First Advisor

Robert B. Everhart

Term of Graduation

Spring 1994

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership






High school students, Academic achievement, Educational change



Physical Description

1 online resource (3, vi, 317 pages)


In American high schools, students are sorted into three "tracks" to cluster resources for students of similar abilities and interests. Much is known about the high track student, and especially in the past decade, the low track or "at-risk" student. However, the middle track--or marginally achieving student--has been largely overlooked in the literature. Acknowledged as "lost in the middle" (Judson, 1992), as well as deserving of higher quality of service in their school systems (Powell, Farrar, & Cohen, 1985), marginal achievers-defined here as having a GPA of 1.5-2.5, still maintain a profile of invisibility. Current reform efforts to increase student engagement and achievement increase the importance of understanding the characteristics of this student population to enhance the quality of instructional practices, program options, and support services.

This study described the characteristics of marginal achievers and the nature of their school experiences. Five groups of students were interviewed in two local high schools. These data were combined with the results of a quantitative analysis of 165 variables from the National Longitudinal Educational study for a 500 case sample.

The results indicated:

  • Gender, race, and socio-economic status could not be used to identify marginal achievers. Seventy-nine point four percent of the students reported being in two-parent families. Most students indicated feelings of high self-esteem.
  • No demographic characteristics could be used to identify any school structure that was more likely to foster marginality, however, several climate factors emerged.
  • Marginal achievers were not visible in their school's system of rewards or sanctions. • Marginal achievers did not believe they had much value in their school system. They believed high track achievers were most valued.
  • Marginal achievers had no intentions of dropping out of high school. They believed they would have little trouble being successful in college. They reported their parents had the same expectations.
  • The students reported the primary parental support activity was student-parent discussions about school.
  • The cost of college led many students to consider attendance at a community college. The reduced financial burden of a community college, along with lower GPA expectations, influenced how hard they worked in high school.


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