Positive school experiences......................................................................................70 Negative school experience......................................................................................72 Research Question 2: How Do They Desc ribe Factors That Motivate/Discourage Academic Success?.............................................................................................................74 Bridges to Academic Excellence.....................................................................................74 Rationale for pursuing academic excellence............................................................74 Pathways to academic success.................................................................................76 Research Question 3(a): From The African American Girls Perspective, How Do Teachers Influence Their Academic Success?....................................................................79 Research Question 3(b): How are teachers expectations for academic success for African American and other students similar/different?.....................................................82 Research Question 3(c): How does African Am erican identity influence the academic performance among African American high school girls?.................................................83 Research Question 3(d): How do race and gender influence African American girls school experience?............................................................................................................. .85 Research Question 3(e): How do does fam ily influence African American girls academic performance?.......................................................................................................88 Summary of Results............................................................................................................. ...91 5 DISCUSSION..................................................................................................................... ....94 Research Question 1: How do high school Af rican American girls view their school experience?.................................................................................................................... ......94 Types of School Experiences..........................................................................................94 Positive school experiences......................................................................................94 Negative school experiences....................................................................................95 Research Question 2: How do they describe factors that motivate/discourage academic success?....................................................................................................................... ........96 Bridges to Academic Excellence.....................................................................................96 Rationale for pursuing academic excellence............................................................96 Pathways to academic success.................................................................................96


9Research Question 3(a): From the African American girls perspective: how do teachers influence their academic success?.......................................................................................97 Research Question 3(b): How are teachers expectations for academic success for African American and other students similar/different?.....................................................98 Research Question 3(c): How does African Am erican identity influence the academic performance among African American high school girls?.................................................98 Research Question 3(d): How do race and gender influence African American girls school experience?............................................................................................................. .99 Research Question 3(e): How do parents infl uence African American girls academic performance?................................................................................................................... ..100 Theoretical Implications.......................................................................................................101 External Environment....................................................................................................103 Individuals.................................................................................................................... .104 Implications for Practice...................................................................................................... .106 Create Safe School Environments.................................................................................106 Set Higher Expectations For African American Girls...................................................107 Hire Highly Qualified And Caring Teachers ................................................................107 College Preparation For All Students............................................................................108 Establish Clearly Delineated Rules And Regulations ..................................................109 Implications for Research.....................................................................................................109 Summary........................................................................................................................ .......110 APPENDIX A INDIVIDUAL STUDENT INTERVIEW PROTOCOL......................................................115 B FOCUS GROUP INTE RVIEW PROTOCOL......................................................................116 C FOCUS GROUP SCRIPT....................................................................................................117 D JOURNAL PROMPTS.........................................................................................................118 E EXAMPLES OF FRAMES OF ANALYSIS.......................................................................119 F DOMAIN EXAMPLES........................................................................................................120 G EXAMPLE OF MASTER OUTLINE..................................................................................121 H PARENTAL CONSENT LETTER......................................................................................122 I PARTICIPANT CONSENT LETTER.................................................................................124 LIST OF REFERENCES.............................................................................................................125 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................................................139


10 LIST OF TABLES Table page 3-1 Ethnicity of student population..........................................................................................65 3-2 Ethnicity of students in schools Academy Program.........................................................65 3-3 Descriptive statistics of the participants* (n=8).................................................................65 3-5 Dates and lengths of second interviews.............................................................................66 3-6 Frequency of participants* (n=7) journal entries...............................................................66 5-1 Findings of study based on theo retical framewor k/perspective.......................................113


11 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 3-1 Sequence of data collection...............................................................................................67 3-2 Data analysis process...................................................................................................... ...68 4-1 Major themes and categories from data analysis...............................................................92 5-1 Social contexts influencing participants academic success............................................112


12 LIST OF TERMS The following terms used in this study are defined below: Academy pseudonym that refers to the schools academic magnet program. Academic climate the learning environm ent that exists within classrooms. Academic identity students self -perceptions of their abilities within the context of the school. Academic performance grades received by students at the end of each semester. Academic success grade point averages (GPAs) of 3.5 and higher on a 4.0 scale. African American dark-skinned individuals of African descent residing in the United States. African American identity the individual characteristics, family dynamics, historical factors and social and political contex ts that define how African Am ericans view their position in society and their prospects for success (Tatum, 1998). Engagement students classroom participati on and is answered th rough the completion of assignments, homework, and consistent attendance. High performing maintaining a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale. High school experiences the secondary sc hool occurrences that influence students perceptions, engagement and disenga gement within the classroom. Negative school experiences those school occurr ences that could cause students to disengage from the learning environment. Parent any adult who is responsible for the financial support and emo tional care and support for a child under 18 years of age. Parental involvement the legal guardians leve l of participation in the students school. Positive school experiences those school occurrences that promote engagement within the classroom. School culture the activities, events rituals and tradi tions of a school. Teacher efficacy the ability of teachers to e ffectively instruct, motivate and engage students in the classroom.


13 Abstract of Dissertation Pres ented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy VOICES OF HIGH-PERFORMING AFRICA N AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS By Diane Alice Marie Archer-Banks August 2007 Chair: Linda S. Behar-Horenstein Major: Curriculum and Instruction (EDL) The purpose of this multiple case study was to identify the factors that influenced high achievement among African American high school girl s from the students perspective. These descriptions are based on indivi dual in-depth interviews, focus groups and journal entries. Eight African American girls with GP As of 3.5 and above participated in this study to examine how social context such as the school and home environment impacted the participan ts ability to excel in school. A cross-case analysis of th e data revealed common themes namely, types of school experiences, bridges to academic excellence, teac hers attitudes and practices that influenced students engagement, intersection of race and gend er on school experiences, and the impact of family influence. This study contributed to the dearth of research that currently exists regarding the school experiences of successful African American female s. The findings from this study suggest that self determination, supportive le arning environments and parents and family members play key roles in assisting African Ameri can high school girls to excel. Th e findings also revealed factors that created obstacles and how the participants utilized assertiveness, and discipline to complete


14 their required school work to ensure academic su ccess. All the participan ts reported a personal goal of attending college to improve their socioeconomic status. Overall this study illustrated th e central role that school home and relationships played in the participants success. An overview of how the findings c onfirm or disconfirm previous research is provided. In addition, recommendations are offered for teachers, school administrators and counselors who seek to im prove school experiences for African American girls as well as all Af rican American students.


15 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION As one of two African American girls in the districts high school International Baccalaureate Program (IB), Margo (pseudonym ) faced numerous social and emotional challenges. Her African American peers avoided her and in some cases made disparaging comments about the way she spoke. Others a ccused her of "Acting White"(Ogbu, 2004). Margo also had to cope with what she perceived as the subtle low expectations held by some of her teachers. Despite this however, she contin ued her pursuit for academic excellence. Margo represents one of many highperforming African American high school girls who succeed despite the numerous negative stereotypes and inequities that punctu ated their high school experiences. Sadker and Zittleman (2005) asserted that school s cheat girls. They argued that, in classrooms across America, girls and boys who sit in the same classroom receive very separate and unequal education. During instruction, teach ers provide girls with less attention, less feedback and less encouragement. They activel y discourage girls from academic success in math and science. In addition, text book publishers provide fewer female role models compared to male role models. As a group African American girls suffer fr om both racial and gender discrimination within the schools. Schools pla ced greater emphasis on the actions of African American girls behaviors than they did on non-African American girls by insisting that they demonstrate gender appropriate behaviors in their voi ce volume. Such restrictions cr eate disadvantages for African American girls, and discourage them to voice their opinions (Fordham, 1997; Morris, 2002). In high schools across the country, many African Amer ican girls are sometimes punished by school personnel for being loud or for having an att itude that does not conform to teachers


16 expectations of feminine beha vior (Frazier-Kouassi, 2002). Afri can American girls, like some boys, who are candid and independent, are often ster eotyped as troublemakers rather than leaders (American Association of Un iversity Women, 1998). African American feminist scho lars have underscored that African American girls/women experiences are shaped by a we b of interactions among social forces (e.g., race, class, and gender) and personal quality (i.e., agency) (P ugh-Lilly, Neville, & Poulin, 2000, p.144). Girls approaches to school tend to become aligned with class, race, values a nd expectations (AAUW, 1998). African American girls who desire to ble nd into and succeed within the normative culture of the school environment must learn the value of code switching, the ability to communicate with adults and teens across lines of culture a nd class. Typically, girls who pursue academic excellence must transcend both cultures (Frazi er-Kouassi, 2002). They also have tremendous responsibility placed on them by both adults and peer s who seek to use them as role models, thus making it more difficult for them to gain accep tance from their peers (Grantham & Ford, 1998, 2003). There are differences between African Amer ican males and females in academic performance (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Research suggests that a larger percentage of African American girls (56%) graduate fr om high school compared to African American males (43%) (Frazier-Kouassi, 2000). Scholars who study African American academic performance argue that African Am erican girls experience more succe ss in school that their male counterparts. The reason for this within-g roup disparity remains unclear; and this issue continues to be a major concern among educators. Smith (2000) proposed that the topic of school as an institution (p. 1147) that reproduces inequalities of gender, race and class, has


17 never been the major focus of research. The n eed for such research as it relates to African American high school girls is importa nt to researchers and educators. Theoretical Framework Ogbus (1998) cultural-ecologi cal framework was used to examine the research questions in this study. Cultural ecological theory posits that: There are two sets of factors influencing minority school perfor mance: how society at large and the school treat minorit ies (the system) and how mi nority groups respond to these treatments and to school (community forces). The theory further posits that differences in school performance between immigrants and nonimmigrant minorities are partly due to differences in their community forces (p. 156). Ogbu (1992, 2003) suggested that African Amer icans, as non-immigrant (involuntary) minorities, lack instrumental factors that motivate (Stinson, 2006, p.491) immigrant (voluntary) minorities to gain academic success. O gbu (1992) suggested that cultural differences define different minorities. In his view, prim ary cultural differences, namely language and custom differences, characterize voluntary minorit ies, while secondary cultural differences the schools unwillingness or inability to assist minor ities to overcome these barrier characterize involuntary minorities. He further contends th at African Americans, as involuntary minorities, are reluctant to relinquish these cultural differences because they perceive them as part of their collective identity. These beliefs cause many Af rican American to view academic success as acting White and so hinder their ability to achieve academic success. Ogbu (1999) contends that many African Americans lack the belief that hard work guarantees them a better financial future. Cultural ecological theory s uggests that social context greatly influences African American students academic performa nce (Ogbu, 1999, 2004; Ogbu & Simmons, 1998) and self-perception (Booker, 2004). In this study, the social context pe rtains to the participants school and home environment. Research suggests that school context, act ivities, personnel and


18 events influence students self-perception and ultimately their academic performance (Osterman, 2000; Nasir & Hand, 2006; Stinson, 2006). The re searcher sought to examine how school experiences along with such external factor s as the home environment influenced high performance among a group of African American gi rls in 11 and 12 grade. In addition, an interpretivist stance was used to fully understand and interpret how these contexts influenced the participants construction and in terpretation of their high school experiences (Glesne, 1998). Interpretivism suggests that there are multiple re alities to a phenomenon and that realities can differ based on location and cont exts. Constructionism, the epis temological framework that supports interpretivism, suggests that meaning is not discovered but constructed by human beings as they engage with the work they are interpreting (Crotty, 1998). Competing Theoretical Perspectives Numerous controversies ex ist regarding Ogbu s cultural ecological theory. Many researchers argue that Ogbus theo retical perspective blame African Americans for their lack of academic success (Foley, 2004; Foster, 2004; Mickel son, 2003) and does not sufficiently address the inequities that exist within schools and other institutions. Recent researchers therefore consistently use other theoretical perspectives to explain the school experiences of African American students. These include racial/cultural development identity theory (Sue & Sue, 1999), critical consciousness theory (Freire, 1998), and stereotype threat theory, (Steele, 1997). An overview of these theories is included in this study to provide a more holistic interpretation of the participants data. Racial/Cultural Development Identity Racial/cultural identity development theory (Sue & Sue, 1999) posits that there are five stages of development that people of color or oppressed people experi ence as they seek to understand themselves in terms of their own cult ure, the dominant cultu re, and the oppressive


19 relationship between the two cu ltures (p. 128). These incl ude conformity, dissonance, resistance and immersion, introsp ection, and integrative awareness. In the conformity stage, individuals possess a greater preference for the domi nant cultures values. They also internalize messages about the inferiority of minorities and self-depreciating at titudes and beliefs (Delgado-Romero, 2001, p. 210). In the dissonan ce stage, individuals must deal with information or experiences that conflict with the beliefs, attitude and values of the dominant culture. During this stage individuals become su spicious of the dominant culture and begin to challenge previously held beliefs and assump tions. In the resistance and immersion stage, individuals embrace minority beliefs and reject the dominant culture. Feelings of guilt, shame and anger are dominant during this stage. During the introspection stag e, individuals discover that the guilt, shame and anger from the previous stage stifle individuality and are preventing a shared sense of experience with other minorities (Delgado-Romero, 2001, p. 210). A reactive sense of self is therefore replaced with a proactive sense of self at this stage. Finally in the integrative stage, individuals develop an inner secu rity that allows them to appreciate the unique and positive aspects of their cultu re and other minority cultures. Critical Consciousness Theory Critical consciousness is conceptu ally anchored in the work of Paulo Freire (1998) and is defined as the development of critical awarene ss of how personal dynamics unfold within social and political contexts (Hernandez, Alme ida & Dolan-Delvecchio, 2005, p. 110). Through critical consciousness, individuals gain a new understanding of th emselves and their capacity to transform various realit ies within their lives. It presupposes that as individuals transform themselves, they simultaneously transform their re lationships with others and their communities. Freire (1998) posits that critic al consciousness involves the vari ous stages through which people transform themselves. Theses include the (a) nav e, (b) mythological and (c) critical. During the


20 first stage, nave, individuals lack insight into the way in which their social conditions undermine their well being, (Campbell & McPha il, 2002, p. 334) and do not believe that they have the capacity to change their conditions. At the mythological stag e, individuals recognize the various inequities that exist in their cond itions; however, their reactions to it are primarily emotional. In the final stage, critical, indivi duals are empowered to critically analyze the conditions that shape their life experiences and work collectively to ch ange these conditions. This transformation ultimately results in a remo deling of their lives and their communities. Stereotype Threat Theory Steeles (1997) stereotype threat theory pos its that negative ster eotypes about certain stigmatized groups intellectual or academic ability on any given domain can lead to high levels of anxiety and so impact their academic perfor mance. For example, research suggests that stereotype threat is manifested in low standardized test scores among African Americans. In the case of gender, research indicates that female s who have internalized negative stereotypes regarding their mathematical ski lls could perform below their poten tial on these tests, however, if these negative stereotypes were replaced with more positive perceptions of their ability, their performance greatly improved (McGlone & Aronson, 2007). Stereo-type threat is therefore a .social-psy chological threat that occurs when one is in a situation or doing something for which a negati ve stereotype of ones group applies A stereotype threat is a situati onal threat. .that, in general can affect the members of any group about whom a negative stereot ype exists (Steele, 1997, p. 614). Stereotype threat becomes se lf-fulfilling or self-threaten ing when group members strongly identify with a behavior that has been atypica lly stereotyped for that specific group such as the case for school success among African Americans (Stinson, 2006, p. 489). Stereotype threat therefore becomes non-existent if group members reject the stereotyped behavior as a basis of


21 their self-evaluation. In the case of African Americans, stereotype is no longer a threat when they reject academic failure as bei ng part of their self-identity. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to identify th e factors that influenced high performance among African American high school girls from the students perspective. Through the utilization of multiple case studi es, this study provided a description and an explanation of the factors that impact the school experiences of Af rican American high school girls (Stake, 2000). Individual semi-structured interviews, focus gr oup interviews, and resear cher-prescribed journal entries for the participants were used to gather data. Utilizing a constructionist framework, the researcher considered the stude nts perceptions of their expe riences within the high school context. Qualitative methodology was used to gi ve students a voice to fully express their perceptions of those factors that have influenced their high academic performance within the high school context. Research Questions This study was guided by the fo llowing research questions 1. How do high school African American girl s view their school experience? 2. How do they describe factors that mo tivate/discourage academic success? 3. From the African American girls perspective: a. How do they think teachers influence their academic success? b. How are teachers expectations for academic success for participants and other students similar/different? c. How does identity influence their academic performance? d. How do race and gender influence their school experience? e. How do parents influence their academic performance?


22 Significance of Study Individuals earning power, soci al status, and standard of living are all considerably affected when they have not earned a high sc hool diploma (Lange & Lehr, 1999). Each African American girl who does not succe ed or realize her pot ential in school creates a financial burden for her community and society as a whole (Man love, 1998). Frazier-Kouassi (2002) maintained that the experience of African American girls in American schools as differentiated by the group experiences of African Americans as well as th at of females, is a su bject that has received relatively little attenti on by both scholars and the media (p. 157) Added to this, little is known about the factors that influence high academ ic performance among Af rican American high school girls. Qualitative inquiry offered a way to explore the interactions and processes that occur among high-performing African American female s within one high school. This type of inquiry generated an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the factors that affected academic performance among African American girls from their perspectives. This study also examined the African American females percep tions of the high school environment and school personnel, their beliefs regarding school and acad emic performance, and how factors such as parental involvement and teacher beliefs a nd expectations influenced their academic performance. The findings of this study pr ovided participants insights into the factors that influence high academic performance among Af rican American high school girls. A better understanding of the factors that influence high academic performance among African American high school girls may assist educators, school administ rators and policymakers in developing the infrastructures that are needed to increase academic performance among all African American high school girls. Increased acad emic performance among African American high school girls is


23 likely to increase their earni ng power and reduce the likelihoo d of them becoming financial burdens to society. Limitations This study was designed to explore the schoo l experiences of high-performing African American high school girls in grades 11 and 12, as seen through the eyes of students within a single high school located in north central region of Florida. Pe rceptions regarding the factors that influence high performance among African American high school students were limited to the participants viewpoints. The number of participants in the study was also limited by the availability of African American high school girls in grades 11 and 12 that have GPAs of 3.5 and above on a 4.0 scale and their willingness to particip ate. Although the researcher sh ares the same ethnicity and gender of the participants, differences in age might have caused the participants to be unwilling to share their thoughts on the topic under study. Pa rticipants may also have been apprehensive about authentically sharing thei r perceptions because they did not know the researcher. The students were recruited from a high school within a single district. Therefore, the findings of this study may only be applicable to the context of this study. However, the findings may be meaningful for African Americans high school girls in si milar situations or geographic locations.


24 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of research related to (a) African American girls high school experiences, (b ) African American parents influence and involvement in their childrens academic expe riences, (c) African American academic identity and beliefs regarding school, (d) teachers beliefs and expectations regarding African American students, and (e) the African American culture. African American Girls High School Experiences According to research, African American stude nts continue to demonstrate poor academic performance (Fletcher, 1998; Ogbu, 2003). Davis, Ajzen, Saunders, and Williams (2002) maintained that the persistent low academic performance of African Americans continues to perplex educators in the United States. Fletcher (1998) and Ogbu (2003) found that even in prosperous middle-class school di stricts like Shaker Heights, Ohio which spends more than $10,000 per child per year, African American students continue to exhibit poor academic performance (Pino & Smith, 2000, p. 114). O gbu (2004) suggested that many African American students underachieve in school because they do not want to be accused of acting white by their African American cl assmates and other peers. African American males and females experi ence school differently. While African American males are more likely to be behind in school and have lower grades (p. 82), African American females tend to experience more academ ic success which increases their confidence in their academic abilities and self worth (Gre gory, 1997). Saunders, Williams, and Williams (2004) suggest that different social responses to Africa American males and females cause African American males to que stion the relevance and importa nce of a high school education,


25 while African American girls typically have mo re positive perceptions and attitudes about the benefits of a high school diploma, and as a result expend greater effort in school. In a study exploring the gender differences in self perceptions and academics among African American high school stud ents, the researcher s found that African American high school girls were more determined to complete high school than their male counter parts. Saunders et al. (2004) suggested that this could be a reflection of the societal messages that African American girls receive regarding the lucra tive benefits of a high school edu cation. African American girls have also reported higher levels of academic self-efficacy and importance of school completion to self (p. 87). Despite thes e positive attributes, Frazier-Kouassi (2001) suggests that African American girls, and in particular African American gifted girls, are at greater risk than White girls for underperformance, dropping out of school, and school failure. Racial stigma plays a significant role in th e poor performance of a ll African American high school students (Sellers & Shelton, 2003; Zi rkel, 2002). African Americans face negative stereotypes that portray members of their ethnic group as less intelligent than Whites (Steele, Spenser & Aronson; 2002). Tatum (2003) claimed that living in the contex t of a larger African American community presents more choices, yet African American women still have to contend with devaluing messages about who they are, and who they will become, es pecially if they are poor or working class (p. 57). In her view resisting stereotypes and affirming other definitions (p. 57) of themselves is one of the task with which young African American women continue to struggle. Akom (2003), however found that African American girls were able to resist these stereotypes when they had supportive peers who had common academic goals. These peers relied on each other (Hubbard, 200 5, p. 614) for help in dismantling the negative


26 stereotypes that existed about them, and fo r maintaining their commitment to academic excellence. The academic climate of the school coupled with students academic identity may influence students engagement behaviors a nd feelings of attachment to school (Johnson, Crosnoe & Elder Jr., 2001). Grantham and Ford (1998, 2003) asserted that many gifted African Americans girls felt forced to choose between being accepted by peers and fulfilling teachers expectation. They highlighted the challenges faced by a gifted African American female, Danisha, to fulfill teachers expectations for her. As one of the few African American girls in the schools advanced classes she felt pressured by teachers to be the leader and spokesperson for her African American peers (Grantham, & Ford, 1998, p. 98). Although she welcomed this responsibility, she resented th e feelings of isolation th at accompanied this job. African American girls must ne gotiate both race and gender to succeed in school. Pickens (2002) found that many African American girls e xpressed their dissatis faction with the low priority given to their pursuit of academic excelle nce (p. 24). They claimed that males received preferential treatment in regards to household ch ores. However, they frequently had to neglect their schoolwork to care for their young siblings and do housework. This trend continues where African American girls have cons istently been excluded from ma thematics and science in school (AAUW, 1998; Park & Bauer, 1999; Russell, 2005). This prev ents them from pursuing lucrative careers in the sciences and experiencing economic and social mobility (Russell, 2005, p. 168). African American girls also reported th at that they had to adopt a confrontational attitude to encourage people to acknowledge and listen to them (Shaffer, Ortman & Denbo, 2002).


27 Typically, African American girls (a) get cited more frequently for dress code violations (b) receive more discipline referrals than thei r White peers (c) are disciplined in class more frequently for being talking back to teachers, an d (d) receive more suspensions than their White, Latina and Asian peers (Smith, 1999; Frazier-Koua ssi, 2002). Many school personnel also view African American girls as bei ng loud and believe that this behavior signifies social backwardness, and a general lack of appropr iate values and taste (Cousins, 1999, p. 308). Morris (2005) also found that many school pe rsonnel viewed African American girls as inadequately feminine (p. 44), and spent more time correcting their speech and dress patterns, and less time promoting their academic skills. In c ontrast, some African American girls are often viewed as being passive, dependent and fu ll of self-doubt (Matthews-Armstead, 2002). Ladson-Billings (2001) hypothe sized that students of color may become alienated from the school process because they are often aske d to be something or someone other than themselves. In some cases, White girls and White teachers perceive African American girls verbal assertiveness as problematic, intimidating and unfeminine. This perception creates more obstacles for African American girls within schools (Pugh-Lilly, et al., 2001). Collectively, African American girls have cons istently struggled with the domi nant image of beauty. Some African American girls assimila te and appropriate the physical attributes and/or behavioral affects of the dominant White female culture to gain acceptance and make friends at school. This may involve straightening their hair, us ing creams to lighten th e skin, and/or code switching (Scott, 2004, p. 384). None theless, some African Ameri can girls still experience rejection from their White counterparts at school. Hubbard (1999, 2005) found that whereas African American males tend to rely on athletics to secure a better social and financial future, Af rican American females tend to rely on academic


28 and peer support. Lareau and Horvat (2003) suggest that many African American girls have been able to achieve academic success because of the positive support of thei r peers. They claim that supportive friends helped to reduce the psychological stress that often accompanies their academic success. School counselors are respons ible for providing school-bas ed direct services and interventions for students with personal, social, academic, and career diffi culties (Riester, 2002). In a study conducted by Hubbard (2005), African American girls reported that they received unequal treatment from counselors which potentially affected their chances of being admitted to college. They suggested that the counselor (a ) discouraged them from applying to notable colleges, (b) consistently gave them information for trade school and two year colleges, and (c) discouraged them from enrolli ng in advanced level courses. Butler (2002) emphasizes the importance of school counselors working collaborati vely with school admini strators, parents, and teachers in addressing the discri minatory attitudes and practices that prevents more African American students from being placed in colleg e track programs. He ma intains that school counselors, as social agents of change, could reduce some of the distrust that African American students and their families have regarding school c ounselors, and ensure that a larger percentage of these students receive the colleg e preparation that they need. African American Students Identity and Beliefs African American Students Identity The influence of racial identity on an indi viduals academic performance has been the focus of many studies related to African American students. R acial identity development, the process of defining for oneself the personal sign ificance and social meaning of belonging to a particular racial group (Tatum, 2003, p. 16) is a complex concept shaped by individual characteristics, family dynamics, historical factor s and social and political contexts (p. 18).


29 Tatum suggested that as children enter adolescence they begin to explore th e question of identity. These identities are usually influenced by th e messages that they receive from those around them. The racial content of these messages intensifies when young African American men and women enter adolescence. Howard (2003) asserted that th e concept of identity has many interpretations. He pointed out that adolescents become more aware of thei r identities within a raci al, gender and academic context during high school. Like Tatum (2003), Kao (2000) maintained that students become more aware of their self-identities during adolescence, however, for ethnic minorities, establishing their racial and/or ethnic self-identity becomes a central concern (p. 429) during this period. She found that one of the major ch allenges for high achieving African Americans is to maintain academic success and their ethnic/ racial identity simultaneously. Kao (2000) reported that many African American students compromised their academic success to prove their loyalty to their Black peers (p. 436). Conversely, African Americans, who had internalized dominant perception of race with all its inaccuracies and stereotypes, chose to avoid affiliations based on racial group and to de-emphasi ze race as an aspect of their social identity (Thompson, 2002). To avoid the stereotypes associ ated with being African Americans, these students avoided all activities that were a ssociated with Blackne ss (Tatum, 2003, p. 63). Students also reported being alie nated by other African American teens because of their success in high school (p. 62). Racial and academic identity influences the academic choices of African American students (Howard, 2003). In a st udy of high achieving African Amer ican and Mexican students, Bergin and Cook (2002) found that some African American girls relinquished their ethnic identity to achieve academic success, while others did not feel pressured to do the same. Wright,


30 Weekes, and McGlaughlin (1999) proposed that Af rican American students beliefs about self and race relate to their educational and social development, and to their attitudes and self evaluation regarding education. They may therefore reject the forms of knowledge available within schools and embrace alternative forms of knowledge available within their communities (p. 297). African American students, who reco gnize inequities in economic and social mobility for their group (Chavous, Bernat, SchmeelkCone, Caldwell, Kohn-Wood and Zimmerman, 2003, p. 1077), may find education useless for their goals and aspirations and demonstrate less engagement and effort in school. Schools ofte n force African Americans students to relinquish their social, cultural and ethnic integrity to achieve academic success. However, unlike their male peers, African American girls do succeed, despite inequitable environments because of their persistence to challenge institutional discrimination (Hubbard, 2005). In her study, Hubbard described how a group of African Ameri can girls who felt singled out for being tardy and placed in ISD [In-School Detention], vehemen tly voiced their frustrations and appealed to one of their teachers to advocate for them. Thei r assertiveness resulted in them securing a meeting with an assistant principal to voice thei r concerns, and they were given the opportunity to complete the assignments they missed. This ac tion increased their feeli ngs of self-efficacy and reinforced their belief that they could su ccessfully navigate the educational system. Academic identity impacts th e choices that many African American students make in school (Howard, 2003). Many gifted African Ameri can students intenti onally underachieved in school because displaying supe rior competence required abandoning their own cultural and ethnic knowledge and identity. Many marginaliz ed students disengaged from school when they perceived that their cultural know ledge and identity was viewed as unimportant (Ford & Harris, 1999; Grantham & Ford, 1998, 2003). Although not all African Americans place the same


31 importance on racial identity (Cross, Strau ss & Fhaghan-Smith, 1999), gender may strongly influence students perception and behaviors in and out of school even when students share the same racial and class identity (Hubbard, 2005, p. 606). Saunders et al. (2004) reported that a strong African American identity increases school pe rsistence and performance for girls (p. 83). African American Students Beliefs Cultural ecological theory suggests that Afri can American students performances are chiefly influenced by the students perception of themselves within the context of the school (Booker, 2004, p. 132). Likewise, Chavous, et al (2003) suggested that African American youths beliefs about race and self relate to their educational and social development, their attitudes and through their self evaluation regarding educatio n. For example, in a study examining the linkages between two African American girls socioc ultural orientations and their self-perceptions of their abil ity to succeed in mathematics, Moody (2004) found that an individuals social realities influenced their self-perceptions of their ability to succeed. For one participant, belonging to a social circle that viewed the school curriculum and academic success as being a White domain, forced her to adapt he r behavior to achieve academic success. In contrast, the other participant did not believe that she had to assimilate into the White culture or schools culture to achieve academic success, becau se her cultural experiences mirrored that of the schools culture. Students perspectives may represent the mo st important aspect of reality (Richman, Rosenfield & Bowen, 1998). Miller-Cribbs, Cronen, Davis and Johnson, (2002) found that although African American students believed that school completion was important to their futures, they did not expect that school completion would help them get jobs or acquire material goods. Rosenbloom and Way (2004) reported that African American and Hispanic students


32 believed that teachers favored and had high expect ations for Asian American students but not for them. When African American youths were exposed to conditions of underperformance among their group, they assumed that academic perf ormance was a White domain. To avoid acting White they disassociated themselves from any academic behavior that might be perceived as White. Teachers play a major role in developing positiv e relationships with students within their classroom. Howard ((2003) found that many African American students believed that they were placed in lower academic tracks because teacher s thought they were incapable of learning. Many students also reported that teachers did not demonstrate genuine concern for their personal and academic well being, and offered no encouragement or support for their academic pursuits (p. 14). Horvat and Antonio (1999) reported that high-achievi ng African American girls in predominantly White schools felt alienated and were disengaged with teachers, viewed the curriculum as fragmented, and found school somewh at meaningless. African American girls also perceived that race and racism medi ated how school personnel reacted to their actions/behaviors within school (Pugh-Lilly, et al ., 2001). They believed that the consequences meted out to them for inappropriate actions were more severe than those for White girls with similar actions. However, they also reported that they participated in sports to improve the schools perception of them and to increase their sense of connection to others in school. African American Parental Involvement Although there has been an in crease in educational attain ment and performance among different ethnic groups, African Americans re main significantly overre presented among lowachieving students and underrepresented among high achievers (Howard, 2003; Thernstrom & Thernstrom, 2004). The U.S. Department of Education (2000a) a sserted that family


33 involvement is linked to better attendance, highe r test scores, grades rate of homework completion, and a greater likeli hood of college attendance. Parental involvement is strongly associated with the academic performance among African American students (Drew, 1999; Jarrett & Burton, 1999) Research suggests th at it is a key factor in academic performance among African Americ an students (Hill & Craft, 2003; Epstein, 2001; Jarrett & Burton, 1999). As schools gr apple with the complex task of meeting the needs of its diverse student population, the im portance of collaboration betw een parents and schools has become increasing significant (M achen, Wilson, & Notar, 2003). Racial discrimination has undermined the abil ity of African American parents to fully participate in their childrens academic experi ences (Lareau & Horvat, 1999). As a result, many African American parents become critical of the schools agenda and unwilling to support and or respect its goals and objectives. This causes many teachers to approach parental involvement with apathy and distrust. Thus, even when Afri can American parents do try to become involved, some teachers reject their efforts, which furthe r widens the interaction divide between African American parents and the school (Lareau & Horvat, 1999). Researchers suggest that many African Ameri can parents do not attend school functions. This causes many educators to believe that Af rican American parents do not care about their childrens education (Thompson, 2003). However, Field-Smith (2005) found that although many teachers often perceive African American pare nts as uninvolved and disinterested in their childrens education (p. 130), [ they] valued the education of their children and made it a priority in their lives (p.133) According to Yan (1999), parents of successful African American students were more likely to partic ipate in school activitie s (e.g., PTA meetings, school volunteer activities) than were parents of non-successful African American students.


34 Parental involvement can increase school performance (Bowen & Bowen, 1998a; Howard, 2003; Trotman, 2001). Research however suggests that parents typica lly communicate more frequently with the school when their children are perceived to be at risk. Parental involvement is highly important for pushing the public school systems to higher standards (Machen, Wilson & Notar, 2000). In addition, resear ch indicates that engaging parent s who play an active role in the school curriculum can open alternative opportunities for children to succeed in academics (Nistler & Angela, 2000). Research suggested that parents response to the school of their children ultimately influences academic performance (Gutman & McLloyd, 2000). They found that parents of highachieving African American students used various stra tegies to assist their children at home such as tutoring, additional academic work, and cl ose monitoring of thei r childrens homework schedule. Theses parents held high expectations for their childrens academic performance and supported their academic aspiratio ns. Parents of high-achieving African American students also consistently visited the school to check on their childrens progress and to maintain contact with school personnel. They ensured that their child ren were actively involve d in various types of community-based activities such as dance, art, music and religious groups. Social class and parental involvement. Family structure and socioeconomic status greatly affects African American parental involvement (Trotman, 2001; Park & Bauer, 2002). Middleclass and working-class African American parent s often navigate very different educational environments (Diamond & Gomez, 2004, p. 387). Typically working-class African American parents live in more difficult ne ighborhoods and near lower qual ity schools than their middle class African American parents. Middle-class African Ameri can parents also tend to have greater access to human, financial, social and cultural resources than working-class parents. This


35 means that working-class parents are forced to navigate a more difficult terrain with fewer resources. Clearly, social class influences the academic choices that African American parents can make for their children. Typically, working class and poor African American families are more critical of schools than middle-class and affluent African American families (Diamond & Gomez, 2004). Middle-class and working-class African American parents tend to customize their childrens school experiences (Diamond & Go mez, 2004, p.387) differently. Middle-class African American parents, however, are more pr oactive in selecting th eir childrens school and are more involved in the course placement deci sions of their children. Working class African American parents tend to be more confronta tional towards school personnel when they do intervene on their childrens behalf than middle-class Afri can American parents (Diamond, 2000; Lareau & Horvat, 1999). According to Thom pson (2003) this type of interaction may be attributable to their own school experiences. In many cases, they may have had unsuccessful educational outcomes or were not pleased with the education they had received. As a result, they seek quality education for their children. C onversely, middle-class African American parents who had successful histories with school tend to seek positive school environments for their children. Kao and Tienda (1998) found that socioeconomic status greatly influe nced the educational aspirations of girls. They stated that when economic and material resources were controlled, girls reared by single parents tended to have higher aspirations in gr ade 8, but that this aspiration was not maintained throughout high school. A lo ng history of unsuccessful experiences with schools for some African Americans continues to influence the quality of their involvement (Lareau & Horvat, 1999). In addition, parents whose cultural backgrounds are unlike those of


36 the mainstream within the school di strict, are placed at distinct disadvantages thus creating sociocultural borders (Phelan, Davidson, & Yu, 1998). Teachers Expectations/Beliefs Re garding African American Students Behar-Horenstein (1994) proposed that teach ers have a substantial impact on the maturation and development (p. 45) of their stud ents. Because teachers spend long periods of time with their students, their expectations and perceptions of their stude nts have a significant effect on their academic performance (Booke r, 2004; Uhlenberg & Brown, 2002). Warren (2002) and Ladson-Billings (2001) posited that low teacher exp ectation usually resulted in students being exposed to a mediocre curriculum and low teacher effort. Research suggests that students tend to internalize the beliefs that teachers have about their ability and generally perform to the level of expectation of th eir teachers (Landsman, 2004). Teachers low expectations are a form of discrimination that African American and Latino students face on a daily basis (Howard, 2001; Lipman, 1998). Research indicates that many teachers have lower academic expect ations for African American students than for White students (Jussim, Eccles, & Madon, 1996; Reyna 2000; Richman et al., 1998). Jussim, et al. (1996) found that teacher expectations were three times greater for White than for African American studen ts and that the effects were similar for girls and low-income students. Likewi se Reyna (2000) posited that many teachers believe that low income students were incapable of learning and were therefore le ss likely to work hard to improve their students academic performance. Matthews-Armsteads (2 002) found that African American girls also complained that teachers offered them no encouragement or guidance on issues related to college. They noted that ma ny teachers made college seem unrealistic to them and were more focused on just getting them out high school.


37 Casteel (1997) found that African American students were more sensitive to their teachers perception than their White classmates. These s ubtle expectations and beliefs also influenced how African American students were treated in the classroom. Many teachers held negative misconceptions and expectations for African Amer ican students and treated them differently thereby creating negative experien ces for African American stude nts (Graybill, 1997). Teachers who underestimate their students potential tend to set goals that are too low, thus denying the human potential among African Americ an students (Ferguson, 2003). African American students are successful in the classroom when they have teachers who respect and understand their culture (Boykin & Bailey, 2000). Teachers can inadvertently impede their students learning by adhering to th eir values when conflicts related to cultural values occur (Graybill, 1997). Teachers prej udices and stereotypes cause them to form assumptions that influence their actions and inte rfere with teaching eff ectiveness through actions such as setting low expectations and exposing st udents to less challengi ng curricula. Irvine (1999) argued that White teachers continually make negative assumptions regarding African American students intellectual abilities and cl assroom behavior based on negative stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media. These negativ e assumptions have resulted in the placement of many African American students in special educ ation classes, because they demonstrated oppositional behaviors in the classroom or failed to respond to the teachings or instructions (Ladson-Billings, 2001). Race affects class assignment (Bartlett & Br aybody, 2005; Russell, 2005). For example, African Americans and Hispanics ar e overrepresented in both special education and lower tracks. Norman, Ault, Bentz and Meskimen (2002), f ound that although enrollment in Advanced Placement classes has continued to grow nationa lly, minority students remain underrepresented


38 in such programs. Many teachers avoid asking African American students complex questions because they believe that they will not know the answer (Landsman, 2004). This inequity has a deleterious impact on students academic, profes sional, and personal success and leads to the reproduction of societys in equities and injustices. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the African American cult ure tend to overreact when students exhibit behaviors that they dont see exhibited in their cultural contexts (Irvine & Armento, 2001). Interestingly, Casteel (2000) found that African American high school students frequently complained that some teachers, especi ally White teachers, do not relate well to them. Behar-Horenstein (1994) emphasized the need for teac hers to create an environment that fosters an understanding and appreciation for different po ints of view. Ladson-Billings (2001) also stressed the need for culturally relevant classroom inst ruction. In her view culturally relevant teaching methods do not suggest to students that they are incapable of learning. She contends that teachers with culturally relevant practices have the belief that all students can succeed and seek to help students make c onnections between their communit y, national and gl obal identities. The African American Culture Tillman (2002) defines culture as a groups in dividual and collective ways of thinking, believing, and knowing, which includes their shared experiences, consciousness, skills, values, forms of expression, social institutions, and beha viors (p.4). Research suggests that African Americans have a complicated cultural reality that is rooted in both African cosmology and the historical and contemporary e xperiences of being Black in America (Dill & Boykin, 2000, p. 68). Embedded in this culture is a strong se nse of connectedness and responsibility to ones group (Boykin, Jagers, Ellison & Albury, 1997, p. 411).


39 Role of Communalism Sankofa, Hurley, Allen and Boykin (2005) a sserted that communalism is a form of collectivism and is described as a cooperati ve and affiliative orientation (p. 249). Communalism emphasizes social bonds, an awar eness of interconnectedness among people, and a sense of mutual responsibi lity (Hurley, Boykin & Allen, 20 05, p. 516). I am because we are represents a common generative theme in Black philosophy and in understanding African American social and historical experiences (Seiler & Elmesky, 2007, p. 396). This theme has been the central belief of many African groups, and was developed as a response to historical and current racial oppression and marginalization. The conc ept of communalism is a stark contrast to the interaction pa tterns occurring in many classrooms where teacher-l ed instruction, and individual student recogniti on predominates and perpetuates the status quo in which most African American students do not achieve academ ic success. Research suggests that African American students perform better in communal lear ning contexts than they do in those contexts that emphasize competition and individualism (Albury, 1993; Dill & Boykin, 2000; Hurley, et al., 2005). Dill and Boykin (2000) found that when African American students were given a text-learning task and placed in a communal lear ning context, they reca lled significantly more text than those students that were assigned peer tutors or placed in individual contexts. A later study by Hurley, et al. (2005) replicated the prev ious finding in the context of a mathematics classroom with similar results. It should, however, not be construed that all African Americans exhibit communalism to the same degree, as variations do exist within the African American culture and subculture (Sewell, 1999). The premise of communalism shoul d however provide an indication of the value placed on group participation and interaction am ong African Americans. Typically African American homes and communities school their children to value interpersonal relationships,


40 group identity formation, and shared responsibil ity. Therefore, incorporating these familiar themes into their learning contexts creates positive learning outcomes (Hurley, et al., 2005). Role of Gender African American feminist scholars assert ed that African American girls/women experiences are shaped by a we b of interactions among social forces (e.g., race, class, and gender), and personal quality (i.e., agency) (Pugh-Lilly, et al., 2000, p.146). African American women, like other women, continue to maintain secondary roles in society, however the interface of race and cla ss produces distinct and different ro les (Hill, 2002, p. 495) for them. Within many African American homes, women assume primary roles related to providing economic and social stability for the family. Re search suggests that African American girls learn gender roles that often emphasize a combin ation of traditional gender-typed values, along with teaching the importance of economic self-reliance, community activism, and assertiveness. In her (2002) study, Hill indicate d that African American girls who grew up in homes where parents had some college education were schooled to value gender equality and independence. She posited that in these homes, parents stressed the importance of education, and the values of having viable careers that would make them su ccessful in the job market and less dependent on their male spouses. However, she also found th at less emphasis was placed on teaching gender equality in homes that had less educated pa rents. Although traditional gender roles were emphasized within these homes, pa rents still had an underlying be lief in gender equality in the workplace. Family structure influences ge nder-role socialization. Resear ch suggests that children in single-parent family homes are socialized acco rding to less traditional gender roles (Leve & Fagot, 1997). Traditionally, a la rger percentage of African American children come from single-parent family households. As a consequence, egalitarian gender roles tend to me more


41 prominent. Because African American women tend to be the major breadwinners they are typically taught to define themselves as bei ng independent, self-relian t, and aggressive in achieving their goals (Slavkin & Straight, 2000). Role of Parents African American parents play an instrume ntal role in teaching their children to successfully navigate lifes social realities. This includes instilling positive self-concepts, emphasizing the importance of having a positive r acial identity, and deve loping the ability to effectively adapt and live in the dominant society (Thomas, 2000, p. 319). Racism, negative media images, and stereotypes make the task of parenting more difficult for African American parents (Thomas & Speight, 1999). Because parents serve as the primary socializing agents for children (p. 153), they must implicitly and explicitly prepare their children to cope with racism. This involves raising their childr en to be physically and emotiona lly healthy to cope with the numerous inequities that exist. African American girls are c onstantly confronted with negative messages about who they are (Diller, 1999). Parents must therefore develop the global self-e steem that they need to avert the numerous racist and sexist ideas that dem ean African American fe males. Because African American mothers are often the only parent, they must serve as catalysts of change as they prepare their daughters to face so cietys racial, social, and econo mic challenges. This involves being supportive and protective, being positive role models in setting and achieving their personal goals, providing positive images of womanhood, and teaching their daughters to circumvent the numerous barriers and inequities that exis t (Turnage, 2004). The disproportionate absence of African American fathers fro m many homes does not negate the roles that they must also play in preparing their daughters to be successful and productive members of society. Li ke African American mothers, fa thers must draw from varied


42 resources to provide protection for and teach valuab le survival skills to their daughters (DavisMaye, 2004, p. 56). While tangible financial suppor t is necessary, African American fathers ability to provide for the holistic needs of th eir daughters, by providing emotional and moral support, is extremely important. A study conduc ted by Davis-Maye (2004) found that African American girls benefit from healthy supportive relationships with their fathers when these fathers are able to direct and model relationship development and decision-making skills, (p. 64), and that this contributed to an increased hope in their ability to achieve academic and economic success. African American parents, as agents of change, must therefore transmit the values, belief and ideas that socialize their daught ers to accept adult role s and responsibilities in society. Summary The underperformance of African American children and adolescents has been a longstanding concern for educators, policym akers and researchers (Howard, 2001, Morris, 2005). The disparity in the academic performa nce between African Amer icans and their White peers leaves many unanswered questions. Althou gh issues of gender bias also figure in inequitable school (p. 51), there is a dearth of information on the sc hool experiences of high achieving African American high school girls (Smith, 2000). Teachers academic expectations have a prof ound influence on student performance. Their cultural backgrounds also influence their perceptions of what is appropriate social behavior. Teachers who believe stories of academic success (and failure) and focus solely on ones personal attributes tend to hold lo wer expectations for those students whom they perceive have limited ability. These subtle expectations have hindered the academic progress of many African American students (Gayle & Densmore, 2002; Graybill, 1997; Neal, McCray, Webb-Johnson & Bridgest, 2003).


43 Parents behaviors and expecta tions influence students self-p erceptions and performance. Yet misconceptions exist regarding African Ameri can parental academic e xpectations for their children. Despite beliefs that African American parents hold lower academic aspirations and expectations for their children, research has s hown that parents educational aspirations and levels of investment in educa tion are relatively consistent acro ss racial groups and social class (Henig, Hula, Orr & Pedescleaux, 19 99; Halle, Costes, & Mahoney, 1997). The uniqueness of the African American cultur e cannot be overlooked. Research suggests that communalism, gender, and parents play integr al roles in assisting Af rican girls to excel. Communalism, as it relates to the African American culture, demonstrates the importance of providing opportunities for in terpersonal connections within the classroom. Family structure has in many ways formulated African Americans per ception of gender roles. In many cases, these perceptions contradict those of the dominant culture where more traditional views of gender roles are practiced. The important role that Afri can American parents play is socializing their daughters to overcome negative racial and social stereotypes makes parenting more difficult. There is a need for research that can increase our theoretical understa nding of marginalized students high-performing and low-performing sc hool experiences. This study focused solely on the school experiences of high-performing student s because they too, are a vulnerable population (Conchas & Clark, 2002; Ferguson, 2003; Howard, 2003) Qualitative research facilitated an indepth examination of school processes and how they continue the deliberate and subtle cycle of inequality. Identifying the fact ors that influence high perfor mance among African American high school girls will be helpful in broadening the perspectives of school personnel by adding voices of students to the body of knowledge and also to addre ss gaps in knowledge about the school experiences of high-performing female Af rican American high school students (Creswell,


44 2005). The information provided through such resear ch is likely to assi st school personnel to better meet the academic needs of this popul ation (Gibson, 2005; Grantham & Ford, 2003; Zirkel, 2005).


45 CHAPTER 3 METHODS The purpose of this chapter is to describe the methodology, re search setting, participants, instrumentation, and to outline the procedures utili zed for data collection and data analysis. The chapter concludes with a discus sion of the researchers biases and how trustworthiness was established in this study. Methodology To better understand high school experien ces of a group of high achieving African American high school girls in 11and 12 grade, th e researcher used the method of multiple cases studies. In case study research, the investigator chooses what will be studied (Stake, 1995, 2000; Creswell, 1998) such as a single phenomenon. By concentrating on a single phenomenon or entity (the case), the researcher aims to uncover the interaction of significant factors characteristic of the phenomenon (Merriam, 1998, p. 29). Multiple case study involves collecting and analyzing data fr om several cases. The multiple case study method allowed the researcher to collect comprehensive, systema tic and in-depth inform ation (Patton, 2000, p. 447) about the shared high school experiences of eight high-achiev ing African American girls in 11and 12 grade. These students had grade point averages (GPA) of 3.5 and higher on a 4.0 scale at a specific site within a north central Florid a school district, and we re enrolled in Academy, Advanced Placement or honors programs. The Academy program is college preparatory curriculum. Students enrolled in this program have the opport unity to achieve an Academy diploma that guarantees them advanced placement in universities internationally. Conversely, Advanced Placement is a national curriculum that prepares students to take the College Board sponsored Advanced Placement exam. Students who receive scores of 3 to 5 are exempted from introductory college coursework at most colleges and universities in the United States. Honors


46 classes were developed by the local school distri ct to meet the needs of talented students; however, they do not provide students with any college coursework exemptions. Gaining Access After receiving permission to c onduct this study from University of Floridas Institutional Review Board (UFIRB), the researcher contacted the Director of Resear ch and Evaluation at a local school district in Florida and was instructed to complete the application for permission to conduct the study. The director then contacted four high school prin cipals within the district. Two principals contacted granted their approval. The researcher chose to conduct the study at the high school with the largest percentage of African American students. The principal of the high school called the researcher an d expressed his willingness to as sist in the study. He notified her that a high school staff member had been assi gned to facilitate the res earchers access to the students and other necessary documentation. The re searcher met with the contact staff member two weeks prior to the actual da ta collection and discussed how to best facilitate the individual and focus group interviews. During this mee ting the staff member provided the names of African American girls who had cumulative GPAs of 3.5 and higher. The researcher met with prospective participants to disc uss the study and invited them to participate. Each prospective participant received parental letters of consent, participants informed consents and child assent forms during this meeting. The researcher al so responded to questions related to the study during this meeting. For example, they asked (a) Who would read the study? (b) Would they identified at any time? and (c ) How long would the study last? The Site. The study was conducted at a high school located in a north central region of Florida. Jamdung (pseudonym) High school is one of 15 high sc hool in the Jam Rock school district (Jam Rock is a fictitious name used to preserve confidentiality) and houses two magnet programs.


47 The school student population is comprised of more than 1,900 students. The ethnic make up of the schools population is shown in Table 3-1. Th e ethnicity of the st udents in the Academy Program is reported in Table 32. In addition, the school employs 124 teachers and six guidance counselors. Historically, the majority of students attendi ng Jamdung High are of African American descent, making it an id eal location for this study. The decision to use this location was based in part on the demographics of the sc hool and because of the amicable relationships that the researcher had developed with many of the school administrators and staff members. Participants Initially, the researcher sought to recruit 14 African American girls in grades 11 and 12 with cumulative GPAs of 3.5 and higher. However, there were only 11 (< .005%) African American girls out of 1900 students who fulf illed these criteria. Because the prospective participants were under 18-years-ol d, a letter seeking parental c onsent was sent to each girls parents. This letter described the aims of st udy. Also the contents of the letter provided each parent with an email address and phone number th at they could use to contact the researcher. Each participant also received an assent letter. One parent contacted the re searcher to clarify the format of the study and later gave her daughter pe rmission to participate. Eight of the 11 girls received parental permission to participate. The researcher met with each participant and scheduled a convenient time to conduct each inte rview. Lofland and Lofland (1995) and Ortiz (2003) state that the confidential ity of the participant must be maintained throughout the project. The participants were therefor e invited to choose their own pseudonyms. Each participant chose the names of their favorite female entertainer as their pseudonym. To ensure confidentiality, pseudonyms are used to describe the participants in the results sections of the study. Table 3-3 illustrates the descriptive statistics of the participants using thei r pseudonyms. This tables shows the participants grade levels, cumulative grade point averages and program of study


48 Participants Profile Aaliyah is one of three children who currently re sides with both parents. Both her parents have high school diplomas. Her parents have an approximate combined income of $30,000. She lists her hobbies as singing and dancing, and partic ipates in both the schools cheerleading squad and student government. Aaliyah also has a part-time job. Beyonce is one three children who currently live s with both her parents. Both her parents have college degrees. Her parents have an a pproximate combined income of $70,000. She lists her hobbies as music and dancing, and participates in numerous extracurricu lar activities such as student government, Key Club, and the Spanish Club. In addition, she also volunteers weekly at a local retirement home. Brandy is one of six children w ho lives with her mother. Her father does not participate in her life. Her mothers approximate income is $25,000. Both her parents have high school diplomas. She lists her hobbies as working a nd playing on the computer hanging out with her friends and talking on the phone. She does not participate in any ex tracurricular activity. Cassie is one of three children who currently lives with both parents. Both her parents have high school diplomas. Her parents have an approximate combined income of $ 40,000. She lists her hobbies as basketball and music. She does not participate in any extracurricular activities, and has a part-time job. Ciera is one of two children who lives with her mother. Her mother has a high school diploma and earns an approximate income of $18,000. She lists her hobbies as reading and listening to music. She does not partic ipate in any extracurricular activity. Erika is one of three children who currently li ves with both her parent s. Both her parents have high school diplomas. Her parents have an approximate combined income of $40,000. She


49 lists her hobbies as watching TV, talking on th e phone and hanging out with her friends. She does not participate in any extra-curricul ar activities, and has a part-time job. Trina is one of four children who currently lives with her mother. Both her parents have some college education. Her parents have an approximate income of $50,000. She lists her hobbies as reading, writing and poetry. She is cu rrently a member of Precious Pearls, a junior sorority. Veronica is one of four childre n who currently lives with her parents and two cousins. Her father has a high school diploma and her mother did not graduate from high school, but is gainfully employed. Her parents have an appr oximate combined income of $30,000. She lists her hobbies as shopping, cooking and traveling and participates in the schools Pre-Collegiate club. All the participants of this study were able to ignore the many negative stereotypes and perceptions that seem to cause many of their pe ers to not excel, namely : early parenting, drugs, and inequities within the school and general society. They all had the positive self-esteem and self-determinations that helped them to maintain high cumulative GPAs. Instrumentation The methods of data collection for this study were individual semi-s tructured interviews, focus group interviews (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998) a nd researcher-specified journal entries. Participants were informed about the purpose of the study, nature of inte rview and the length of the interview. The main objective of the interv iews was to encourage open discussions with the participants, while simultaneously giving them th e opportunity to explore their perceptions and experiences. Following Glesnes (1999) suggestion, peer review ers were used to assess the first draft of the developed interview protocol. A fellow docto ral student and a recent doctoral graduate acted


50 as peer reviewers and assessed the questions for grammar, clarity, and relevance. The interview protocols were then field tested with a group of four high-achiev ing African American girls from a site not chosen for the study. The researcher met with each student and went over each question with them. Students were asked to te ll what they thought the question was asking them and if they thought the question was worded cl early. The researcher also solicited their suggestions on ways in which the questions co uld be made more understandable. The students suggested the use of less comple x vocabulary and pointed out quest ions that they thought were redundant. Revisions were made based on the s uggestions that were made by both the peer reviewers and the students in the field test. Individual student interviews were used to acquire African American high school girls perceptions of their high school experience, a description of th e factors that influence their engagement or disengagement in school, and a discussion of the valu e students placed on parental influence and involvement. Many of th e interview questions were derived from the research related to the topic. Appendix A lists the questions that were used for the individual student interviews. The protocol used in this study was primarily co mprised of open-ended questions. Semi-structured intervie ws allowed the participants to provide in-depth responses and permitted the researcher to respond to the s ituation at hand, (Merriam, 1998, p. 74) and to further probe emerging issues. Indi vidual interviews lasted from 3565 minutes. The first focus group was used to explore issues and themes that emerged during the indi vidual interviews. This first group meeting lasted approximately 1 hours. Appendix B lists the questions used during the first focus group. This protocol was also comp rised of open-ended questions. The final focus group was used to get feedback on the researchers reconstructions and interpretations of what was documented during the first focus group. The researcher also disc ussed her observations


51 and perceptions of the first focus group meeting with the participants. This interview lasted one hour. Refreshments were served during the s econd focus group meeting to demonstrate the researchers appreciation for the participants time and effort. A tota l of eight individual interviews, eight follow-up interviews a nd two focus meetings were conducted. To fully capture the thoughts a nd feeling of the participants, each participant was provided with a nicely decorated journal to document their viewpoints on va rious issues related to their school experiences. Participan ts documented their thoughts fr om mid-November 2006 to midJanuary 2007. Data Collection Methods Data was collected from two sets of indivi dual interviews, focus group meetings, students journals, and researcher fi eldnotes. Triangulation of the data c ontributed to the credibility of the results (Patton, 2002). Fieldnote comments and rese archer reflections were recorded following each interview to ensure that the richness of the interviews were preserved in all cases, and to ensure that the researchers experiences were recorded. Journal entries followed both the individual a nd follow-up interviews. This provided the researcher an opportunity to furt her probe issues that surfaced during each of the interviews, and provided the participants the opportunity to elaborate on those i ssues that they were not able to fully explain during the one-on-one interviews. The initial and follow-up focus group meetings were consecutive to ensure that the issues that surfaced in the first focus group could be addressed within a timely manner an d to also facilitate the participants busy schedules. The final journal entry allowed the particip ants to respond to the research er-prescribed t opic and document their views on any topic that impacted thei r academic performance. (Figure 3-1).


52 Interviews Bogdan and Biklen (1998) suggested that in terviews may be used in two ways in qualitative research, as a dominant strategy for da ta collection, or in conjunction with other techniques In this study, interviews were used in conjunction with the focus group meetings and journal entries. Interviews facilitated the gathering of descriptive data in the participants own words so that the researcher could develop insigh ts on how participants in terpret some piece of their world (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998, p. 94). They c ontended that good interviews are those in which the participants are at ease and talk freely about their po ints of view (p. 95). Glesne (1999) emphasizes the need to ensure privacy during interviews. Following these suggestions, each interview was conducted in one of the scho ols conference rooms. The room was well lit and the walls were decorated with various a ffirmation statements and framed pictures. A beautiful round conference table an d very comfortable chairs were set in this room that was situated away from most of the other rooms in the building. The location of the room offered the necessary privacy. Prior to conducting each interv iew, the researcher reflected on the issue of personal biases to eliminate any pre-conceptions that existed about the participants (Bogdevic, 1999). The researcher therefore ch ronicled her thoughts regarding the topic being discussed and any apprehensions that she had regarding the inte rview or the individual s being interviewed. For example in one journal entr y the researcher wrote: Today is going to be challenging for me. A lot of the issues that came up in the first interview reminded me of th e challenges faced by Patra (pseudonym for a close family member). I have to be careful to listen in tently to the particip ant and not make any assumptions about what she is sa ying or about to say. This is going to be challenging. .I probably should have chosen a different topic. Glesne (1999) argued that ra pport is tantamount to trust, and trust is the foundation for facilitating full and detailed responses to quest ions (p. 83). Like Glesne (1999), Bogdan and Biklen (1998) recommended th at researchers develop a good ra pport with participants to


53 encourage participants to talk freely about thei r experiences. Therefore the researcher took some time prior to each interview to find out how th e participants day was going, to reduce their nervousness and apprehension. Participants were also reminded that they could reschedule the interview if necessary. Bogdan and Biklen ( 1998) emphasized that researchers need to demonstrate genuine interest and pay close attention to the partic ipants views, while bearing in mind that the participant is the expert of his or her experience s (p. 94). During the interview the researcher sat facing the participants with th e tape-recorder visible on the conference table. This ensured that she could offer each participant her full attention and also permitted observation of the participants non-verbal expr essions. The researcher placed importance on understanding participants views by listening ca refully, paying attention to detail and using member checks (Ortiz, 2003; Taylor & Bogda n, 1998). One-on-one in-depth tape-recorded semi-structured interviews, that lasted 35 to 65 minutes, were conducted with each participant. Field notes consisting of descrip tive and reflective materials were developed at the end of each interview to reflect the research ers thoughts and feelings prior t o, during, and after the interview (Ely, Vinz, Downing, & Anzul,1999; Lofland & Lofland, 1995). In one of these field notes, the researcher described the challenges she faced ma intaining her researcher role during the first focus group meeting. These field notes assisted the researcher in consistently examining her actions and thoughts during the process. At the end of each interview the researcher thanked the participants for their time and effort and scheduled a follow-up interview. A total of eight initial and eight follow-up interviews were conducted. Each interview was audiotaped and transcribed by the researcher within two to five days of the interviews. Interview transcripts and reflective field journal notes were synthesized and typed into word processing computer files throughout data collection. This


54 allowed the researcher to examine areas that need to be revised or revamped for consecutive interviews and kept her deeply immersed into the data. Table 3-4 provides a list of dates and lengths of each of the first interviews. Follow-up interviews were conducted with each pa rticipant to clarify st atements that were ambiguous or that required furthe r explanation. Table 3-5 provides the lists of dates and lengths of the follow-up (second) interviews. During the follow-up interviews, the researcher provided each participant with a copy of th eir interview transcript. Particip ants were asked to read the transcripts of their interviews, highlight interpre tations they disagreed wi th, replace them with more accurate interpretations and return the transcript to the re searcher in a self-addressed stamped envelope. Each of the eight participan ts returned the transc ripts; however, only one made any modification to the transcript inform ation. One participant also complimented the researcher by stating great job, thank you. Focus Group Interviews Patton (2001) suggests that the object of a focus group interview is to get high quality data in a social context where people can consider their own views in the context of the views of others (p. 386). Focus group interviews are us eful for gaining adolescents perspectives on particular issues, because it creates an environment that stimulates a desire to discuss the issues being addressed (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998). The pr otocol for the first focus group meeting was developed from the themes that emerged during the individual interviews. (Appendix B). This meeting was conducted in a larger conference room than the one used for the individual interviews. This room also served as a storag e area for school supplies; however, it provided enough room for all the participants to be seat ed comfortably. Prior to the interview, the researcher read an assent script to remind the pa rticipants of the goals of the study, to reiterate that their participation was entirely voluntar ily and that confidentia lity would always be


55 maintained. (Appendix C) During the focus group in terview, the researcher used a series of semi-structured interview questions to explore the participants shared experiences regarding their high school experiences. In keeping with Ortizs (2003) recommen dation, the researcher began the focus group interview w ith a non-threatening question. The participants were asked Who influences you the most to achieve acad emic excellence? to re duce their level of apprehension. The participants expressed their vi ewpoints about the factors that influenced their decision to pursue academic excellence. During this process, the researcher ensured that each participant received equal opportuni ty to contribute to the discussion. This was challenging because some of the participants were extrem ely dominant. Some participants appeared apprehensive or unwilling to shar e their viewpoints during this m eeting. Following the advice of a peer, the researcher decided to conduct the second focus group meeting at a different location. The final focus group interview was conducted away from the site in the meeting room of a local restaurant to reduce stude nts apprehensions that surfac ed during the first focus group. During the final focus group meeting the partic ipants were provided with copies of the researchers reconstructions a nd interpretations of what was discussed during the first focus group. During this session, the researcher encouraged the participants to provide their feedback regarding the accuracy of these reconstructions and interpretations and to make any necessary corrections to them. Two of the eight stude nts made some corrections. For example one participant commented on the researchers misinterpr etation of an incident that occurred between her and a teacher, and the second participant commented on the rese archers misinterpretation of an incident between her and a family member. During discussions relate d to the researchers observations and perceptions of the first focus gr oup interview, three of the eight participants stated that it was difficult for them to express their views in a group set ting, while others said


56 that they were cautious about pr oviding negative views of their peer s or teachers. The researcher again reminded the participants that their anonym ity would be maintained throughout the study. Journal Entries Bogdan and Biklen (1998) suggest that journals/diari es can be particularly effective in capturing peoples moods and intimate thoughts (p. 135). Participants were asked to write journal entries related to issues that emerge d during the interviews. Each participant was required to submit at least three journal entries on topics that were specified by the researcher. In the first journal entry, the researcher asked the part icipants to record school related events within a two week period that assisted them to achieve academic excellence. For the second journal activity the participants documented their goals fo r the future and how they planned to achieve these goals. For the final journal activity, the participants were asked to write about individuals in their lives (peers, teachers, parents, family, and community members) and their actions that influenced their decision to maintain high GPAs. Participants were also invited to document any event or viewpoint on any topic that affected thei r school experiences. Inte restingly, five of the eight participants wrote that the pressure that was placed on them by family members and their community to do well in school provided the impe tus for their academic excellence. The journal activities occurred over a six week period. Only seven of the eight participants chose to participate in the journal activity. (Table 3-6). At the end of this six-week period the entries of the participants were transcribed by the re searcher using a word processing program. Data Analysis Hatch (2002) maintained that dat a analysis is a systematic sear ch for meaning. It is a way to process qualitative data so that what has been learned may be communicated to others (p. 148). All data was analyzed using Hatchs (2002) inductive analys is method. Inductive analysis is a search for patterns of meaning in data that guides the researcher to make general


57 statements regarding the phenomenon being studie d. After carefully transcribing interviews and journals, and compiling field notes, the data was read and reread to identify frames of analysis (Hatch, 2002, p. 163). This provided rough para meters (p. 164) on how to begin examining the data. A total of 30 frames of analysis were identified during this pr ocess. Many of these frames of analysis were based on the questions used in the interview protocol, for example, most liked school experiences, and mo tivation for class participation. The use of a three-columned table as a word document aided in the management of the data during this process. (Appendi x D). Domains that reflected re lationships represented in the data were then created. Hatch (2002) notes that discovering do mains gives researchers a way of getting at how participants organize their thoughts (p. 165). A three column table also facilitated this stage of the analysis. One co lumn listed the included terms, identifying the members of a category/domain, the second column listed the semantic relationships, and the final column listed the domain/category. (Appendix E). The researcher then identified the domains that were germane to the study (salient domains) and used Roman Numerals to code them (Miles & Huberman, 1994, Patton, 2001). Following this the data was reread and potential quotes were copied a nd pasted into a threecolumn table. The table illustrated the salient do mains, excerpts and data location. In listing the location the researcher noted the page number, line number and source of the data. (Appendix F). The next step involved deciding if the domains were supported by th e data. During this step, the researcher sought to determine (a) if there was enough data to support the dom ain, (b) if the data were rich enough to defend the decision to includ ed the domain, and (c) if there were any data that did not fit or run counter to the relationships expresse d in the domains (Hatch, 2002, p 172). The researcher then examined the salient domains to identify if there were any special


58 relationships (Hatch, 2002, p. 172) between or among the domains. This process was undertaken to grasp a better understanding of what was being expressed within each domain and to determine if any further analysis within the domains was necessary. Following this, the researcher looked for themes that existed among the domains. A master outline was created at this stage to list the themes, domains/categories a nd examples of excerpts that could be used to support each theme. These themes were us ed to discuss the researchers findings. Researchers Subjectivity Qualitative researchers are always concerned w ith how subjectivity affects data analysis and the writings they produce (Bogdan & Bikle n, 1998). Using qualitative methodologies, the researcher spends a considerable amount of time collecting and reviewing da ta. This data must bear the weight of any interpreta tion, so the researcher must cons tantly confront his or her own opinions and prejudices (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998, p.33). Glesne (1999) emphasizes the need for researchers to monitor his or her subjectivity a nd to increase their awareness of the ways in it might distort, but also increase its virtuous capac ity (p.109). She conten ds that this process allows the researcher to learn more about his/her own values attitudes, beliefs, interests and needs. Interpretivism requires the researcher to dialogue with the partic ipants and the data. The topic that I studied affect ed me both personally and prof essionally. My decision to research this topic was based on the experiences that I have had at various junctures of my life. The viewpoints expressed by the pa rticipants were in many ways synonymous to some of my experiences, but more so to the experiences of the girls I taught both in my island home and in the United States. Therefore, I had to conti nuously analyze my thoughts to remain neutral throughout the study. The following provides a s ynopsis of some of the personal issues and challenges that I had to consiste ntly address during both the data collection and data analysis phases of this study.


59 Early in my life, I learned that gender inequ ities existed within our society. On a personal level, I had to constantly battle with both my brothers as a child to participate in their boy activities. They constantly re minded me that I was a girl, and I constantly fought to prove to them that girls could be as strong, quick and as smart as any boy. I took this determination with me through high school and enrolled in those courses that were c onsidered male dominated. I excelled in these courses and like many of the par ticipants I learned that I could achieve any goal that I set myself; if I wa s willing to expend the effort that was necessary. Several participants discussed the low expectat ions that many of their high school teachers held for them. As a young newly graduated teac her, in a country of limited resources, I was given the insurmountable task of encouraging 90 at-risk students to be come engaged in the classroom. This daunting task taught me many lessons namely: (a) the value of high teacher expectation, (b) how important it was for teachers to identify the strengths each student took to the learning environment, (c) the resilience th at many at-risk students possessed and (d) how important it was for students to identify the relevance of each assigned task. Like the participants in the study, these girls had numerous talents and st rengths however, their zest for excellence had been snuffed out at an early age. They all had dreams, but doubted their ability to achieve these dreams. These young women were excellent dancers. On numerous occasions during lunch break, I would watch them display their dance skills. They seemed alive and in-touch with their world during these idyllic periods. After much thought I decided to form a dance group and invited each of these young women to participate, on two conditions (a) they each had to achieve and maintain at least above average grades in all th eir classes, and (b) they could have no discipline referrals. What evolved was beyond br eathtaking. Each girl approached this task with a sense of


60 purpose and determination. Their primary goal wa s to achieve the coveted gold medal in the islands annual arts competition. These girls worked hard each day to achieve this goal. Ultimately, their grades went up and their discipline referrals became non-existent. This group achieved not only the coveted gold medal they cr aved, but also became the National Rural Dance Champions for the island. Their triumph becam e my salient motivation to ensure that all students, but particularly girls were consistently held to hi gh expectations, and provided with the opportunities they needed to re alize their fullest potential When I immigrated to the United States, I wa s given the unique opportunity to again work with at-risk girls. During the six years that I was the Academic Program Coordinator at a genderspecific program for at-risk girls, I observed that although each girl struggled with similar challenges, those of my African American girls were exacerbat ed by the various racial, and social inequities that they had to face. They had been accused of being loud, possessing bad attitudes and many had been told that their futu re lay behind the grilled doors of some penal institution. These girls had also had their hopes and dreams cremated by teachers and other individuals who held negative imag es of who they were or could become. I constantly wondered about their prior school experiences and how ot her social contexts within their lives had promulgated these feelings of despondency. Although, these feelings of hopelessness were evident in their speech and actions, there was also an unde rlying resilience that each girl possessed. Like several participan ts in the study, they had surviv ed numerous harsh realities, but still each one had a unique zest to persevere against the overwhelming odds that were stacked against them. Concomitantly, these girls also strove to dismantle the vicious cycle of underperformance that existed within their families and communities. However, this was


61 challenging for many of them because they lacked the support that they needed to achieve this goal. After leaving this agency, I ta ught for one year at a local hi gh school. Here I observed that African American girls faced similar difficulties. These students have viewpoints regarding their high school experiences, but to my knowledge have never been given an opportunity to voice these concerns. As an African American fema le, I feel compelled to give high-performing African American high school girls a voice and to de scribe the ways in which a safe environment might be developed for them. The experiences of my daughter further incited my desire to research this topic. As a participant in a white-dominated magnet program, she constantly faced the racial and social pressures of being a high achieving African Amer ican girl. My daughter struggled with being rejected and ridiculed by her Afri can American peers who were in regular educational programs. These girls ostracized her for bei ng part of what they considered to be a White program. In addition, she frequently questioned the attitude s and actions of teache rs and other school personnel who she viewed as being patronizing or condescending. In classes, she always felt the need to prove that her academic abilities exceeded that of her non-African American peers. On numerous occasions, she felt that some of her teachers overlooked and ignored her during class activities and discussions. My daughters experiences caused me to questi on the validity of the schools curriculum and its ability to simultaneously meet the social and academic needs of highachieving African American girls. The participants experiences were vivid remind ers of the challenges that she faced. She too had been held to low expectations by some of her teachers; however, she had defied their odds and upon graduation attended a reputable college, later gradua ted, and is currently enrolled


62 in a masters level program. As I read the res ponses of the study particip ants, I was reminded of how grotesque the school experien ces of many high-achieving African American girls can be if they are placed within a school environment that devalues thei r individual talents and their identity. As an educator, I have worked individually with many African American girls to find particular methods that would in crease their chances of achieving success. Although numerous theories have been posited regarding why African American students, and in particular African American girls academic performance lags behi nd other groups, I wonder why educators do not give high achieving African American girls a sa fe environment to voice their views regarding their high school experiences. This is clearl y my bias. Providing an opportunity for these students to have a voice could shed new light on their experiences, and assist educators in creating an infrastructure that might incr ease their chances for academic performance. As a doctoral student, I received formal trai ning in using qualitative research methods and participant observation. As a peer evalua tor I have been invol ved in assessing the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) funded programs. I also conducted studies in the qualitative research and evalua tion classes that I have taken during my graduate program of study. These experiences have given me an unde rstanding of what c onstitutes the use of effective qualitative research methods. I have also conducted field-base d evaluation of teachers during classroom instruction. As an educator, I have develope d an understanding of the factors that affect students academic performance. As an experienced educator and peer evaluator for alternative educational programs funded by the D JJ, I feel qualified to conduct this study. My experiences and the results of the study solidified my belief that more research must be conducted on the school experiences of African American girls. Although this study focuses on


63 the experiences of high-achieving African American high school girls, it does demonstrate that more research needs to done about the school ex periences of African Am erican girls across all levels of the educational system. The results of this study provide a truncated view about some of the issues that need to be addressed and ope n the door for a more global examination of this very important issue. I am aware of my subjectiv ity in relationship to th e topic of this study and realize that this can affect the interpretation of th e data collected. My role of as a researcher was to provide the participants a voice to speak openly about their high school experiences and to ensure that I was not unduly influenced by precon ceived theories, in my interpretation of the data. Trustworthiness Trustworthiness is an important component of the qualitative research process. Here the researcher seeks to ensure that the data collected represents the participants' voices and experiences as closely as possible (Ely, et al ., 1999). Lincoln and G ubas (2000) model for trustworthiness will be utilized to ensure the validity of the study. They propose four criteria for promoting trustworthiness: (a) credibility, (b) confirmability, (c) dependability and (d) transferability. Trustworthiness will be promoted by ensuring that all four criteria have been met throughout the study. Credibility was established thr ough the use of at least two member checks per individual to ensure that the participants voices were not distorted by my personal biases, and that reconstructed meanings represented those of the participants and not my own. I also used a field journal to document my be haviors and feelings (Lin coln & Guba, 2000). To assess confirmability, I remained immersed in the study to as certain whether the findings were grounded in the data. A peer debriefer, a fellow docto ral student in the College of Education with two years of experience in qualit ative methods and research was also used to


64 assess for confirmability. The use of a peer debriefer allowed me to share the results with another doctoral student and to have my data analyzed from a nother perspective (Ely et al., 1999). Lincoln and Guba (2000) suggested the use of inquiry audit ( p. 317) to enhance the dependability of the study. In inquiry audit, reviewers ex amine both the process and the product of the research for consistency. The peer debriefer examined consistency as it related to data collection and data analysis Triangulation of data gather ed during individual interview, focus groups, and the participants journal entries was used to e nhance dependability. A peer was not available to assess my focus group meetings or serve as another set of eyes and ears. In qualitative research the transferability of findings depends on the degree of similarity between the original situ ation and the situation to which it is transferred (Lincoln & Guba, 2000). Patton (2001) asserted that extrap olation (p. 584) is an appropr iate term for this process. Extrapolations are modest specula tions on the likely applicability of findings to other situations under similar, but not identical conditions (P atton, 2002, p. 584). A socioeconomically diverse selection of African Am erican high school girls in 11and 12 grade with GPAs of 3.5 and above was chosen for the study. The transferability of this study is assumed to be limited to the context where the study was performed I utilized continuous peer debriefings and me mber checks to ensure that the constructed meanings were that of the pa rticipants and not my own. Thr oughout the study, I used a personal journal to document my thoughts re lated to the interviews and ela boration of those areas where I had difficulty maintaining an exterior of neutral ity (Ely et al., 1999, p. 61).


65 Table 3-1. Ethnicity of student population Ethnicity This School Black 57% White 30% Asian/Pacific Islander 8% Hispanic 3% Multiracial 2% American Indian/Alaskan Native <1% Source: Jamdung High (pseudonym) d atabase 2006-2007 Table 3-2. Ethnicity of student s in schools Academy Program Source: Jamdung High (pseudonym) database 2006-2007 Table 3-3. Descriptive statistics of the participants* (n=8). Participants* Grade Level Cumulative GPA Program of Study Beyonce 12 4.0 Academy/AP/Honors Erika 11 3.58 Honors/Regular Ed Aaliyah 11 3.84 AP/Honors/Regular Ed Cassie 11 3.54 AP/Honors/Regular Ed Ciera 11 3.97 AP/Honors/Regular Ed Brandy 11 4.0 AP/Honors/Regular Ed Trina 11 3.81 AP/Honors/Regular Ed Veronica 11 3.72 AP/Honors/Regular Ed = denotes that all participants were gi ven pseudonyms to pr otect their identity Ethnicity This School White 90% Asian/Pacific Islander 8% Black 1% Hispanic 1%


66 Table 3-4. Dates and lengths of first interviews DATES PARTICIPANTS* LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS November 27, 2006 Erika 45 minutes November 27, 2006 Veronica 55 minutes November 30, 2006 Brandy 60 minutes December 1, 2006 Beyonce 60 minutes December 4, 2006 Ciera 45 minutes December 5, 2006 Aaliyah 50 minutes December 5, 2006 Trina 65minutes December 6, 2006 Cassie 35 minutes = denotes that all participants were gi ven pseudonyms to pr otect their identity Table 3-5. Dates and lengths of second interviews DATES PARTICIPANTS* LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS January 4, 2007 Veronica 50 minutes January 4,2007 Aaliyah 50 minutes January 4, 2007 Brandy 45 minutes January 5, 2007 Cassie 40 minutes January 5, 2007 Erika 50 minutes January 5, 2007 Beyonce 45 minutes January 8, 2007 Trina 45 minutes January 8, 2007 Ciera 50 minutes = denotes that all participants were gi ven pseudonyms to pr otect their identity Table 3-6. Frequency of partic ipants* (n=7) journal entries Participants Number of Journal Entries Beyonce 9 Erika 7 Aaliyah 9 Cassie 4 Brandy) 9 Trina 9 Veronica 9 = denotes that all participants were gi ven pseudonyms to pr otect their identity


67 Figure 3-1. Sequence of data collection


68 Figure 3-2. Data analysis process


69 CHAPTER 4 RESULTS The findings obtained from student intervie ws, focus groups, and journal entries are described in this chapter. These findings address the following research questions: 1. How do high school African American girl s view their school experience? 2. How do they describe factors that mo tivate/discourage academic success? 3. From the African American girls perspective: a. How do they think teachers influence their academic success? b. How are teachers expectations for academic success for participants and other students similar/different? c. How does identity influence their academic performance? d. How do race and gender influence their school experience? e. How do parents influence their academic performance? Five major themes emerged from an inductive analysis of the data from the individual interview, focus groups, journal entries and the res earchers reflective notes. All the data relate to the participants perceptions of academic success. The themes included: (a) school experiences (b) bridges to academic excellence (c) student en gagement (d) family influence (e) intersections of race, gender, and school experiences. (Figur e 4-1) These themes will be used to report findings of the study. Research Question 1: How Do High School African American Girl s View Their School Experience? Types of School Experiences The participants reported vari ed school experiences. These experiences were described as polar opposites, positive and negative. Positive experiences were occurrences that promoted engagement within the classroom, while negative experiences were depicted as occurrences that caused students to disengage from learning.


70 Positive school experiences Participants reported numerous positive school experiences that contributed to their high school academic success. Those experiences included supportive learning environments, peer associations, award recognition, a rigorous curric ulum, and teachers addressing the needs of students individual. Participants agreed that a supportive learni ng environment enhanced their ability to achieve high grades. In these situations, t eachers ensured that students fully understood the concepts that were taught, provided tutoring opp ortunities when students needed extra help, and demonstrated a caring attitude. The participants stated that supportive learning environments fostered stronger relationships be tween themselves and teachers and increased their beliefs that teachers and other school personnel cared about thei r overall well-being. For example, Erika, an 11 grader, stated: They try to find out if you are okay, know when you dont understand something and take time to help us understand it or show us another way that might help us to better understand the idea. Some teachers and counselors also take the time to talk to me about my plans for college ., and offer advice on wa ys to get into the college I desire. The participants seemed apprec iative that the teachers and other school personnel provided tutoring opportunities when needed. They suggest ed that these extended learning opportunities created a sense of a nurturing environment and help ed to ensure that their individual academic needs were met. Many of the participants view ed tutoring opportunities as extremely important, because they helped them mainta in high grades and achieve future goals. For example Ciera, an 11 grader, noted that: If I need tutoring, they provide [it]. Some teachers will even stay after school to help me .this shows me that they care about my future. Participants commented about the rigor of their Advanced Placement (AP) and Academy (pseudonym) courses. They stated that alt hough their AP and Academy courses were more


71 challenging than regular educati on classes, they recognized that such courses increased their academic skills. Although many stated that they pr eferred to not take challenging courses, they were also cognizant of the skills that they need ed to attend college. Challenging courses were seen as conduits to college acceptance. Beyonce, a 12 grader, offered this viewpoint: .I think I will be fully prepared for the first two years of college. .Some classes challenge you but I want to be su ccessful in college. .Its good that they are preparing us to be OK in college. The participants praised having been recogni zed for their accomplishment at the schools award ceremony. They linked teacher recognition to their ability and desire to remain engaged in the classroom. All of the participants pointed out that these recognition ceremonies reinforced a strong sense of self, and allowed school personne l and other students to view African American girls more positively. Others suggested that these ceremonies were beneficial because it allowed African American girls to realize that bei ng a good athlete was not the only way to get recognized in school. Brandy, an 11 grader, stated: .when teachers tell you that you are doing well in their class, and then nominate you to receive an award, you always try to particip ate in their class. Its good to get recognized. .its not just the at hletes, no one goes untouched. Several participants commented about the e ffectiveness of partic ular classroom group activities. They suggested that group projects and activities offered them opportunities to form new relationships and also increased their ability to learn concepts that were sometimes very challenging. This discussion a bout group related class activities is important for many reasons. First, it highlights the importanc e that they placed on establishing peer relationships in their classes. Second, these findings reiterate the st rengths that are inherent in peer-teaching and cooperative learning activities that used engagement, and in creased learning among African American girls (Booker, 2006; Slavin, & Madden, 2006; Newman, Lohman, Newman, Myers & Smith, 2000,). Veronica offered this comment:


72 I like when everybody is working together in gro up activities. I think we learn more when we work in groups. .somehow its easier to understand a topic when your classmates explain it to you. Negative school experience Conversely, participants reported several school experiences that di d not foster their academic growth and development. These events include ridicule, fights and arguments, gangrelated activities, and the lack of qualified and committed teachers. Several participants described their fear of being ridiculed in class when providing incorrect responses. Although they claimed that this did not di scourage them from excelling, these peer reactions caused some discomfort. Seve ral participants stated that this frequently happened in their Spanish class. This type of experience may signify that some teachers were unable to create an emotionally sa fe learning environment for these African American girls. In an era where the speech pattern s of African Americans are unde r considerable scrutiny from society as well as from educators at all levels, th e girls fears of active pa rticipation in a language learning environment is critically important. Such events can retard their chances of successful performance and nullify their dreams of attending those colleges that require two to three years of foreign language study. Aaliyah offered this perspective: If people like pick on you [when] you do so mething wrong, well that will [discourage my participation] because I dont want to say th e wrong answer. like Spanish class they will like say OOOH (laughs) so I will be like s cared to answer or ask questions. I have to pass Spanish because all the colleges want you to have two credits in Spanish or some other language. Participants explicated that fights and arguments contributed to their negative experiences. In many cases, these fights involved other African Ameri can girls. The participants suggested that many fights were related to the increased gangrelated violence and ac tivities on the schools campus. They offered several accounts of incide nts where African American girls engaged in fights that created unnecessary di sruptions in the classroom. They also expressed concern that


73 the fights perpetuated school personnels negative perceptions of African American girls. Trina explained it this way: I hate that some African American girls keep get ting into fights. I dont feel safe. .. It just makes the teachers and other people in school continue to believe that African American girls are all ghetto a nd give us all a bad reputation. Several participants emphasized that school administrators need to hire dedicated and qualified teachers. They described instances in which teachers provided little or no classroom instruction. Other participants talked about be ing enrolled in classes where teachers were not certified in the subject areas they were teach ing and displayed limited content-based knowledge. In one situation, they reported th at the substitute teacher was ac tually a certified counselor who had replaced their Advanced Placement teacher w ho was leave for the remainder of the school year. Some students complained th at they were told to purchase an AP Preparatory text. Brandy reported that: I know she is only a substitute, [but] they ha ve someone [in] counseling teaching an AP ____ class. Now our AP exams are in May. The foundation of that class is notes so if we dont have a teacher to break it down a nd help us to understand it, how can we pass? Other participants talked about being enrolled in reading classes with certified art or music teachers. They stated that this should not occu r because passing FCAT reading was required for graduation. Many participants believ ed that this was the school ad ministrators lack of interest in their academic future: There are some teachers who teach subjects they know nothing . Mr. ____he teaches reading, and he said he is certified in ____. Many of us need help on FCAT [and] we really need to get people who know what they are doing so that we can get good grades on the FCAT. Several participants also complained about teachers who offered little or no classroom instruction. They stated that, in some cases, this caused frustrat ion and decreased confidence in


74 their abilities. Other particip ants reported that these teacher s lacked the care and dedication needed to assist students to excel. Erika recounted the following experience: Some of the teachers will give you work dont talk about the lesson they just let you read it. Some students unde rstand it that way a nd some dont, so you cant think that everybody learns the same way. Veronica concurred and shared how th is reduced her self confidence: .in most of my classes I am teaching myself what to do. ..They dont make me feelconfident, they make me feel dumb. Research Question 2: How Do They Describe Factors That Motivate/Discourage Academic Success? Bridges to Academic Excellence Participants described numerous events or experiences that prompted their decision to achieve academic success. Their responses were categorized as (a) rationale for pursuing academic excellence and (b) achieving academic excellence. Rationale for pursuing academic excellence All of the participants cited the desire to attend college as the pr imary reason for pursuing academic excellence. In their view, excelling in high school created more opportunities for them to attend college. The participants viewed going to college as the panacea to socioeconomic challenges. Other participants stated that fam ily expectations promoted their desires to work hard and attend college. Aaliyah, for example, shared: I have a lot of pressure on me to excel a nd go to college. everybody in my life, they havent succeeded, so my whole family is c onstantly on me to succeed and go to college. Likewise, Beyonce suggested that mainta ining a high GPA and later attending a prestigious college was mandatory in her famil y. She also explained the opportunities that a college education could guarantee: My mom and dad, but especially my mom, ar e very strict when it comes to school work, so I dont have a choice but to do well. .I n my house, its not about if you are going to


75 college but when, (laughs) plus you can do so many different things when you have a degree. In addition to the pressure that family members placed upon them to succeed academically, several participants stated that they pursued acad emic excellence to achieve their personal goals. In each of these cases, social and economic mobi lity was a key motivator. For Erika, excelling in school would give her an opportunity to pursu e her dream of having a more affluent life. Aaliyah linked academic success to a better life for herself and her mother. Brandy and Trina discussed their fears of rema ining impoverished and perpetua ting the cycle of poverty that existed in their families and communities. They reported that seeing the plight among individuals who depended on govern ment assistance motivated them to always achieve aboveaverage grades. Similarly, Veronica viewed academic excellence as a precursor to doing something positive with her life and excelling in a world that that she thought was filled with social and racial inequity. She offered this viewpoint: In order for me to do something good with my life, I am gonna have to excel and go to college. As an African American female, I know I have to work two, three, four times harder than the average White female to do well, so I am working hard now. In a similar way, Erika offered the following comments: If I dont do well in school, I am holding myself back from college and a good job. Plus many people already think that African American girls just want to ha ve babies and be on welfare, so I have to prove them wrong. Several participants reported receiving extrinsic rewards from their parents and family that also motivated them to continuously excel in school. They viewed these rewards as compensation for hard work and diligence. These rewards were usually accompanied by encouraging words which they seemed to va lue greatly. Aaliyah shared the following experience:


76 Today, my mom said she had a surprise for me.. She had bought me a pretty necklace with a bracelet to match it. She bought it for me because I got a good report card which was all As and Bs. This makes me more driven, because I know I can do this. Participants responses suggested that they were conscious of the social challenges as well as racial and gender inequity that African Amer ican women had to face daily. They all viewed college as a place where they coul d change the trajectory of thei r failures and ensure realizing their goals. Pathways to academic success Participants discussed the numerous strategies th at they used to maintain high academic success such as (a) being assertive (b) making better personal choices, and (c) working hard and remaining determined. Many participants stressed the need for African Am erican girls to be assertive if they are to excel in school. In this instance, assertiven ess was described as the ability to take full responsibility for learning. Part of this responsib ility involved a willingne ss and ability to seek assistance when it was needed. Th e participants suggested that many African American girls did not excel academically because they were afraid or unwilling to ask for help in their classes. Beyonce offered this advice: You cant be afraid to ask for help, because your grades could suffer a lot. ..Some teachers dont realize that they have to teach a certain way so you have to ask questions and seek that extra help if you need it. The participants self-determination and high se lf-esteem were clearly reflected in many of their responses. They acknowledged the challenges that existed, yet all of them believed that they had the ability to overcome these challenges. Se veral participants stated that many African American girls were not achieving in school because they lacked self determination. They cited instances where African American girls were not successful even though they had a lot of support. For example, Veronica stated:


77 I think it revolves around that pe rson. Like you can have the best but its up to you to make that decision to apply yourself or not. I know one girl, her parents push her to the limit, like she could have had a 4.0 GPA, but she chose not to do it and thats your decision. Trina echoed these sentiments: I dont think that because you have a bad home life, you have to fail. you can overcome where you came from. You just have to want it real bad, be determined. Participants emphasized the need for African American girls to make better choices. While recognizing that many of their peers lived in challenging situations, th ey believed that the choices they made had a significan t impact on their ability to do we ll in school. They frequently mentioned that it was important for many African American girls to place their school work above their male friends. Some participants suggested that too many African American girls decided to repeatedly skip school Others reported the bad attitudes demonstrated by other African American girls toward their peers and teachers. They discussed the negative ramifications of these choices and adamantly st ated that school should always be a first priority. Beyonce offered this comment: Many of the African American girls on campus also need different priorities and [to] realize that skipping, ba d attitudes, fighting, and boys are not going to help them in later life. Too many African American gi rls get caught up all this negative drama. In addition, Erika stated: Too many African American girls are getting pregnant and putting their boyfriends before their school work. school s hould be our first priority. Self-determination was also a common theme. All of the participants discussed instances where they were tempted to make less valuable choices such as ski pping and not completing class assignments. However, for them the prize of a college education helped them to refocus and pursue their goals.


78 The participants talked about the hard work and commitment that they devoted to academic excellence. Each participant was enro lled in two or more Advanced Placement, Academy or Honors classes. Interestingly half of the girls also had after school jobs which required them to work 20 to 25 hours per week. This meant that they had to complete challenging work across several subjects and also fulfill their job responsibilities. The participants reported that they achieved this by sacrificing such things as hanging out with friends, and talking on the phone or watching television. For example Brandy and Ciera talked about developing a study sche dule to ensure that they did not have to cram and become overly stressed during their final exams. Other participants ta lked about staying up late to complete homework assignments, and preparing study guides and notes for each of their classes. The participants asserted that sc hool was their first priority and that they dedicated the time and effort needed to ensure academic success. Co llectively, they expressed a desire to do well in each of their classes yet they wanted to create a system that would not place too much pressure on them. For example, Brandy, an 11 grader w ho is currently enrolled in three Advanced Placement courses, an honors course and two regular education courses wrote: There is one week until midterms. I have fi gured out my study schedule and see that my history class needs the most attention. I dont have time for anything else but school. Television, friends and going out is out of the question. Education is very valuable to me and I know that my exam grades will be very pleasing to me when it s time for report cards Another 12 grader, Beyonce who is enrolled in three Advanced Placement, two Academy and one honors class expressed similar sentiments: You just have to work hard everyday and stay focused. I rarely watch TV or talk to my friends. .There is just so much work to do that I really dont have a lot of time during the week. I want to get into a good college its worth th e sacrifice (laughs).


79 Clearly articulated within these responses was their commitment to defy the odds that were stacked against them and to chart new courses fo r themselves. Their resp onses juxtaposed with research depict the social, cultural and ethnic pressure that confronts some high-performing African American students (F ord & Harris, 1999; Ma thews-Armstead, 2002). Such insight allows us to become more familiarized with th e realities that high-performing African American high school girls are lik ely to face. Research Question 3(a): From The African Am erican Girls Perspective, How Do Teachers Influence Their Academic Success? Student engagement. The participants discussed the various teachers attitudes and practices that influenced student engagement. These included car ing teachers, the willingness of teachers to reteach concepts, and teachers ab ility to remain unbiased in the classroom. Teachers attitudes and practices that influence student engagement. Several of the participants stated that caring teachers foster ed their decision to remain engaged in the classroom. They posited that the teachers who cared were passionate about their learning, and offered assistance to them both inside and outside of the clas sroom context. Caring teachers provided optimal learning environments (H oward, 2001, p. 137), held high expectations for them, (Howard, 2001) and encouraged them to st ay focused on their goals. The participants pointed out that they felt obligated to do well in those classes where teachers demonstrated a commitment to their personal growth and develo pment. They recounted several behaviors that were characteristic of teachers care and concern. For example Beyonce stated: Some teachers, especially my hi story teacher, take the time to make sure that I am OK and to talk to me about my plans for college and things like that. He also offers advice on things that I can do to ensure that I get into the college I want to get into. He never allows me to give up, so that motivates me to work hard in his class. Brandy talked about the interest th at all her teachers demonstrated toward her and other students.


80 All of my teachers that I have. or have had, they show interest in promoting not only myself, but other students to [become educat ed], become something, get your diploma, because we basically cant do anything without it. This motivates you to work hard in their classes. Aaliyah talked about teachers willingness of to offer extra assistance when needed. You work hard in classes where teachers, like care about you and if you are falling behind, they will tell you what you need to improve on and give you extra help. Effective teaching involves the ability to ensure that students fully comprehend the concepts being taught (Howard, 2001). This sk ill fosters student engagement and academic success. Many participants commented that it wa s these characteristics that contributed to their academic success. They suggested that these teac hers were always willing to provide examples and/or reteach topics to ensure that they fully understood con cepts being taught. Participants described the nurturing learning environments that these teachers created. In these environments, teachers valued student questions and provided varied oppo rtunities for students to practice their skills. The participants suggest ed that learning was easy, because you were never afraid to ask for help in these classrooms. Veronica offered this viewpoint: If we are going over something new, they will probably give me three or four examples and then they do them in depth so that you can see step by step how to do it they make sure that everybody is understand ing it before they move on. Erica made a similar comment as she described the actions of those teachers who she characterized as caring and concerned: They are open for questions all the time. So if there is something that I dont understand, I can ask and they will clarify it for me. They make you want to learn. Other participants described the attitudes and practices that caused many of them to become disengaged in the classroom. Several participants reported that teachers showed preference by interacting with non-African Ameri can girls, preppy African American girls and African American girls of African and Caribbean descent. One participant defined preppy as


81 African American girls who were uppity, al ways on task, well-spoken, quiet and polite. Veronica offered this perspective: It seems like there are certain African American girls that they might favor and the rest of them they couldnt care less for by their attit ude. some of them treat you differently according to whether you are like preppy acting or whether you act all thuggish. Thuggish girls were characterized as being argume ntative, unwilling to participate in class, and always quick to fight their peers. Trina expressed similar beliefs. She stated th at teachers demonstrated less interest and respect toward those African American girl s who they perceived as being loud and argumentative: It depends If the African American girls are loud and like to argue, then I think they are treated different than those girls who are doi ng their work, [and are] quiet, and polite. I think teachers respect them more, and show more interest for them in the classroom. Some participants also reporte d that they sometimes felt ignored and disrespected in the classroom. They believed that some teachers held stereotypical beliefs about African American girls, and as a result devalued their contributions to class discu ssions. Beyonce cited the case of one teacher who consistently ignored her remark s, but praised similar contributions offered by other non-African American students. She sugge sted that this occurr ed because the teachers doubted the academic abilities of Af rican American girls: Sometimes I will say things, esp ecially in one class, but the teacher ignores what I say and then another girl who might be white says the same thing and they [teachers] will say thats right. I think they believe that African American girls are dumb or something. One other teacher behavior that several participants commented on was not providing enough wait time during class discussions. They stated that they sometimes knew the answers and were thinking of how best to respond to the questions asked. Participants stated that it was important that teachers always pr ovide students with adequate time to formulate their responses before moving on to the next stud ent. Aaliyah commented that:


82 Some teachers will, wait when they ask a question and let us think about it or giveus hints before they go on to the next person. But there are others who will just say no[uses a stern voice] and move on. So that makes you scared to participate. Research Question 3(b): How are teachers ex pectations for academic success for African American and other stude nts similar/different? Perceptions of teacher expectations. Research suggests that te acher expectation greatly impacts student performance and mo tivation (Russell, 2005). Several participants suggested that the academic expectations that several teacher held for them were congruent with societys negative perceptions of African Am erican girls. They suggested that these perceptions seem to have been conceived prior to their entering the cl ass and were deeply entrenched in the numerous interactions that they had with several te achers. These perceptions created estranged relationships between some teachers and some A frican American girls. Aaliyah offered this viewpoint I dont think the teachers have the same expectat ions. I guess its the race thing. .Like for years and years, many African American girl s have not been motivated, and I guess they expect, more out of lik e the white girls than us. Some participants mentioned instances where te achers blatantly expres sed that they held low academic expectation for African American girl s. This behavior discouraged many of their peers from remaining engaged in the classroom. Some of them tell you straight up that they don t have the same expectations. .They will tell us that they know that some of us are not going to graduate that some of us are going to be in prison, or pr egnant.. .Many girls believe these things and drop out. Several participants talked about some t eachers practice of making offensive remarks about students academic abil ities. Cassie discussed how this impacted her: One of my teachers, she is always putting our class down, telling us we come in stupid and we are going to leave stupid. Telling us no one will pass the AP exam in class. Sometimes this discourages you and makes you want to give up.


83 These incidents generally occurred in classe s that had a disproportionate low number of African American students and many participants felt that these comments were directed at them. Although each of the participants felt wronge d by these incidents, none however, felt comfortable enough to report these in cidents to the school administrato rs. This is reminiscent of underlying distrust that many African American girls have for some teachers and school administrators (Hubbard, 2005; Pugh-Lilly, et al., 2001). Overall the participants valu ed teachers who demonstrated care and concern and berated teacher behaviors that demonstrated oblivi on to their needs and challenges or blatant discouragement. The participants knew the grea t impact that teacher e xpectations had on their academic future and spoke highly of those teacher s who set high expectations for all students and scaffolded their instruction to meet th e individualized needs of their students. Research Question 3(c): How does African American identity influence the academic performance among African Amer ican high school girls? Several participants reported that they chose to excel in school to dispel the stereotypical myths that society had about African American girl s academic abilities. In their view, African American girls had to work harder than non-Afri can American girls to acquire certain jobs and recognitions. Veronica stated: I have to prove society wrong, so I am gonna have to excel. As a black female I have to work harder because many people think that black girls have lower skills. Assertiveness was also embedded in the convicti on that the participants had regarding their academic identity and performance. Veroni ca stated that although she believed that many individuals would always hold negative perceptions of African American girls academic abilities, they should not embrace these perceptions. She offered this comment: People will always think that African American girls are not as smart as other girls, but you have to have [belief] in yourself and don t give up. Just .keep asking for help wherever you can . Its on you.


84 Likewise Ciera added: A lot of girls know they are not doing well, but they dont go as k for help. Its our education but we have to want it, to get it. Conchas and Clark (2002) maintained that st udents were more comfortable in settings where they belonged socially and academically (p. 302). The part icipants echoed this sentiment and stated that having African American peers in their classes create d a strong support system that they believed contributed to their high academic performan ce. Associating with other high performing African American girls fostered a sense of belonging that encouraged them to continuously strive for perfection. The participants responses seem to convey that they placed a lot of importance on establishing mutually-coopera tive peer relationships Many participants stated that having other African American in their advanced placement classes made these learning environments less intimida ting. Ciera summed it up by stating: I like that while I am learning I can also be with my African American friends which makes learning more easier. It just makes life much better when you are in classes with other students who look and think like you. Several participants reported that Black Entertainment Te levision (BET) and other media outlets created unrealistic images of success for many African Am erican girls. They reported that some of these stations showed images of stardom that prompted many African American girls to place less emphasis on school. They also stated th at these images seemed more appealing to those girls who lack positive ro le models of who they were and could become, and who were seeking an easy way to achieve socioeconom ic status. Ciera o ffered this viewpoint: A lot of girls look on BET and see other Black girls singing and danc ing with all this jewelry and things and that becomes their goal. So instead of focusing on school, they are thinking about getting into some music video, or on American Idol because they believe that this is an easy way to become rich.


85 They suggested that school personnel should continuously inv ite influential and talented Africa American females to school related functions and meetings to provide th em with positive role models. I dont really think the media shows black wome n in positions like do ctors and acceptable careers, so I think they need more exposure Other participants suggested that career plan ning should be an integral part of the school curriculum. In their view, more girls would choos e to excel in school if they were to become knowledgeable about available career c hoices. For example, Ciera stated: They can bring more African American wome n professionals on campus and not just set up meetings for certain people. Also the counselors should start having classes about career planning. Research Question 3(d): How do race and gend er influence African American girls school experience? Intersections of race, gender and school experiences. Race and gender greatly impact how individuals construct their so cial realities (Lopez, 2002). Thes e influences were evident in the much of the participants discourse related to their school experiences. Several participants stated that race and gender play ed a major role in how the school s polices were implemented. They described issues as the schools Academ y program, the implementation of the schools behavior management system and type and quality of information that wa s provided to students. The participants were very critical of how se gregated the schools Academy program was. Several participants viewed the Academy program as being a White domain. They reported that race, rather than gender played a major role in how students were placed in this program. The participants suggested that although many girls were enrolled in the program, only four of these were African American girls. They articulated that that more emphasis should be placed on referring and retaining more Afri can American girls in this progr am. Other participants berated the school personnels decision to not include them or to remove them from the Academy. For


86 example Veronica suggested that the school personnels decisi on to remove her from the Academy program was racially motivated. They took me out because they told me I was more for AP which honestly, my opinion is I think it is all racially issued but wh en you look at it, they ar e not going to let just any ole black person into an Academy class. Participants also reported that there was a marked disparity concerning the amount and type of college related informa tion that was provided for students in regular education programs and the students in the Academy program. They suggested that studen ts enrolled in the Academy program received more information about colleges. Many participants viewed this practice as prejudicial and emphasized the importan ce of ensuring all students were afforded the same opportunities. Others suggested that these policies and practices crea ted a distinct division between students in the Academy and regular education programs. They emphasized the importance that many participants placed on fairne ss. They recognized the inherent values in providing quality information to all students and thought that this should be mandated by the school administrators. For example Erika stated: There is lot of stuff in the guidance office that relates to college, but they are not giving us any of that stuff. Like, the Academy students they are, like, fully prepared .but we are sitting here without the information. They should give us all the same information. Participants were highly cri tical of the school personnels implementation of the schools behavior management plan. In their view, Afri can American girls were singled out for dress code violations more than non-African American girls. They suggested that they sometimes felt penalized because their bodies did not ascribe to the mediaportrayed body images. Others suggested that many school personn el had negative perceptions of their physical attributes (Turnage, 2004). Despite feeling targeted for char acteristic physical attri butes, the participants expressed strong self-perceptions. This is significan t in light of the increas ing research of higher incidences of eating disorders among African fe males who seek to achieve media portrayed body


87 images (Striegel-Moore, Wilfley, Pike, Dohm, & Fairburn, 2000; Walcott, Pratt & Patel, 2003). Beyonce summarized this perspective: A dean will see a group of white girls in the same outfit that an Af rican American girl might be wearing and not say anything. But an African American girl will get written up or sent to ISD [In-School Detention] for it. Its not fair! We cannot change how our bodies are made. Not that I would want to. As suggested by Frazier-Kouassi (2002), seve ral participants re ported that African American girls typically receiv ed more discipline referrals than their non-Af rican American peers. According to the partic ipants this occurred because ma ny teachers viewed them as being loud and aggressive. Several participants offered a different perspective. They suggested that whereas many school personnel viewed loudness as being disrespectful and argumentative, they viewed it as being assertive. For example Aaliyah and Brandy stated that they did not consider themselves loud when it meant being disrespectfu l, however they embraced this characterization when it meant that they were w illing to voice their opinions. Ot her participants stated that teachers based their perception on the actions of certain subgroups within their communities. Despite different interpretations, each partic ipant however embraced the characterization of being loud. Trina offered this comment: I think they are just looking at like, the African American gi rls that live in the ghetto and they are just looking at them type of people. But there are other people who are African Americans who are not like that I dont think I am loud, not in the way many people view it, but I do speak up for my self and, in that way, I am loud. Several participants reported that the stereo typical portrayals of African American females by media influenced the behaviors and beliefs of some school personnel. They suggested that the interactions between many teachers, school pe rsonnel and African American girls were based on their negative images. Although they held these beliefs, many participants could not provide concrete examples to support th eir claims. These conjectural cl aims however were riveted in how they perceived many school personnel. Th e following excerpt illustrates this point:


88 They [teachers and school personnel] dont necessa rily express it or te ll you verbally, but some teachers and counselors who work on or live by statistics and They think certain or believe certain thi ngs about African American girls, but they wont necessarily tell you, they just act a certain way. Its kind of hard to explain. Erika reported that these stereotypical perceptio ns influenced how teachers responded to African American girls. She suggested that this ha s caused many African American girls to become confrontational with some teachers in the classroom. Its like they are scared of us . I thi nk because they have a negative view about black folks, they approach everyone with a negative vi ew and thats not alwa ys true. It depends on how the teacher approaches that person. So if a teacher approaches you negative, you will probably approach her negative also. The impact of race and gender was always pres ent in the participants discussion regarding school policies and procedures. These participan ts described obstacles that race and gender created for them in school with respect to school policies and procedures. However, they reported that this did not dissuade them from striving to achieve their goals. Research Question 3(e): How do does family influence African American girls academic performance? Research suggests that family influence and involvement play a key role in academic performance among African American students (Epstein, 2001; Matthews-Armstead, 2002; Hill & Craft, 2003). In this study, a ll the participants suggested th at parents and family greatly influenced their ability to excel in school. Th ey discussed the impli cations of supportive and unsupportive home environments on African Americ an girls school experiences. Several participants reported that Afri can American girls were more apt to excel when they had a supportive family network. They described supportive families as those that offered physical, moral and emotional support. All of the partic ipants emphasized the im portance of parental involvement. Cassies commen ts reflect the views of all of the participants:


89 If parents are not invo lved, then students dont have th e motivation to do good in school and graduate. When our parent s are involved its harder for us to mess up and not do well in school. Some participants also stressed the need for more paternal parental invol vement. In their view, more African American girls would excel in class, if fathers were more actively involved in their lives. Trinas comment highlights this point: I think the fathers need to be more involved. I think more African American girls would do well in school if the fathers were more involved and pushed them. Its kinda like a father-daughter thing. Several participants articulated that pare nts and other family members were major motivational forces behind their academic success. Although many of the participants parents and other family members did not have college degrees, each of the part icipants described how family experiences influenced them to do well in school. For one participant seeing her mother receive her high school diploma moti vated her to stay focused. Other participants stated that the financial success of family members who had colle ge diplomas also encour aged them to strive for excellence. Others reported that seeing their parents and other family members struggle financially, actually inspired them to do well in school. For example Veronica stated: Both my parents influence me to do well. Neith er of them had the chance to go to college. Like my daddy, he had a very poor family so he had to drop out and go to work. And my mama, she had to come to another state just to like get some money. So to me they are like a motivation to become something better. Each of the participants at tributed their high academic pe rformance to the support they received from their parents and other family members. Although many of their parents and family members did not have college degrees, th ey continually gave them the moral, physical and financial support they needed to excel. Some of the participants talked about the role that their mothers played in monito ring their academic progress, a pplying for college scholarships, and overseeing the application process for college Other participants reported that through


90 words and actions their parents and, in some cas es, their grandparents en couraged them to do well and persevere against the obstacles that th ey faced. Similar to wh at researchers report (Turnage, 2004; Kerpelman, Shoffn er, & Ross-Griffin, 2002), most part icipants shared that their mothers were their primary influence and suppor t. Aaliyah described her mothers support: I am able to do well in school because of my mom. She checks everyday to see whats going on with me in school, and if I have homework and anything like that . She doesnt know how to go about helping me to apply for college, but she will ask other people or my guidance counselor about stu ff that I have to do. Sometimes I am, like, forgetting to meet deadlines, so she keep s reminding me of what I have to do (laughs). Veronica stated that her mothers diligence and support helped her to acquire a college scholarship. She recounted how her moms pe rsistence encouraged her to not give up. One thing is this scholarship thing . Sh e was, like, youre not going to give up, you are gonna stay up and youre gonna write the essay. In the end I got the scholarship. The participants also discussed the numerous ways in which their parents and family influenced their decisions regarding their school experiences. Some participants reported that their parents directed decisions they made regarding extracurricul ar activities and subjects they enrolled in. Others stated that their parents gave them the autonomy to choose their subjects and extracurricular activities. Beyonce stated that whereas her mom directed decisions she made regarding school, her dad gave he r the autonomy to choose her ac tivities and subjects. Some participants also reported th at their parents and family me mbers strongly influenced what subjects they took. In most cases, they were enc ouraged to enroll in ri gorous courses such as honors, Academy and Advanced Placement. Othe r participants stated that their parents encouraged them to participate in extracurricular activities such as the Pre-collegiate, student government, cheerleading and other cl ubs. For example, Ciera stated: This year both my parents insisted that I had to participate in student government, Precollegiate and the Spanish club. My mom wants to ensure that I get a rounded education (gestures with hand, and laughs). so she is al ways pushing me to enroll in Advanced Placement and Academy courses.


91 The participants also discussed the increas ing incidents of non-supportive and absent parents in African American families. They recounted how non-supportive or absent parents caused many African American girls to fail scho ol. Many African American girls had one or both of their parents in jail, or addicted to drugs or they were forced to become caretakers of their younger siblings and in some cases care for their own children as well. Participants reported that it was very difficult for these girl s to achieve academic excellence when they had no one to support their acad emic endeavors. Trina offered this explanation: There is like nobody supporting them, and then some girls cant put a lot a time into their school work because they have to be parent s to their younger siblings at home, and some have to be parents to their own kids. So they f eel stressed and cant put much effort in their school work. All the participants shared that family and pare ntal involvement was integral to their academic success. According to them, managing their academic success became more challenging when there was no family or parental support. Summary of Results Participants reported that self-determinati on, teacher efficacy, parental influence and support, and coping strategies were integral to ha ving successful school experiences. Each of the participants used self-determina tion, assertiveness and striving fo r excellence in each of their classes. In addition all of the participan ts reported experiencing challe nges and inequities in school. In each of these circumstances, they were able to maintain high academic performance because one or more school personnel encouraged them. Although the participants did not always share common experiences at school and home, they all shared the same goal the desire to attend college, and create better lives for themselves.


92 Individual interviews, focus gr oups and journal entries demonstr ated that the participants school and home experiences solidified their se lf perceptions and provided the impetus they needed to excel academically. An analysis of the emergent themes across all modes of data collection individual interviews, focus groups and journal entries show ed that participants held similar views related to parental influence and involvement, their motivations to excel academically, their perception of school person nel and particular t eachers attitudes and perceptions, and the factors that pr omoted or deterred academic success. Figure 4-1. Major themes and cate gories from data analysis




94 CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION The purpose of the study was to understand the fa ctors that affected the school experiences of high-performing African American high school girl s. This chapter provides a summary of the findings and implications of the study. The chap ter concludes with recommendations for future research, and a summary. Research Question 1: How do high school African American girls view their school experience? Types of School Experiences The participants responses suggest that sc hool experiences had a great impact on their ability to excel in school. The pa rticipants descriptions of their school experiences fell into two major categories: positive and negative. Positive school experiences Positive school experiences included supportive learning environments, peer associations, student recognition, the rigor of the curriculum and the teachers willingness to meet students individual needs. As suggest ed by Howard (2001) and Ladson-B illings (2001), th e participants stated that a supportive learning e nvironment enabled them to excel. In such an environment, the teachers utilized various strategi es to ensure that students achieved academic excellence. These included the reteaching of topics offering after-school tutoring, p eer instruction, group work and periodically talking to the students about other ar eas of their lives. Each of these strategies helped the students to better understand the c oncepts taught, and also provided a safe environment for them to establish new frie ndships while simultaneously increasing their academic and cognitive skills (Hubbard, 2005; Reis & Diaz, 1999). Two vital points that were embedded in the various responses of the partic ipants were (a) the gr eat value that these


95 participants placed on relationships, and (b) they considered caring teache rs essential to their academic growth (Booker, 2004; Howard, 2000). Participants attributed thei r high academic performance to their involvement in Honors, Advanced Placement and Academy courses. These students were grateful for the opportunity to be enrolled in courses that increased their academic skills and subsequently increased their chances of attending college (Hubbard, 2005; Matthews-Armstead, 2002). A high point of the participants discussion was the recognition they received from school personnel for their high academic performance. They posite d that these awards provided an extra impetus for them to succeed academically (Cohen & Loan, 1997; Tys on, Darity & Castellino, 2005). Recognition also reinforced a strong sense of self in all the participants. Negative school experiences Participants noted various negati ve experiences such as peer ridicule, students fights and arguments, and the increasing presence of gang rela ted activities. Each of these situations provided an unsafe learning environment for the stude nts. The participants were concerned that students fights and arguments coupled with th e increased presence of gang-related activities frequently involved African Ameri can girls. They reported that these events perpetuated the negative perceptions that the community had abou t them. This finding is especially significant since it supports Holcomb-McCoy & Moore-Thom as (2001) and Tatums (2003) theories that African American girls have to c onsistently contend with societys negative perceptio n of them. Most of the participants also voiced their concerns about the ineffectiveness of some teachers. They suggested that these teachers we re not certified in the subjects they taught, and thus lacked the expert knowledge needed to pr ovide effective classroom instruction. This was significant for the participants who hope d to attend college after graduation.


96 Research Question 2: How do they describe factors that motivate/discourage academic success? Bridges to Academic Excellence The participants discussed the various individual s and events that they encountered in their pursuit of academic excellence. Embedded in th ese discussions were their reasons for pursuing academic excellence and the steps that th ey took to achieve this lifelong goal. Rationale for pursuing academic excellence In both the individual and focu s group interviews, the particip ants stated that going to college was the overarching reason for their pursuit of academic excellence. For these participants, attending college offered them th e opportunity to establish a better livelihood than some of their immediate family members (Erk ut, Marvy, Fields & Sing, 1997; Saunders et al., 2004). Many participants also embarked on this journey to fulfill thei r longstanding personal goals to acquire economic and social prominence in a society which they viewed as inequitable. For many the need to fulfill the familys aspira tions was also prominent in their decisions. Because many of them came from homes wh ere no one had attended college, they felt responsible for erasing a tre nd of low socio-economic status (Matthews-Armstead, 2002). Pathways to academic success All of the participants suggested that African American girls had to demonstrate certain tendencies in order to excel in high school. Th ese included assertiveness, good decision making skills, hard work, and a commitment to excellence. The participants espoused the value of hard work and the determination to excel in school Although many of the African American girls came from disadvantaged home environments, they di d not believe that this dictated their future socio-economic status. In their view, excelling in school offered more choices and was likely to guarantee them a future consistent with that of the dominant society (Matthews-Armstead, 2002).


97 Research Question 3(a): From the African Am erican girls perspective: how do teachers influence their academic success? Teachers play a vital role in fostering stude nt engagement (Booke r, 2004; Ladson-Billing, 2001). The participants echoed this sentiment by describing the actions of teachers who demonstrated in varying degrees th at they were interested in their success. For most of the participants, this was evidenced by teachers willingness to meet thei r individual needs both inside and outside of the school context. Particip ants reported that these actions increased their willingness to participate in class activities and attain high grades The participants all suggested that caring teachers were integral to their academic success and were highly appreciative of those teachers who demonstrated these tendencies. Conversely, the participants commented about teacher attitudes and practices that dissuaded their engagement in school. These in cluded: (a) some teachers tendencies to make offensive remarks regarding students abilities, (b) teachers unwillingness to provide ample wait time during class discussions, and (c) participants feeling that their contributions to class discussions were not valued (Gay, 2000; Ho ward, 2003). In keeping with Ladson-Billings (2001) recommendation for culturally relevant pe dagogy, their viewpoints offer pertinent advice for teachers and school administrato rs who grapple with identifying effective strategies to meet the unique needs of African American girls. Participants also complained about some teach ers ineffectiveness. For example, they described instances where teacher s were responsible for subject areas that they were unqualified to teach. The participants stated that this cr eated additional challenges for them and reduced their chances of performing su ccessfully in these classes (Darling-Hammond, 2006; Haycock, 1998).


98 Research Question 3(b): How are teachers ex pectations for academic success for African American and other stude nts similar/different? As students immerse themselves in the routine of school, both perceptions and expectations reflect and determine the goals both students and teachers set for performance, the strategies they use to pursue the goals, the skills, energy, and other resources they use to implement the strategies and the rewards they expect from making the effort (Ferguson, 2003, p. 461). This was very evident in the participants vi ewpoints regarding their perceptions of teacher expectation. Although holistically the participants felt that many teachers held high expectations of them, they also suggested the presence of s ubtle and sometimes overt forms of low teacher expectation. These expectations usually manifest ed themselves in both teachers comments and practices, and as suggested by the participants, resulted in many African American girls disengaging themselves from the classroom (Gra ybill, 1997; Landsman, 2004). It is therefore critical that teachers recognize the negative consequences that are implicit to their actions, reactions and comments to students in their classr ooms, but more so to African American girls (Howard, 2002; Hubbard, 2005). Research Question 3(c): How does African American identity influence the academic performance among African Amer ican high school girls? Adolescents become increasingly aware of their identities along racial, gender and academic lines as they enter high school. Thus for African Americans students academic identities are difficult to sepa rate from gender and racial id entities (Howar d, 2003, p. 3). Although the participants were awar e of the numerous barriers that their identity created, they were all determined to dismantle these per ceptions by excelling in school (Hubbard, 2005). They decried the negative identity that such media outlets as BET transferred to African American girls and emphasized the need for th e media and other agenci es to provide more positive images of their identity. The particip ants stated that many African American girls disengaged from school, because they believed th at completing school was irrelevant to their


99 aspirations to become rich and famous (H orvat & Antonio,1999; Moody, 2004). They also suggested that schools could contradict these im ages and simultaneously increase their academic performance by creating continuous opportunities for them to interact with professional African American women (Grant, Battle, Murphy, & Heggoy, 1999; Kao, 2000). None of the participants talk ed about being ostracized by th eir friends because of their academic success, (Bergin & Cook, 2002), or having to relinquish their identities to achieve their academic goals. In fact, they embraced their African American identity and viewed it as an asset (Saunders, et al., 2004). In their view, being bl ack and female in a society which devalued them for both their race and gender increased their determination to excel. Research Question 3(d): How do race and gend er influence African American girls school experience? Intersection race, gender a nd school experiences. Race and gender impacts the experiences that individuals ha ve both inside and outside th e school context (Foster, 1997, Lareau & Horvat, 1999). Participants were highly cr itical of the inherent disparities in school personnels policies and practices. They berated the schools pr actice of singling out African American girls for dress code viol ations, and also suggested that African American girls received more discipline referrals than non-African American girls. Th ese findings are consistent with research which indicates that African American girls are more likely to be penalized for dress code violations and other behavior issues than non-African American girls (Morris 2005; PughLilly, et al., 2001; Skiba, Michael, Nardo & Pe terson, 2002). Research suggests that African American females received unequal informati on regarding college admissions (Hubbard, 2005; Matthews-Armstead, 2002). This was demonstrated in participants concerns regarding the amount and type of college information that was provided to them. In their view, school personnel placed more emphasis on providing college related information to students who were

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100 enrolled in the Academy program (Hubbard, 2005). They stressed the need for equal access to college related information. Many of the participants believed that teac hers and other school personnel held low expectations for them. They sugge sted that teachers beliefs re garding them were based on how African American girls were portrayed in the medi a. The participants la mbasted the tendency of teachers to interact with them based on their negative perceptions of African American girls (Matthews-Armstead, 2002). They suggested that how teachers interacted with them greatly influenced how they responded to them (Frazi er-Kouassi, 2002). The par ticipants views were also consistent with the research regarding t eachers perceptions and stereotypes of African American girls (Horvat & Antonio, 1999; Scott, 2002; Tatum, 2003). The participants also discussed school personne ls perception that African American girls were loud. Interestingly, whereas many school personnel viewed being loud as a negative characteristic, the participants viewed this as a positive attribute. They suggested that being loud meant being assertive and outspoken. However, they did acknowledge that it could also be viewed as a negative trait (Frazi er-Kouassi, 2002; Scott, 2002). Research Question 3(e): How do parents influence African American girls academic performance? Parental involvement is a critical to childre ns success at all grade levels (Kao & Tienda, 1998). Interestingly, in all three forms of data co llection the participants mentioned that a parent or family member influenced or motivated them to excel. Therefore they stressed the need for parents to be involved in their daughters school experiences (Turna ge, 2004). The participants also discussed the ways in which a suppor tive home environment impacted the school experiences of African American girls. They desc ribed the ways that thei r parents have assisted them. This finding is consistent with research which has shown that family support creates an

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101 empowering environment for African American students to excel (Cribbs, Cronen, Davis, & Johnson, 2002; Richman, Rosenfeld, & Bowen, 1998). Conversely participants also stated that non-supportive and absent parents created difficulties. Becoming caretakers for thei r younger siblings and having other adult responsibilities caused many African American gi rls to disengage from school (Grant, et al., 1999). Although they did not endorse this decisi on, they acknowledged that such realities made it difficult for African American girls to excel in school. All of the participants shared the viewpoint that family and parental involvement was integral to African American girls academ ic success. They reported that managing their academics became more challenging when there was no family or parental support (Hill & Craft, 2003; Epstein, 2001). Theoretical Implications Social context greatly impact s students learning experien ces and self perception (Ogbu, 1999, 2004). Numerous findings of the study illustrate the ways in which th e school and external environments such as the participants parents and family impact the school experiences of African American girls. See Fi gure5-1. Research suggests that student learning is maximized when there is connection between both theses environments (Osterman, 2000, Becker & Luther, 2002). The findings however point to the discon tinuities that exist between the two cultures. Internal Environment (School) Schools have the ultimate goals of providing a safe environment in which students may grow, academically, socially and emotiona lly (Horvat & Antonio, 1999). Schools are responsible for providing quality instruction, holding high expectations for all students and working collaboratively with parents to ensure th at students needs are met. Much of what happens in schools however, is dependent on th e leadership that ex ists within schools

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102 (Christenson, 2004; Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001). School admini strators by virtue of their position are responsible for ensuring that their in stitutions policies and practices are devoid of discriminatory tendencies that force African American girls to disengage from the school environment. Teachers and counselors also pl ay a major role in cr eating supportive learning environments within our schools (Booker, 2004) Although African Amer ican girls consider school valuable, negative interact ions with school personnel such as unfair practices, perceived stereotypes and low teacher expect ation can create feelings of resentment among them, and result in many of them disengaging from the school environment (Chavous, et al., 2003; Ferguson, 2003). Several factors within the school influenced th e participants percepti ons of their school experiences. These included peer associations teacher expectation, te acher instruction, and implementation of the schools policies and practi ces and other school personnel. The findings of the study show that many participants were unhappy with the dissonance that existed between the schools regular education and Academy progr am. The data suggest that participants believed that students enrolled in the white-dom inated Academy program (a) received more and better quality information and services regardin g college preparation from the schools guidance counselors and (b) were exposed to better cla ssroom instruction (Hubbard, 2005). As suggested by the research, African American girls were underrepresented in Academy and Advanced Placement classes (Matthews-Armstead, 2002; Norm an, et al. 2002; Russell, 2005). Within the school, only 11 African American girls in 11 an d 12 grade were enrolled in two or more Academy and/or Advanced level courses or had GPAs of 3.5 and above on a 4.0 scale. A major finding of this study relates to stude nts some of the school personnels negative perceptions of African American gi rls. The participants reported that these perceptions resulted

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103 in unfair administrative practices such as being singled for dress code violations, and discipline referrals (Frazier-Kouassi, 2002; Pugh-Lilly, et al., 2001) and suggest ed that these actions caused many African American girls to disengage from the school en vironment. The quality of instruction provided by teachers also influenced participants ability to excel. The findings suggest that teachers who cared for their st udents holistic devel opment provided quality instruction and held high expect ations for them, whereas teachers who held low expectations provided poor quality instruction. This practice perpetuated the participants distrust for the system (Ogbu, 2004, Stinson, 2006). External Environment External environment such as the home and th e community influences students ability to excel in school (Epstein, 2001; Hill & Craft 2003) and applies to both parents and family. The findings suggest that supportive parents and family members positively influenced the participants ability to excel academically. Parents provide d a physically and emotionally safe environment for their daughters to grow. Many pa rents also schooled thei r children on how to navigate the inequities that they had to face both in school and the larger society. Others parents actively participated in all their daughters school decisions. This supportive environment enabled these participants to successfully negotiate the numerous challenges of the larger society and school, and to excel. Conversely, the findings also revealed that ma ny African American girl s had to cope with bad decisions made by one or both of their parents. Past decisions in so me cases, resulted in their becoming caretakers of their siblings. African American girls placed in these positions found it very challenging to do well in school. Th e findings also suggest that the absence of parents in African American homes created the need for more positive role models for African American girls.

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104 Individuals All of the participants knew the value of attending college, and articulated self-confidence in their abilities to ex cel and achieve this goal (Grant, et al., 1999; Hubbard, 1999, 2005). They all valued education because they viewed it as a means of reversing the negative social and economic trends of their families and communities (Matthews-Armstead, 2002). Each participant experienced personal, social and/or economic barriers su ch as the absence of a parent, limited social and economic resources, and negative peer and adult role m odels. However, they were determined to not allow these circumstances to prevent them from excelling in school (Zirkel, 2005). Thus they ma de the necessary sacrifices a nd worked hard and remained determined to achieve academic excellence. Several participants also expre ssed a general distrust for scho ol personnel. They recounted incidents of discrimination against them and th eir peers. However, they did not report these instances to school administrato rs because they had no faith in the system (Hubbard, 2005). Instead the participants managed these experien ces by creating strong relationships with peers and school personnel who supported th eir goals (Lareau & Horvat, 2003). The findings of this study in many ways refu ted the claims of O gbus (1999) culturalecological theory. Whereas Ogbu (1999) claimed that African Americans were reluctant to relinquish their cultural identity and viewed acad emic success as acting White, and that this hindered their ability to achieve academic success, the participants at no time mentioned feeling that they had to relinquish thei r identity to achieve their academic goals. In addition, they all reported that being an African American female gave them the self-determination that they needed to excel. Contrary to Ogbus theory that African Am ericans did not believe that hard work guaranteed them a better socioeconomic future, th e participants all believed that hard work

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105 guaranteed them upward social mobility, and so they worked hard in all their classes to achieve this goal. All of the he participants demonstr ated the same tendencies that successful students from other cultures used to achieve academic success namely -hard work, self-determination and strong self-belief. Ogbus claim that social context influenced African American students academic performance was confirmed, as all the participants reported various school and home experiences that positively impacted their acad emic performance. These include supportive learning environments, caring teachers and supportive parents and family members. The tenets of other competing theoretical perspectives were confirmed in this study namely: Freires (1992) critical consciousness theory, and Sue & Sues (1999) racial/cultural identity theory. That the participants felt inept at instigating any actions that might change the various inequities relative to the schools policies a nd practices confirms one tenet of Freires critical consciousness theory. With regard to this tenet, Freire (1992) states that although individuals recognize inequities that exist in their conditions, their reactions are primarily emotional. These participants were able to cr itically analyze the vari ous personal, social and economic barriers that existed with in their lives. Nonetheless they all worked hard at reversing these personal, social and economic trends in their lives and ultimately the lives of their immediate family members. Finally, participants positive perceptions of their negatively portrayed physical and social attributes confirmed Sue & Sues theory that indi viduals develop an inner security that allows them to appreciate the unique and positive aspects of their culture. Table 5-1 lists the key points of the theoretical perspectives discussed in Ch apter 2, the findings of this study and whether the results confirmed or refuted the various theoretical perspectives.

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106 Implications for Practice The findings suggest issues for policymakers, school personnel and educators to consider. The participants voices draw atte ntion to the factors that contribu te to the school experiences of high-achieving African American high school girls a nd those factors that th ey believed prevented other African American high school girls from excelling in school. Several of the participants made reference to the importance of caring a nd supportive learning environments, the teachers attitudes and practices that in fluence engagement, the impact of the schools polices and practices, and the impact that race/gender had on their school e xperience. In addition the participants discussed the roles that parents a nd family members played in assisting them in maintaining high academic performance. While the findings from the study highlighted the important role that parents and family members pl ayed in developing students abilities to excel, the home situations that students are exposed to are beyond the schools control. This does not, however, relieve schools of the responsibilities that they have to ensure that marginalized students are given an equitable opportunity to achieve their fullest academic potential. The participants responses offer some insight into how African American high school girls perceive their academic environment, and the forces within the school that influence them. Their responses also offer suggestions for ways that high schools can restructure their environments policies and practices. The following sugges tions are based on the findings of the study. Create Safe School Environments. Many participants mentioned th at the presence of gang-rela ted activities coupled with student fights made them feel unsafe. A comm itment on the part of school personnel to reduce these incidents will create an en vironment where students feel both emotionally and physically safe. This will also create a healthier school c limate. This could be achieved through increased staff training on issues related to gang violence and the stra tegies to counter their presence.

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107 Since most of these gangs are connected to ne ighborhoods where many stude nts reside, soliciting the assistance of community leaders and the sh eriff/police department could be beneficial. Set Higher Expectations For African American Girls. The students continually commented of the negative perceptions that many school personnel held for African American girls. Stude nts self-perception infl uences their academic performance (Saunders et al., 2004). Negativ e perceptions of self prevent many African American females from realizing their potential. Many of these perceptions are based on the interactions that they have w ith teachers and other school pe rsonnel (Franklin & Boyd-Franklin, 2000). Establishing higher expectations for African American girls is integral because it helps in building their self-perception a nd also motivates them to remain fully engaged in their school experience (Russell, 2004). Hire Highly Qualified And Caring Teachers The diverse nature of todays classroom requi res teachers who are experts in their subject areas and sensitive to the unique needs of th eir students (Gay, 2000). Many participants articulated that several of their teachers lacked the expert knowledge for the subjects they taught (Darling-Hammond, 2006). Some participants comp lained that the teaching methods used were incongruent with their method of learning. In ma ny ways this reduced the students ability to fully learn the concepts being taught in these cla sses. Implicit in these suggestions is the need for more culturally relevant te aching strategies to be used w ithin these classes (Ladson-Billing, 2001). Thus school administrators should be fu lly committed to hiring the most qualified and best fit for each subject area (Andrews, 2004). In addition, they should also create learning communities that encourage colla boration among its teachers. An emphasis on training teachers in methods that are consistent with culturally relevant teaching is also recommended.

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108 Culturally relevant pedagogy posits that students prospects for improved academic performance are greatly enhanced when there is greater cultural continui ty (Howard, 2002). This includes educating teachers on the value of utilizing teaching mode ls that promote a major tenet of communalism namely, increased classroom gr oup activities that prom ote interaction among students, and also reinforce th e value of shared responsibility. Communalism also emphasizes social relationships and an aw areness of interconnections am ong individuals. The importance that the participants placed on caring, teachers hi ghlights the need for teachers to exude a caring personality during their in teractions with all students, but in particular African American girls. Incorporating these teaching models and charac teristics in the classroom will guarantee that African American girls are given an optimal opportunity to excel. College Preparation For All Students. All students should be provided with the opportun ity, or at the very least, encouraged to consider college (Howard, 2003, p. 15) A number of participants mentioned that they did not have equal access to some college preparation co urses and to college related information. High schools should therefore make a concerted effort to ensure that students have equal access to Advanced Placement, Internationa l Baccalaureate courses, other college preparation courses, and relevant college preparation information (Norman, et al., 2002). Providing quality instruction to all students will increase their chances of successfully participating in advanced academic courses and programs. Placing college relatedinformation in all classrooms, and providing frequent information sessions for all students will ensure that they have equal access to college related information. The particip ants also stressed the need fo r school personnel to provide them with careerrelated information. Providing st udents with informa tion regarding college requirements, career-related information, a nd assisting them to locate college funding

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109 opportunities will encourage more African American girls to see the vi ability of attending college (Grantham & Ford, 2003; Russell, 2005). Establish Clearly Delineated Rules And Regulations Research suggests that African American gi rls are often singled out for dress code violations (Frazier-Kouassi, 2002). Many participants bera ted school personnel for these incidents. Participants also suggested that Afri can American girls receiv ed more referrals than non-white African American girls. In many cases these referrals were a result of teachers misperceptions of their behaviors and social prac tices. Familiarizing school personnel about the unique social characteristics of African Amer ican girls will help to reduce the negative stereotypes that African American girls have to contend with in school, reduce the tension that exists between African American girls and some school personnel, and ultimately reduce the number of referrals that they receive. Establishing and equally implementing clearly delineated rules regarding dress code and other student be haviors could encourage African American girls to feel more connected to a school system th at they believe targets them (Holcomb-McCoy, 2001). These recommendations highlight key issues th at were expressed by the participants. Providing them a voice holds us responsible for ensuring that their cries do not go unheard. Therefore, it is imperative that practitioners and researchers provide viable opportunities to gain insight into the school experiences of African American girls a nd create learning environments that adequately respond to the ne eds of these students. To ig nore this issue would create devastating effects on their lives and the future of our society. Implications for Research The results of the study suggest that numerous factors in tertwine to influence high performance among African American girls. R ecommendations for furt her research include:

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110 1. Examine the school experiences that encourage African American girls at different levels of the K-12 educational system to excel. 2. Explore the policies and pr actices of school personnel that influence academic performance among African American girls at different levels of the K-12 educational system, and encourage them to excel. 3. Describe how teacher efficacy impacts the e ngagement among African American girls at different levels of the K-12 educational system to excel. 4. Study school personnels perceptio ns of the school experiences of African American girls, and the factors that they believe influence their academic performance. 5. Explore teachers perceptions of African American girls and how these expectations impact their academic performance. 6. Examine the impact that high-stakes testing ha s on the educational aspirations of African American girls. 7. Explore African American parents percepti ons of how they influence their childrens academic performance. 8. Describe African American students peer relationships and academic performance. 9. Explain the intersection betw een community involvement and African American student performance. Summary The impact that school and family context have on participants academic performance was evident throughout the study. Participants repor ted that positive schooling experiences such as supportive learning environments, peer asso ciations, student recognition and teachers willingness to meet students individual needs contributed their high academic performance. Conversely, they indicated negative experiences such as peer ridicule, students fights and arguments and the increasing presence of ga ng-related activities created unsafe learning environments. Each of the participants stated th at their desire to attend college motivated them to excel in school. It is interesting that th at although these participan ts encountered challenges both at school and home, they did not allow thes e situations to thwart their academic goals.

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111 The participants responses highlight the shortcomings of many K-12 institutions in creating safe and empowering lear ning environments for African American girls. All of the participants related in stances of school personnels bias/neg ative perceptions toward their group. In an era where emphasis is being placed on schools to become agents of change, more attention needs to be directed at esta blishing school policies and practi ces that support the college aspirations of African American girls. This includes providing equal access to college-related information, setting higher expectations for Afri can American girls, hiring highly qualified and caring teachers, and establishing clearly delineated rules and regul ations. Schools programs that provide African American girls with informati on about the benefits of attending college, and ways to gain college access will not only develop a desire to attend college, but also assist them to view college attendan ce as being realistic.

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112 Figure 5-1. Social contexts influenc ing participants academic success

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113 Table 5-1. : Findings of study based on theoretical framew ork/perspective Key Points of Theory Findings Theory confirmed or refuted Cultural-ecological theory (Ogbu, 1999) None of the particip ants talked about having to relinquish their identity to achieve their academic goals Refuted African American were reluctant to relinquish their cultural identity. African American and African American viewed academic success as acting White., and this hindered their ability to achieve academic success Being black and female increased their determination to excel confirmed African Americans lack the belief that hard work guarantees a better financial future Participants believed that working hard and excelling in school offered more choices and guaranteed them a future that was consistent with that of the dominant society Refuted African Americans lack instrumental factors that motivate non African American students to succeed. Participants believed that attending college offered them the opportunity to establish better livelihoods for themselves and their immediate family members. Refuted Critical consciousness theory (Freire, 1992) Individuals recognize the various inequities that exist in their conditions, however, their reactions are primarily emotional Participants were aware of the various inequities that existed in the school personnels polices and practices. However, they never felt empowered to instigate any actions that might lead to changes. Refuted Individuals are empowered to critically analyze the conditions that shape their life experiences and work collectively to change these conditions Participants were aware of the various personal, social a nd economic barriers that existed within their lives; however, they were determined to change these environmental trends. Confirmed

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114 Table 5-1. Continued Key Points of Theory Findings Theory confirmed or refuted Social context influences African American students academic performance Positive schooling experiences enhanced their ability to achieve high grades. Confirmed Supportive home environment assisted them to excel Confirmed Individuals recognize the various inequities that exist in their conditions, however, their reactions are primarily emotional Participants were aware of the various inequities that existed in the school personnels polices and practices, however, they never felt empowered to instigate any actions that might lead to changes. Confirmed Individuals are empowered to critically analyze the conditions that shape their life experiences and work collectively to change these conditions Participants were aware of the various personal, social a nd economic barriers that existed within their lives, however, they were determined to change these environmental trends. Confirmed Stereotype Threat Theory (Steele, 1997) Negative stereotypes about certain stigmatized groups intellectual and academic ability on any given domain can lead to high levels of anxiety and so impact their academic performance Participants were aware of the low expectations that many teachers had for them, however this did not negatively impact their academic performance Refuted Racial/Cultural Identity Theory (Sue& Sue, 1999) Individuals develop an inner security that allows them to appreciate the unique and positive aspects of their culture and other minority cultures. Participants held st rong perceptions of their negatively-portrayed physical and social attributes. Confirmed

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115 APPENDIX A INDIVIDUAL STUDENT INTERVIEW PROTOCOL What grade are you currently in? How long have you attended this school? What do you like most about your school experiences? What do you like least about your school experiences? What motivates you the most to pa rticipate in class activities? What discourages you the most from participating in class activities? When do you feel most comfortable part icipating in class activities? Why? Do you believe that teachers in this school are interested in your academic performance? How do they demonstrate this interest/disinterest? What steps do teachers take to ensure that you get a good understanding of the topics they teach? Do you believe that the teachers treat all student s equally in the classroom? How do they demonstrate this? Do you believe that teachers have the same exp ectations for all students in their classes? How is this demonstrated in the classroom? How involved are your pa rents in your school? How much do your parents influence the deci sions that you make regarding your school experiences? How important is it for parents to be involved in their childs school. What do you plan to do afte r graduating from school? How does the class instruction you receive prepare you for college?

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116 APPENDIX B FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEW PROTOCOL 1. Who has had the greatest influence on your academic success? 2. What influences you the most to achieve academic success? 3. Do you think race/gender impacts how Afri can American girls are viewed by school personnel (teachers, counselors, administ rators and other staff? Is so how? 4. Do you think race/gender impacts how African Am erican girls are treated in the classroom? Is so how? 5. How satisfied are you with the teaching/instruc tion that you receive in each of your class? Explain. 6. Do you have confidence in your teachers? Why? 7. Why do you think more African American high school girls are not achieving GPAs of 3.5 and above? a. Is there any thing that teach ers could do differently to ensure that more African American girls achieve higher grades in their classes? b. Is there anything that parents could do differently to improve this situation? 8. Is there any way in which the school could improve: a. The information they provide to African American girls regarding colleges and careers? b. The instruction that you receive in class?

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117 APPENDIX C FOCUS GROUP SCRIPT Good afternoon everyone let me first and foremost thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here today. Just to recap, my name is Diane Archer-Banks and I am a doctoral student at the University of Florida. So dur ing the next hour and half to two hours I will be asking you a number of questions related your hi gh school experiences. I will be seeking your views on how your cultural ident ity, beliefs, parents influence and involvement, and teachers beliefs/expectations impact your high school expe riences. With your permission I would like to audiotape the interview. Please note however that all the information collected today will be confidential in regards to who said what aahm Th is means that I will at no time disclose who participated in the group or attribute any quot e to any specific indi vidual basically the pseudonyms that you have chosen will be used in my final report and I would like everyone to participate so please if you could just wait until you are identified to begin speaking and this will also assist me later on when I have to transcribe what was said here in the in the focus group. Please feel safe to express your vi ews related to the topic freely. Like I said before your identity will be kept confidential to the full extent of the law. The info rmation you provide today will be presented in a written study and submitted to e ducational journals for possible publication or for presentation. Remember also that as stated on the informed consen t that you signed prior to this that you have the right to withdraw from the study at any time without any consequence you do not have to answer any questi on you do not want to answer a ny questions before we start. Does everyone still wa nt to participate? Are there any questions?

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118 APPENDIX D JOURNAL PROMPTS 1. School related events that assisted me to ach ieve/maintain academic excellence include. ( please note that this includes any type of school-related event whether it occurred in the classroom, hallway or off-campus ) 2. What would you like to achieve in the next 5-10 years? What steps will you take to achieve this goal? 3. How have individuals such as peer, teacher s, parents, family and community members influenced your decision to maintain high GPAs? Who would you say have influenced you most on this decision? You may also write about any event or other relate d topic that affects your school experience.

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119 APPENDIX E EXAMPLES OF FRAMES OF ANALYSIS FRAMES OF ANALYSIS Participant 1 (VR) Participant 2 (TL) Most-liked school experiences I like it that I get to be with my friends and I get to hang out with them and that I learn a lot. (Lines 1516) The kids the school, the spirit of the school (Line 386). They have a good spirit is like there is nothing negative going on like when we have pep rally. The whole school is like we are there to support them just because we dont go to the game but we are there in the pep rally showing that we support them (lines 400404) Motivation for class participation Attention (chuckles). I like to get the attention from the teachers (lines 4041) Well I want to go to college and I know that I have to do well in class if this is to happen. My mom and dad but especially my mom is also very strict when it come to school work, so I dont have a choice but to do well (smiles and chuckles) (lines 45-49) Myself, I have to be like if I dont participate I know that I am holding myself back from going to where I want to go (lines 413-414 ..To college and to get a good job (lines 416

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120 APPENDIX F DOMAIN EXAMPLES Included Terms Semantic Relationships Cover Terms Going to college Strict parents Supporting family Achieving personal goal is reason for excelling in school Treating students differently Disregarding students' response Stereotyping is a form of Teacher bias Assisting with homework Acquiring a tutor Attending school functions Helping child to choose extracurricular activities is a form of Parental Involvement

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121 APPENDIX G EXAMPLE OF MASTER OUTLINE Location Salient Domains Excerpts Pg. Li. DS My mom because she pushes me to do more and I dont settle for less because of her and I am in the classes I am because of her because I am like scared to, but she like pushes me to do what I have to do/. 1 8-11 FG She helps me when she can ..or when she remember the concepts she tries helps me with my homework, especially my papers she helps because she likes to write and if its a topic that she is not good at, she finds me a tutor. She is on top of everything that I do in school my grades, the activities I get into just everything and she is so supportive 10 232-237 I Parental Involvement and Support ..Today after school my mom said she had a surprise for me. When I got home she had bought me a pretty necklace with a bracelet to match it. She bought it for me because I got a good report card which was all As and Bs. This makes me more driven to work harder 4 65-70 J FG Focus Group J Journal I Individual Interview Li Line Number Pg. Page Number DS Data Source

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122 APPENDIX H PARENTAL CONSENT LETTER Department of Educational Administration and Policy University of Florida P.O. Box 117049 351 Norman Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7049 Parental Consent Dear Parent/Guardian, I am a graduate student in the Department of Educationa l Administration and Policy at the University of Florida, conducting research the high school expe riences of high achieving African Ameri can girls. The purpose of this study is to examine how cultural identity, student beliefs, t eachers beliefs/expectations, and parents influence and involvement impact their high school experiences. The results of the study may help educators and policymakers to better understand the various factors that influence high performance among African American girls. These findings could also assist schools to develop systems that will be benefici al to the future academic success of African American girls. With your permission, I would like to ask your child to volunteer for this research. The students participating in this study will participate in individual and group interviews lasting 1 to 1 hour. They will also be asked to complete journal entries on to pics specified by the researcher. These topics will be related to issues that emerged during the interviews. To ensure the confidentiality of your child, we will replace her name with a pseudonym. Results will only be reported in the form of group data. Participation or nonparticipation in this study will not affect your daughters grades or placement in any programs. You and your child have the right to withdraw consent for your child's participation at any time without consequence. There are no kn own risks or immediate benefits to the pa rticipants. No compensation is offered for participation. Group results of this study will be available in July 2007. If you have any questions about this research protocol, please contact me at (386) 951-1684 or my faculty supervisor, Dr. Behar-Horenstein at (352) 392-2391, Ext. 299 Questions or concerns about your child's righ ts as research participant may be directed to the UFIRB office, University of Florida, Bo x 112250, Gainesville, FL 32611, (352) 392-0433. Diane Archer-Banks Doctoral Candidate Department of Educational Administration and Policy University of Florida I have read the procedure described above. I voluntarily give my consent for my child, _________________, to participate in Diane Archer-Banks study of high achieving African American high school girls. I have received a copy of this description. _____________________________________ __________________________________ Parent / Guardian Date 2nd Parent / Witness Date

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124 APPENDIX I PARTICIPANT CONSENT LETTER Department of Educational Administration and Policy University of Florida P.O. Box 117049 351 Norman Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7049 Participant Consent Dear Student: I am a graduate student in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy at the University of Florida. As part of my coursework I am conducting an individual interview and two group interviews. The purpose of these interviews is to learn about how cultu ral identity, student beliefs, parents in fluence and involvement, and teachers beliefs/expectations impact the high school experiences of high-achieving African Ameri can girls. I am asking you to participate in this inte rview because you have been identified as a high-achieving African high school girl. Interviewees will be asked to participate in three interviews lasting no longer than 1 to 1 hour. The schedule of questions is enclosed with this letter. You will not have to answer any question you do not wish to answer. Your interview will be conducted at a location th at is convenient to both of us after I have received a copy of this signed consent from you in the mail. With your permission I would like to audiotape this interview. You will also be asked to complete at least three journal entries on topics that ar e specified by the researcher. Your identity will be kept confidential to the extent provided by law and your id entity will not be revealed in the final manuscript. There are no anticipated risks, compensation or other direct benefits to you as a participant in this interview. You are free to withdraw your consent to participate and may discontinue your participation in the interview at any time without consequence. If you have any questions about this research protocol, please contact me at (386) 951-1684 or my faculty supervisor, Dr. Behar-Horenstein at (352) 392-2391, Ext. 299 Questions or concerns about your child's rights as research participant may be directed to the UF IRB office, University of Florida, Box 112250, Gainesville, FL 32611, (352) 392-0433. Please sign and return this copy of the letter in the enclos ed envelope. A second copy is provided for your records. By signing this letter, you give me permission to report your responses anonymously in the final manuscript to be submitted to my faculty supervisor as part of my course work, and to education journals for possible publication. Diane Archer-Banks Doctoral Candidate Department of Educational Administration and Policy University of Florida I have read the procedure described above for Diane Archer-Banks study of high achieving African American high school girls. I vol untarily agree to participate in the interview and journal writing activities and I have received a copy of this description. ____________________________ ___________ Signature of participant Date I would like to receive a copy of the fi nal interview manuscript submitted.

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139 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Diane Alice Marie Archer-Banks was born in Clarendon, Jamaica W. I. and spent her childhood and part of her adult life in Jamaica. She worked as a teacher in Jamaica and during this tenure also served as a dance instructor. In 1990, her senior dance group comprised of primarily at-risk girls was awarded the Best Ru ral Dance Championship title in the islands annual Festival of Arts competition. In September 1990, she along with her daughter immi grated to the United States to join her mother Elfreda Veronica Creary-Ar cher and eldest brother Ever ton Archer. She married Sim Hugh Banks III in 1993. Diane attended the Univer sity of Florida where she graduated with a bachelors degree in public relations. As an undergraduate stude nt, she served as the president of the University of Floridas Caribbean Stude nt Association from 1994 -1995. Upon graduating from UF, she taught in the Downtown Learning Lab of Santa Fe Community College during the period 1997 -1998. Her passion for teaching marginal ized students motivated her to accept a teaching position at the newly established PACE Center for Girls, Alachua in 1998, and she was promoted one year later to program manager, a position she held from April 1999 to June 2004. During this period, she also achieved a masters degree in social scien ce education from Nova Southeastern University, and a Sp ecialist in Education degree in educational leadership from the University of Florida. Diane also taught American History at Ea stside High School in Gainesville, Florida from August 2004 to June 2005. Diane has one daughter who also graduated from the University of Florida. She currently resides in Gainesville with her husband Sim Hugh Banks III.