Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Dr. Eric Glover

Committee Members

Dr. Cecil Blankenship, Dr. John Boyd, Dr. Virginia Foley


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the factors that contribute to positive educational outcomes as measured by the EXPLORE test for eighth grade males who qualify for free or reduced price lunch. In addition, this study was conducted for the purpose of improving the educational program at a Northeast Tennessee middle school. Archival EXPLORE data, as well as free and reduced price lunch data, were used to identify high school graduates, 6 males and 6 females, who had performed at or above expectation on the eighth grade EXPLORE test. Females were included in this study for the purpose of determining if the factors vary with respect to gender. The participants were interviewed for the purpose of gaining a rich understanding of the factors that enabled them to experience success, while the majority of their socioeconomically disadvantaged peers did not, as well as to determine if these factors varied with respect to gender.

Two overarching themes emerged as a result of the interview data analysis: connection to school and support and motivation. Each of the participants reported a sense of connection to the school via of one or more of the following 5 subcategories: teachers, peers, other adults, extracurricular activities, and school structure, culture, and supports. Also, all of the participants spoke of support and motivation via 1 or more of the following 4 subcategories: parents, other adults, preparation, and ability and talent.

Two factors emerged that seemed to be most important to their success: connection through relationships and outside support. Each participant was able to establish meaningful relationships during middle school, with 11 of 12 sharing accounts of their connections with school adults, and 12 of 12 discussing their peer relationships. Additionally, each spoke of feeling supported or motivated by a parent or other outside adult.

There was little difference with respect to gender. Boys indicated a slightly higher proclivity towards extracurricular activities, while girls seemed to place slightly more importance upon peer relationships. However, establishing meaningful connections within school was of paramount importance for both genders.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.