Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

Jaqueline Waggoner

LC Subjects

High school dropouts--Pacific Northwest; High school environment


The purpose of this mixed methods study was to identify factors within a high school culture that may reduce dropout rates by encouraging students to return each year and follow a path to graduation. The study also sought to identify ways a school culture may foster or draw on student resilience, to support their successful completion of high school. The study was conducted in a comprehensive high school (grades 9- 12) situated in a large suburban school district in the Pacific Northwest. To quantitatively assess the school’s culture, a 48-question survey was completed by 194 members of the senior class of 2017 (52% return rate). The survey was based on a previously tested School Connectedness Survey (SCS) developed by Lohmeier and Lee (2011). Three cultural elements of belonging, connectedness, and relatedness frame the questions in the survey. Survey data were analyzed in line with these elements. The academic transcripts of all 427 seniors in the class of 2017, were analyzed to identify students who, at the end of the ninth grade were statistically predicted not complete to high school. This analysis yielded a cohort of 54 students. The credit earning, course completion, and credit recovery patterns of the at-risk cohort were analyzed, and three common trajectories through high school were determined. Analysis of the demographic composition and rate of success for each trajectory identified three common pathways through high school. The influence of adolescent resilience and the role schools may play in fostering this trait were examined through semi-structured interviews of four members of the original at-risk cohort who graduated.

The qualitative and quantitative data sources allowed for triangulation of results in drawing conclusions. Statistical analysis of the student survey determined a high overall level of positive student perception of school connectedness. Results determined that student perceptions rated relatedness as the highest cultural element present with a mean combined positive response of 80.6%. Additional analysis showed only minor differences in responses based on gender, grade point average, or years of attendance at the school. Review of the high school trajectories revealed that one of the pathways moved all students to graduation while two resulted in lower rates of successful completion. Of the 54 students in the original at-risk cohort, 24 graduated as members of the class of 2017. Interviews with the four graduates identified key agents within the school culture that supported their successful high school graduation including adult relationships, school culture, and individual determination.

Results of the study show that promotive and protective factors within a school culture may support some, but not all, at-risk students along their high school path. The implications of this study may encourage schools to develop tools to identify students at-risk academically early and to foster school cultures where students develop strong, supportive relationships with adults.


Copyright for this work is retained by the author.