One Child Left Behind: Factors of Grit and Resilience at a High Performing High School

Focused Area

Improving School Climate for Youth-At-Risk

Relevance to Focused Area

There is a lack of research regarding underperforming and underrepresented students in high-performing schools. With low teacher and parent expectations for at-risk students, the chance these expectations will become reality are high (Bae et al., 2008). For low-achieving, underrepresented students to develop resiliency and become competitively “good students” in high-performing schools is a difficult proposition (Bae et al., 2008). Many students who experience early success in school often do not thrive. This lack of grit often results in low-resilient students not gaining admission to college and even those who do get in, often do not thrive like their similarly talented, wealthier peers (Wyner et al., 2007).

Primary Strand

Academic Achievement & School Leadership

Relevance to Primary Strand

Concerned parents who feel abandoned in urban centers often stretch family budgets to pay high rents near exclusive neighborhoods, just so they can move their families into particular school zones (Holme, 2002). Parents site safety and order in defining what a good school is (Ferryman, Briggs, Popkin & Rendon, 2008). To these caring parents, urban schools are doing little to support high-achievement with their low-income children (Beck, 2011). In desperation, some who cannot afford to move will claim a business address of a friend or fraudulently claim addresses of relatives, or even have someone claim to be a caregiver of a child, just to gain admission to high-achieving schools. A question to ponder is do these students have the necessary tools and support systems necessary to persist in high-performing school environments simply because they are placed in those environments (Ferryman et al., 2008).

Brief Program Description

The session will focus on the achievement and persistence of high-potential, at-risk learners who attend a high-performing high school and compare them to students who failed to persist in the same environment. We will examine risk factors and seek to understand the relationship between grit and student connectedness and will assess resulting impact(s) on student self-efficacy.


The results of a causal-comparative, pair matched study will be presented by the research team and will focus on specific strategies teachers and educational leaders can employ to assist at-risk students in developing higher levels of grit and self-efficacy leading to higher academic performance and school connectedness.

America is at a turning-point point in her history with a national focus on producing more and better college and career ready students through the Common Core Standards. According to Wyner et al. (2007), we have a large and “hidden” population of students who achieved at a high level as young students, only to fall backwards in later years. For America to remain competitive, Wyner et al. (2007) believes that we must invest-in and nurture the talent and resiliency of this hidden group of underachievers and to ignore the problem is to rob our nation of a valuable resource.

As referenced earlier, while abundant research exists concerning the resiliency and academic performance of both low-achieving and high-achieving students, minority and non-minority students, low and high-socioeconomic students, urban and suburban students, Latino, Black, Asian, and White students (Strage, 2000; Strick, 2012; Suizzo, Jackson, Pahlke, Marroquin, Blondeau, & Martinez, 2012; Wyner et al., 2007), there seems to be a dearth of research on the academic performance of low-performing, low-socioeconomic, minority student subgroups existing within high-performing, high-socioeconomic status schools and districts, as well as high-achieving students from lower-income families (Wyner et al., 2007). This proposal is driven by the need to present current research and data on high-potential, low-achieving students’ grit and resilience, who are enrolled-in high-achieving schools, in order to try and provide recommendations to teachers and school leaders who should be doing everything possible to meet the needs of these hidden populations.

At-risk students are far less likely to persevere in school as they matriculate through levels of school. Beck (2011) indicates that a national study of high-achieving students from lower-income families found that nearly half of the lower-income students who ranked in the top quartile in reading in first grade, fell out of that quartile by the fifth grade. Additionally, low socioeconomic students who were eligible for free and reduced lunch programs were far less likely to score in the advanced range for mathematics when compared to non-eligible students (Olszewski-Kubilius & Clarenbach (2012). Wyner et al. (2007) observed that progressively lower proportions of low-income, high-achieving students remain successful in school as they progress from elementary to college. Minority status also seems to be an influencing variable on persistence in school. Vernez, Krop & Rydell (1999) reported that 60% of all Hispanics are projected to drop out of school by 2015 compared to only 10.2% of non-Hispanic whites; and that by 2015, 37% of all dropouts will be Hispanic while only 6.1% of all college graduates will be Hispanic.

Cowley and Meehan (2002) found that schools with smaller achievement gaps had significantly higher scores for learning culture, shared goals for learning, and effective teaching than those with larger gaps in achievement. Their findings also suggest that addressing the area of school, family, and community connections is an important way that schools may better reach low-achievers in high-performing schools (Cowley &Meehan, 2002). This project will bring awareness of pockets of underperforming students existing in high-performing schools; and will encourage the development of intervention programs and processes, and instructional and curricular strategies to best serve minority and disadvantaged subgroups of students.


With assistance from the co-presenters, the lead researcher conducted a case study to uncover the achievement motivations behind a single Hispanic male student attending a predominantly Chinese-American (65%) middle school in a high-performing high-socioeconomic community, who had shown ongoing difficulty with his motivation to perform academically. The researchers attempted to link his motivational tendencies to various achievement motivation theories, in order to help us diagnose his motivation problems, and apply remedies to the problem(s).

The case study centered on two main constructs -- relatedness or a sense of belonging, and intrinsic motivation and self-determination. The subject of the study presented as a highly engaged math student and highly disengaged history (and other subjects) student. Findings demonstrated that the student valued and responded to teachers who related to him and his family on a personal level, who provided a fun and engaging learning atmosphere, who assigned tasks that were challenging and novel, who made the effort to construct meaningful lessons -- allowing for authentic interaction, autonomy, and choice, and who demonstrated a love for their subject matter. Findings also demonstrated that the presenting student was highly disengaged in History because he found the work rote, boring and without real-life value, the teacher as sarcastic and aloof, the tasks overly complex and directed, and his self-worth under attack through social comparisons and peer judgments.


Poster Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Mr. Jeffrey Wilson has been a middle school principal for 12 years and was principal of First Avenue Middle School in Arcadia, California from 2008 to 2014. For the previous six years, Mr. Wilson served as principal of a large suburban middle school in West Covina, California. Prior to that, he served as both an assistant principal for 2 years and taught mathematics for 7 years. Jeffrey Wilson currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for the Arcadia Unified School District.

As principal of Hugo Reid School for 8 years, Mr. Thomas Bruce viewed the teaching staff and parent community as key ingredients for student success. The foundation of Mr. Bruce's belief system is that an educational team that promotes a caring atmosphere will generate an effective learning environment where students connect and feel valued. He believes that parental support and quality instruction are two key ingredients to student connectedness.

Dr. Daniel Hacking is in his fifth year at Dana Middle School. Dr. Hacking has been involved in secondary education for over 20 years. Prior to serving at Dana, Dr. Hacking spent 11 years serving as a school principal and assistant principal in a nearby urban middle school. Prior to his school leadership days, Dr. Hacking taught social studies at the high school level for 10 years. Dr. Hacking holds an Ed.D in School Leadership from the University of Southern California.

Dr. Brent Forsee serves as Principal at Arcadia High, a USA Today Gold Medal high school. Dr. Forsee earned his BA in history and his Masters in special education from Point Loma Nazarene University along with his administrative and pupil personnel services credentials. He completed his doctoral program at the University of Southern California in the spring of 2011. Dr. Forsee has taught regular and special education classrooms as well as served as a high school counselor and administrator.

Start Date

11-5-2015 4:30 PM

End Date

11-5-2015 5:45 PM

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Nov 5th, 4:30 PM Nov 5th, 5:45 PM

One Child Left Behind: Factors of Grit and Resilience at a High Performing High School

The session will focus on the achievement and persistence of high-potential, at-risk learners who attend a high-performing high school and compare them to students who failed to persist in the same environment. We will examine risk factors and seek to understand the relationship between grit and student connectedness and will assess resulting impact(s) on student self-efficacy.