Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

Ed.D. Educational Leadership


Educational Leadership


College of Education


Bu'Shell, Shawna


Middle school students; Academic achievement; Urban youth


Elementary and Middle and Secondary Education Administration


Minority students from inner cities care greatly about their education and want to be successful in school (Corbett & Wilson, 2002). This mixed-methods study sought to explore the correlation between urban students' perceptions of their middle school transitional experiences and The Middle School Plunge academic decline phenomenon that impacts minority youth once they move into 6th grade (West & Schwerdt, 2012). Some researchers on the topic assert that middle school grade configurations influence student achievement outcomes and that students who remain in K-8 settings outperform their peers who attend stand-alone 6th-8th grade middle schools (Carrell & Hoekstra, 2009; Jacobs, 2012; Rockoff & Lockwood, 2010). However, other theorists contend that grade span has no substantial bearing on student learning (Erb, 2006; Viadero, 2008; Whitley, Lupart, & Beran, 2007). Therefore, this research further strives to discover which middle school type urban students prefer to attend from their perspectives. Ultimately, this study was designed to provide disenfranchised learners a voice in revealing factors that affect school performance during this important developmental phase in their lives and what students determine as anti-plunge strategies that educators should implement to support them.Participants were selected from two middle school grade configuration types: two K-8 elementary schools and one 6-8 middle school from two adjacent urban school districts with similar demographics. A total of 136 students participated in the on-line Paired-Validity Analysis (PVA) student perception survey and 22 youth volunteered during three focus group sessions. Data were collected through a two-phased, sequential explanatory sequence (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010). Results reveal that urban students' perceptions of their transition to middle school encounters have a critical influence on educational outcomes. Findings from quantitative survey data uncover five perception themes associated with student academic performance. Findings from qualitative focus group interviews uncover three transitional factor adjustment shifts that students undergo in middle school. Information from mixed results indicates that students from both school types prefer to attend a separate 6th-8th-grade middle school program. Relevant data from both phases identify a list of specific educational practices that under-schooled students from high poverty schools value as effective methods necessary to achieve academic success. Overall, this study concludes that teachers and other adults have an obligation to support and encourage urban youth through crucial transitional phases in their lives and help them to plan future aspirations that have an influence on the future economic stability of impoverished families (Schultz & Hanushek, 2012; Tienken, 2012). Implications for urban education policy and practice are discussed. Recommendations for future research direction are proposed that can further help students from at-risk school systems combat the academic plunge experience. In addition, information from this study contributes prevalent knowledge to the field of education.