Term of Award

Fall 2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Harris, Kymberly

Committee Member 1

Bryan Griffin

Committee Member 2

Delores Liston

Committee Member 3

Janet Goodman

Committee Member 3 Email



In today’s educational system, a conversation that is often deprioritized is the need to consider students’ affective skills. One such aspect of this domain is how students feel as a member of their school environment. This need to belong is a basic psychological need (Goodenow, 1993); however, this is a critical component for students who may be marginalized, such as students with disabilities (Hagborg, 1998b). Hagborg (1998b) projected during his study that SWDs would have a lower sense of school membership that their non-disabled peers due, but the results of his study found that SWDs had comparable rates. Hagborg concluded that it could be due to the small school size that led to these results; yet, no study since then has analyzed this scenario. Therefore, this mixed-method study aimed to uncover if students with disabilities would have a significantly different sense of membership rating as compared to their non-disabled peers in a small and average school settings. In addition, the second stage of research uncovered the variables or themes that impacted the sense of school membership for the bounded cases.

The results of this study showed that students with disabilities were able to achieve comparable sense of school membership ratings as their non-disabled peers in a small middle school and average sized middle school setting. In addition, all four bounded cases (SWDs in the average school, SWDs in a small school, non-disabled students in an average school, and non-disabled students in a small school) revealed common themes as influences to their sense of membership. These themes were: positive peer relationships, school personnel, school characteristics, and student involvement. Only minute differences in the frequency of categories within each theme occurred. Therefore, students with disabilities were able to feel connected in a small and average sized school at the same rate as their non-disabled peers. One of the most notable aspects of the results includes the importance both SWDs and non-disabled students placed on engaging in meaningful course content and developing relationships with teachers and administrators. The results of this study are important for all stake-holders to consider when developing a learning environment that allows all students to feel connected to their environment.