The effect of exploratory classes and other factors on student achievement in Colorado middle schools

Material Information

The effect of exploratory classes and other factors on student achievement in Colorado middle schools
Raymond, Myka Hess
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
xi, 166 leaves : ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Doctorate ( Doctor of Philosophy)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
School of Education and Human Development, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Educational Leadership and Innovation
Committee Chair:
Goetz, Jami M.
Committee Co-Chair:
Wilson, Brent
Committee Members:
Marlow, Mike


Subjects / Keywords:
Middle schools -- Elective system -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Academic achievement -- Colorado ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 153-166).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Myka Hess Raymond.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
66387483 ( OCLC )
LD1193.E3 2005d R39 ( lcc )

Full Text
B.S., University of Colorado at Denver, 1995
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1999
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
Myka Hess Raymond

2005 by Myka Hess Raymond
All rights reserved.

This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Myka Hess Raymond
has been approved
Mike Marlow
Deanna Sands

Raymond, Myka Hess (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
The Effect of Exploratory Classes and Other Factors on Student Achievement in
Colorado Middle Schools
Thesis directed by Senior Instructor Jami Goetz
Achievement is tantamount to educators. Middle school is a time of transition,
when students develop faster than any other time in their lives. Middle school
achievement tends to fall after elementary school, but this is often the first time
students have had access to exploratory content outside of the core curriculum.
This study of Colorado middle schools and the school accountability reports from
the school year 2003-2004 attempts to identify and examine factors that affect
student achievement as defined by the schools score on the CDE report card,
including exploratory courses offered, daily attendance rate, enrollment stability
rate, discipline incidents reported, and free and reduced lunch rate. While
exploratory course information does not add predictability to the model of
achievement on the Colorado Department of Educations school accountability
rating, slight correlations with achievement were noted, and larger correlations
between other factors and achievement were seen.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do
the thing you have to do,
when it ought to be done,
whether you like it or not;
it is the first lesson that ought to be learned;
and however early a mans training begins,
it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.
-Thomas H. Huxley
This dissertation is dedicated to my husband, children, and parents, who put up
with me during this trying time.
I also dedicate this dissertation to all the students I have been lucky enough to
teach, and hope that maybe I have made and will continue to make a difference.

How can you possibly thank all that need to be thanked in one small page?
You cant.
You can only choose those that are there constantly with support and
encouragement, love and understanding. They are the true strength behind the
completion of this work; they are the ones who made this possible.
First, I would like to thank my husband Tony, without whom I would have never
made it past the first annual exam, as he prevented me from dying of starvation
long before finishing this. His unconditional love, support, encouragement and the
never-ending giving of his time to endlessly edit papers, listen to venting and
planning his own life and education around my schedule made this possible.
Secondly, I would like to thank my children, Megan and Bryce, for putting up
with the endless nights of TV dinners and times when we couldnt read or play
together because class, homework, labs, study sessions, and this dissertation had
to take a priority.
Third, I would like to thank my parents, Duane and Eileen Hess, who love and
support me, helped with tuition, fed our family innumerable times so we would
not have to be exposed to my cooking any more than was absolutely necessary,
and babysat the dogs when we had to go on short emergency vacations for mental
health purposes.

1. INTRODUCTION..............................................1
The Problem...............................................1
Middle School: A Transition Period........................3
Middle School Intellectual and Emotional Development.4
School Philosophy and Exploratory Courses............7
Research Questions.......................................10
The Study................................................11
Purpose of the Study................................11
Design of the Study.................................15
Chapter Summary........................................ 16
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.................................17
Factors Affecting Student Achievement ...................17
Internal Factors....................................18
External Factors....................................22
Classroom Environment....................................26

Curriculum Development.....................................29
Curriculum Development in
Exploratory Courses...................................32
Learning Processes and Instruction Models
in Exploratory Courses................................34
Previous Research..........................................50
Achievement Differences...............................50
Chapter Summary............................................52
3. METHOD.....................................................54
Research Questions....................................55
Chapter Summary............................................62
4. PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS...................................63
Descriptive Statistics.....................................63
Assessment of Assumptions for Binary Logistic Regression...65
Binary Logistic Regression.................................67
Block 0: Beginning Block..............................67

Block 1: Method = Enter
Hierarchical Logistic Regression...............................69
Correlation Matrix.............................................71
Exploratory Classes......................................71
Daily Attendance Rate....................................72
Student Mobility.........................................72
Discipline Incidents.....................................73
Free and Reduced Lunch Rate..............................73
CDE Designation..........................................74
Chapter Summary................................................74
5. DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS....................................77
Exploratory Courses......................................81
Daily Attendance.........................................82
Enrollment Stability.....................................83
Discipline Incidents.....................................83
Free and Reduced Lunch Percentage........................84
CDE Designation..........................................85
Conclusions and Future Research................................89
Chapter Summary................................................92

FOREIGN LANGUAGE.........................106
VISUAL ART...............................113
FOR ALL STUDENTS.........................142
PHYSICAL EDUCATION.......................147

Table 4.1: Descriptive Statistics.............................................64
Table 4.2: Multicollinearity Assessment.......................................67
Table 4.3: Variables Not in the Equation......................................68
Table 4.4: Pearson Correlation Matrix.........................................71
Table 4.5: Odds Ratio.........................................................76

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned
ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.
-Henry David Thoreau
The Problem
The tardy bell rings. Welcome to another average day in a middle
school. On any given day, students are at the highest or the lowest point in
their lives, or anywhere in between. Some students are still tired, some
slept well. Most ate when they got out of bed, and some did not for a
variety of reasons. Some do not have a bed they share a room with many
siblings, and if they have a mattress, they share that, too. At age 12, some
are now able to stay home with younger siblings, and that rite of passage
is exploited by parents who must work nights and are not home yet or
those who work shifts requiring them to leave well before any of the
children are out of bed. Some of these students have music lessons, or play
on sports teams that practice for an hour or more after school. Some are

more concerned about feeding themselves or their siblings because their
parents are not home or are worried about other things. This is life when
two professional parent incomes are often required for a comfortable
lifestyle, but are often not possible. This is reality when a single parent is
raising several children on a meager close-to-minimum wage salary
without much help from anyone.
Some students fortunate enough to have two parents at home are
still fighting inner demons and they are convinced they and their personal
flaws are the primary thoughts in the minds of their classmates. Middle
school is often the most difficult of times; most are very glad to leave it,
and few would choose to relive it.
What affects student achievement at this very difficult age? What
factors are predictors of success or failure, as measured by the Colorado
State Assessment Program (CSAP)? This study examines on a large scale
some of the factors that may influence student achievement, including
daily attendance rate, enrollment stability, free and reduced lunch or
socioeconomic status (SES), student discipline incidents and exploratory

Middle School: A Transition Period
Student achievement is very important to educators; however,
research has shown that student achievement, on average, is lower in
middle school, regardless of student achievement in elementary school or
in high school (Rodick & Henggeler, 1980; Wheeler-Clouse, 2004). Why
is this? Middle school teachers often describe middle school students as
different. Parents often describe their adolescent children as difficult
The State of Colorado defines middle school students as students between
grades 5 or 6 and 8. How can educators positively impact student
achievement in middle school when there are so many factors that can
affect it, many of which the educator has little, if any, control over?
Positively affecting student achievement is one of the highest
priorities for educators, regardless of the level at which they practice.
Student achievement is very nebulous however, with factors influencing it
from every direction. Studies that examine external factors such as socio-
economic level (Hayes, 2000; Leithwood, Fullan & Watson, 2003), school
attendance rates and mobility (Hinz, Kapp & Snapp, 2003; Johnston,
2000), parental or home situation (Pong, 1997), parental involvement
(Desimone, 1999), race (Darden, 2003), instructional expenditures
(Okpala, Okpala & Smith, 2001), teacher management style (Brophy,
1988; Logie, 1991), learning difficulties (Adelman, Reyna, Collins,

Ongahai & Taylor, 1999) and special needs (Sobsey, 2002) have all shown
some effect on achievement for all students.
A comprehensive meta-analysis of the available literature has
yielded copious amounts of research on middle school students, but
research dealing with the achievement specifically of middle school
students and school factors is nearly nonexistent (Trimble, 2003). This
could be the result of difficulties measuring students in this age range
(Dashiff, 2001). Research regarding achievement of students at the
elementary level is plentiful, but there is no research that attempts to
determine if there is an effect on student achievement based on curriculum
course offerings that fall outside of the core curriculum (language arts,
mathematics, science and social studies). There is research that examines
whole-school reform and program effectiveness, but none that examines
relationships between student achievement data and middle school factors
(Trimble, 2003).
Middle School Intellectual and Emotional Development
To understand the population to be studied, it is important to
examine the intellectual and emotional factors influencing the age group.
Middle school students can enter the fifth grade at age 10, although most
middle schools in the State of Colorado begin at sixth grade, and some in

seventh grade. Piaget (1954) describes a progression of intellectual
development from birth to age fifteen. His progression describes the
development from birth, through childhood where reasoning is very
concrete, and the transformation to abstract reasoning, which takes place
at approximately age 12. This transformation takes place at vastly
different rates for different children. Additionally, the middle school
students language usage changes, and students cease at this age level to
ask for clarification when understanding is elusive (Piaget, 1959).
In addition to this intellectual transformation, students at this age
are also changing socially, emotionally and physically. During childhood,
children have a highly developed sense of egocentrism. During
adolescence, students begin to understand that people have different
beliefs and attitudes. However, because they have not yet completely let
go of the egocentric concept, they assume that others have different ideas
of whatever they happen to be thinking about Also, because they have
started to understand that people have different beliefs and attitudes, they
feel that they are alone with their thoughts and feelings and they do not
believe that anyone else could think or feel the way they do (Knowles &
Brown, 2000). Finally, it is between the ages of 10-14 that the majority of
children begin to go through puberty, and with the introductions of sex
hormones by the pituitary gland, children find it difficult to deal with the

Changes in their bodies during this time (Portner, 1997). With the onset of
puberty, children experience a drastic growth spurt, leaving them with
bodies much bigger than they are accustomed to or able to control
(Badenhop-Stevens & Matkovic, 2004). These changes often leave a child
gangly, awkward and easily embarrassed during the middle school years.
This feeling may leave students feeling uncomfortable in school, which
may result in poor achievement, attendance or low motivation (Anderman,
2003; DuBois, Felner, Meares & Krier, 1994).
Scales (1991) identifies seven key developmental needs of early
adolescence. Among these are creative expression, competence and
achievement. Students need to feel like they belong and that they have the
freedom to explore and choose how their time is spent (Wilson & Corpus,
2001), but within structure and limits (Scales, 1991). These provisions are
often an extrinsic reward; at this point, students are learning to internalize
extrinsic rewards and enjoy intrinsic rewards instead (Wilson & Corpus,
2001). All teachers are capable of addressing these needs in any content
area, but there is a particular portion of the middle school curriculum very
well suited to providing these needs: exploratory classes.

School Philosophy and Exploratory Courses
Public schools must include all students by law, a public school
district must educate all students within a home area. This includes
those students who require special services for learning. The law requires
that students be provided with instruction in the least restrictive
environment, which, for some students, depending on the type or level of
need, requires instruction outside of the regular classroom. These pullout
classes are often smaller and staffed with teachers who are specialists in
dealing with students with special needs. Similarly, to accommodate the
more advanced student, honors or accelerated classes are often offered and
cater to the higher ability level students.
The practice of pulling students out goes by many names,
including tracking and ability grouping. Ability grouping is defined as the
practice of placing students with others with comparable skills or needs, as
in classes or in groups within a class (, 2005), such as
accelerated courses for high ability students and pull out courses that are
more remedial in nature. Most public schools ability group to some extent
(Mills, 1998), despite several national curricular organizations opposition
to the practice (NMSA, 2005; Linchevski and Kutscher, 1998).
The fact that ability grouping occurs in schools leads to the
conclusion that academic classes are not completely heterogeneous.

Because accelerated or pullout courses are offered only at certain times,
those students will tend to move together to other courses. This situation
limits the amount of variability in the other academic classes, as the higher
ability students and the lower ability students are limited to when a class
might be taken based solely on when their accelerated classes or pullout
classes are taught.
However, the one place where inclusion is not only expected, but
often required is in the exploratory, or exploratory, courses. The
philosophy upon which middle schools are based dictates that teacher
teams have common planning time (Trimble, 2003) to create
interdisciplinary activities that provide middle level students emotional
support (Scales, 1991) in the form of interdisciplinary units and effective
team strategies (Flowers, Mertens & Mulhall, 2000). Because of the
scheduling of common planning time for a given team, all students in that
team are usually at their exploratory courses at the same time, and the
tracking is not nearly as obvious as it is during academic time. As a result,
successful exploratory teachers are typically familiar with differentiated
instruction, universal design and multiple intelligences all of which allow
them to accommodate students of all learning styles, abilities and needs
(Tomlinson, 1999). It is within the curriculum of these courses that much

of the application between content areas can occur, giving students a
unique outlet and opportunity for learning.
For the purpose of this study, exploratory courses are defined as
those that fall outside of the core curriculum of language arts,
mathematics, science and social studies. These may include but are not
limited to physical education, music instruction, visual or graphic art,
technology, world languages, and industrial arts. Many schools require
students to complete a certain number of a particular exploratory course to
move to the next grade level or to successfully finish a course of study at
the middle school level and be promoted to high school. For the purposes
of this study, the courses being examined are those that, at one point or
another in their middle school career, are available for the student to
choose to study.
Exploratory courses have traditionally come under fire and funding
for teaching positions in these non-academic courses (Hamblen, 1990)
has been cut in some Colorado public school districts in favor of more
core academic time in an attempt to raise standardized test scores as
dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Is a reduction in
exploratory programs working, or is it causing more harm than good in
Colorados middle school population? Is there a trend between the
exploratory courses offered to students and the schools score on the

school accountability report? If exploratory classes are removed from the
curriculum, do CSAP scores change?
Research Questions
Middle school students are at a fragile stage of development. A
decrease in achievement can lead to students feeling stupid (I never did
this badly in elementary school) and increasing levels of anxiety (How
am I ever going to survive high school?). The exploratory classes
available in middle school are often the students only creative outlet A
student who feels they belong nowhere can feel included in classes that
support their interests. Would a student who has the opportunity to explore
personal interests be more engaged in the rest of their school experience?
If it is true that the opportunity to explore personal interests engages
students in the curriculum, then it is reasonable to think evidence of this
would be manifested in standardized test scores. Therefore, this study was
driven by the following questions:
1) Does the reduction of exploratory courses in Colorado middle
schools boost achievement on the CSAP?
2) Does knowing the variety of exploratory courses a middle school
offers help to predict where that school will score on the Colorado
Department of Education designation scale?

Achievement in Colorado middle schools differs greatly (CDE, 2005).
It is necessary to look at other factors and attempt to determine the
possible reasons why schools have different achievement. Some factors,
such as socio-economic status, have already been shown to have effects on
achievement. In addition to looking at the levels of exploratory course
offerings, interactions between free and reduced lunch percentage (socio-
economic status), discipline incidents reported, daily attendance rate, and
student mobility rate will be examined. Achievement will be measured by
the Colorado Department of Educations designation for that school:
Excellent, High, Average, Low and Unsatisfactory. These ratings are
based on the results of CSAP assessments (CDE, 2005).
The Study
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to look for possible factors impacting
the achievement of middle school students as measured on state
achievement tests. As previously stated, there is no research that has
examined the correlation between student achievement and school factors
(Trimble, 2003). The introduction of high stakes testing and the effect of

Colorados School Accountability Report system has, in many schools, led
some Colorado administrators to remove courses from middle schools that
are not specifically addressed or tested in within the CSAP (Colorado
Student Assessment Program) exams and many have done so without the
research to support the decision. Administrators apparently believe that
test scores will increase if students spend more time with core academic
classes, specifically those that are tested within the CSAP exam, as
opposed to exploratory material that is not tested on the CSAP exam,
despite the absence of evidence to support that teaching to the test is
effective as a long term learning goal (Lewis, 2002; Trimble, 2003). Since
CSAP test scores are reported and published for parents in the newspaper,
administrators of low achieving schools often look substandard in
comparison to administrators from higher achieving schools.
There are many factors affecting student achievement. Does it raise
students achievement, according to Colorado State Assessment Program
(CSAP) scores, to remove exploratory courses from course offerings in
middle school? A descriptive study examining the CSAP scores and
relating those scores to levels of exploratory class offerings is imperative
to the understanding of how this time outside of the core curriculum
affects student achievement in Colorado. While some research has been
done on reading, writing and math skill acquisition through the visual arts

and music at the elementary school level (Butzlaff, 2000; Swann-Hudkins,
2002), very little research has been done at the middle school level. This is
due to the difficulty in studying middle school subjects individually,
which is due in part to the different physical and emotional needs of
students (Dashiff, 2001; Leber, 1993; Petrie, Lindauer, Dotson &
Tountasakis, 2001).
For many students at this age, school is arguably difficult, not
because of academic concerns, necessarily, but because of pervasive
feelings that are common in this age group that often prevent the student
from concentrating on the tasks at hand (Christie, 2004; Hufton, Elliott &
Illushin, 2002; Roeser, Strobel & Quihuis, 2002), including dealing with
the emotional trauma associated with a transition to middle school from an
elementary school environment (Rudolph, Lambert, Clark &
Kurlakowsky, 2001). Research describes the decline of academic
achievement, motivation and attitudes of middle school students (Rodick
& Henggeler, 1980; Wheeler-Clouse, 2004). How then can this decline be
Middle school students find outlets for their energy in many ways.
Some of those outlets are constructive, and some are not (Caldwell,
Baldwin, Walls & Smith, 2004). For many adolescent students, academics
often take a secondary role to other middle school pursuits, including

exploratory classes and extra curricular activities (McEwin, 2001; Swann-
Hudkins, 2002). It is in middle school where they are often first exposed
to courses that were either not available or not available in depth in
elementary school. These courses, for the purpose of this examination,
include music (including band, orchestra and choir), theatre, foreign
languages, computers, technical or vocational education, physical
education and art. To examine the effectiveness of these courses, it is
important to return to the root of behavior of a typical middle school
student by examining the middle school students psyche and intellectual
and emotional development.
In traditional schools, students are expected to sit in a desk and, if
they have the cognitive ability, to learn. However, changes in the students
emotional state, including the transition from an egocentric worldview to
one outside of the self (Piaget, 1959) make this difficult. Additionally,
changes in the middle school students physical state, including the
relatively sudden influx of hormones (Knowles & Brown, 2001), make
this nearly impossible. Additionally, as students get older, a more
competitive environment and the realization that they are heading into
high school where every grade will become part of their permanent record
causes negative feelings and lower motivation (Mizelle & Irvin, 2000).

Design of the Study
The CSAP was administered in the spring of 2004 to 454 middle
schools in the state of Colorado. The State Accountability Reports were
downloaded from the Colorado Department of Educations website for the
school year 2003-2004 for each school. Websites for each school were
examined to determine which courses are offered, and for those schools
that do not have a website, they were personally contacted by the
researcher. Those schools that provided the information, either
electronically or by phone, and have a CDE Overall Academic
Performance rating were included in the study. These reports give detailed
information about demographics of the school, including average parental
income, ethnic composition, a taxpayers report including the sources of
revenue for the district and the district use of funds, student attendance
statistics, compiled student discipline reports, school features, and scores
for all grades within the school for reading, writing and math.
The examination of schools course offerings and the CSAP scores
reported by the Colorado Department of Education may offer trends in
exploratory course offerings and how that school scored on the CSAP,
which is reported by the CDE Overall Academic Performance designation
of Excellent, High, Average, Low and Unsatisfactory. The CDE Overall
Academic Performance designation was then compiled along with data on

free and reduced lunch, daily attendance, discipline incidents reported per
capita and student mobility and analyzed using binary logistical regression
and a correlation matrix to determine if there is any correlation.
Chapter Summary
Middle school students need the opportunity to learn in an
emotionally and intellectually safe environment, which is far beyond the
scope of this study. However, some of the things that make middle school
bearable for some students can be examined and it can be determined
whether they affect student achievement, thereby providing a reason for
the courses to be in the curriculum or a reason to remove them. Educators
owe their students the opportunity for the best education they can provide
- the students are already dealing with enough outside of academics. They
deserve the opportunity to be as happy as they can in school; for some,
school is the only stable place in their lives.

It is our choices.. .that show what we truly are,
far more than our abilities.
-J.K. Rowling
To fully appreciate the factors affecting middle school students
achievement, a discussion of some of these is important to answering
questions about middle school achievement. This review of the literature
will begin by discussing some of the internal and external factors and the
research that shows an effect for each factor. Second I will discuss
classroom environment. Third, I will examine curriculum development, as
it relates to exploratory courses. Finally, a discussion of exploratory
classes and the learning styles involved in them is presented.
Factors Affecting Student Achievement
There are many things that affect student achievement. Anything
that affects a student on any given day can affect a students achievement.
Some factors cannot be measured or are not measured on a regular basis in

a standardized fashion. In order to study student achievement, we must
first understand how middle schools students develop cognitively.
Internal Factors
Cognitive. Emotional. Physical and Psychological Development. How
does the cognitive development of middle school students affect their
achievement? What makes them different from older and younger
Students develop in very different ways. While research has given us
averages, the range of development is extraordinarily varied. It is during
the middle school years when the average child achieves numerous
milestones in their physical, social, emotional and intellectual
Usually during the middle school years, a child experiences the onset
of puberty. The onset of puberty is occurring earlier and earlier (Odink,
Schoemaker, Schoute, Herdes & Delemarre-van de Waal 1998; Portner,
1997), and children are dealing with changes in their bodies that they
cannot control and often do not understand (Portner, 1997). Also, because
of growth spurts associated with the onset of puberty, children find
themselves controlling bodies that quickly become much bigger than they

are accustomed to (Badenhop-Stevens & Matkovic, 2004). Because of
these factors, children of this age are embarrassed quite easily (Knowles &
Brown, 2001).
Also during the middle school years, a child is altering their world-
view from one of ego-centrism to one where the thoughts and feelings of
others begin to have more prominence. Because children of this age are
beginning to realize that others also have feelings, they do not fully
understand that their peers are still engaged in a world that revolves
around the self. Children assume that all children are thinking about them
as much as they are thinking about themselves (Knowles & Brown, 2001).
One of the better-known child psychologists was Jean Piaget (1896-
1980). Piaget became interested in the mistakes that children of different
ages tended to make on intelligence tests, and spent his research career
developing his theories of childrens development His theories state that
children develop in four basic stages, which are genetically determined, in
the same sequential order (Piaget, 1954). As newborns, from birth to
approximately 24 months, children are in a sensory motor period, which is
defined by reflex activities with increasing levels of coordination (Piaget
1964). From the ages of two to approximately seven, children are in a pre-
operational period, where children develop some rudimentary logical
reasoning but fantasy and reality continue to be blurred. From the ages of

seven to eleven they become capable of concrete reasoning, capable of
understanding basic logical sequences. From ages eleven to fifteen,
children are capable of formalized operations, defined by abstraction and
formal logical systems (Child Development Institute, 2005).
While Piaget never commented on the impact of his findings on
curriculum development, his discussions of how children change as they
get older give teachers a guide with which to write curriculum that is
developmentally appropriate for students of any age. Some educational
research indicates that because of this transition, which may or may not be
happening for many middle school students, activities in middle school
should be more concrete and hands on (Smith, 1981). However, as these
stages are genetically determined, it stands to reason that not all children
are going to develop at the same rate or fall exactly within the ages Piaget
described. Therefore, middle school students can be on either side of the
formal reasoning boundary, making curriculum development for all
students increasingly difficult for teachers of middle school students.
A major task for teachers is to prepare students for the standardized
tests that have become featured in the present educational system. One
way to do this is to train students to think critically. Blooms Taxonomy
(Bloom, B.S. (Ed.), Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., & Krathwohl,
D.R., 1956) has been around for nearly half a century, and like Piaget, is

one of the cornerstones on which teacher education is founded. Bloom and
his associates defined a series of six stages (Knowledge, Comprehension,
Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation) of thinking that are not
developmental in nature, but considering Piagets developmental stages,
children become capable of higher-level stages over the course of their
educational career and as they reach the developmental levels Piaget
theorized. Because of the variability in cognitive developmental skill level
of middle school students, curricula appropriate for all remains
consistently difficult for teachers of this age level.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2001) dictates that all
students must be assessed based on their grade level. As shown above, not
all students are at the same developmental level at a particular grade level.
This is especially true in middle school, where achievement is shown to
decrease (Rodick & Henggeler, 1980; Wheeler-Clouse, 2004), and
students are crossing a developmental milestone (Piaget, 1959). Students
will rise to the level of the expectations placed on them (Goldenberg,
Gallimore, Reese & Gamier 2001; Stronge, 2002; Wilkins & Ma, 2002).
The question of whether standardized assessment models are most
appropriate to assess knowledge still remains (Medeja, Dom & Sobol,
2003), but with the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
(NCLB, 2001) and high stakes standardized testing related to that

legislation, it is apparent that the model will not be disappearing soon.
What is the most appropriate way to raise the bar for student achievement?
Research shows that students who are motivated and try harder
tend to do significantly better than students who do not put forth the effort
(Rodick & Henggeler, 1980; Roderick & Engel, 2001; Hufton et al.,
2002). Students who care about the perceptions of others tend be more
successful (Giota, 2002) and most students equate educational failure with
undesirable consequences later in life (Hufton et al., 2002). The question,
then, needs to remain, how can we motivate students to put forth effort in
and out of class to do better? Do exploratory courses offered at the middle
school level help students to be motivated to make the complex
connections of cross-curricular application, thereby increasing their ability
to think critically and score higher on standardized examinations?
External Factors
There are other factors affecting how students perform on state
standardized exams. These factors, however, are ones that are often out of
the control of educators or the students. Some factors that are measured
and have a demonstrated impact on student achievement include the
negative impact of poor teacher attendance (Woods & Montagno, 1998),
uniforms (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 1998), the positive impact of

participation in outside clubs (Anderson-Butcher, Newsome & Ferrari,
2003), academic efficacy, the number of books read (Mulhall, Flowers &
Mertens, 2002) and parental involvement (McNeal, 1999). The Colorado
Department of Education has attempted to measure a few other factors and
has reported percentages in several areas that help to define a school and
supply data to support Colorado State Assessment Program (CSAP) scores
on the School Accountability Reports. Those factors include student daily
attendance rate, student mobility rate, discipline incidents reported and
free and reduced lunch rate. A review of each of these, with supporting
research, is provided next
Student Daily Attendance Rate. Research has shown that a
students regular daily attendance directly affects final grades (Gump,
2005). Studies conducted in other states show significant positive
correlations between achievement on a standardized test and student
attendance in the 4th, 6th 9th and 12th grades (Roby, 2002). For college
courses, when attendance was recorded, students who attended class
(proven by signing in) showed significantly higher quiz test scores
(Shimoff & Catania, 2001). It was also found that poor attendance is a
predictor of failure on a states required graduation examination (Nichols,
2003). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that schools that have higher

daily attendance rates, if all other things are held constant, should have
higher test scores.
Student Mobility Rate. Studies have shown negative relationships
between student mobility and achievement (Dubois, Felner, Meares &
Krier, 1994; Barton, 2004). It is reasonable to think that students who
move between schools, particularly early in their school career, have more
difficulties later in their school careers (Heinlein & Shinn, 2000).
However, studies also exist (Wright, 1999) showing student mobility is
confounded and has less effect than other factors, such as family income
and minority status.
Discipline. Research dealing specifically with how discipline
affects student achievement is elusive. There is some research that shows
teacher retention is affected by discipline problems and that discipline
problems threaten student achievement (Fratt, 2004). Research also
shows how strong leadership and teacher buy-in are important when
determining what schools are effective in dealing with discipline problems
(Lasley & Wayson, 1982; Martin, Tobin & Sugai, 2002.), but exactly how
student achievement is affected by discipline problems is not clear in the
body of literature. Research indicates, however, that instructional time is
reduced when there is a high level of discipline incidents in the classroom

and that those problems are more prevalent in lower socio-economic status
schools (Fratt, 2004).
Free and Reduced Lunch Rate. Studies have shown that
undernourished children have shorter attention spans, lower attendance,
lower performance scores and more health-related problems than their
better-nourished counterparts (Galal & Hulett, 2003). Researchers have
further suggested that to increase achievement, steps need to be taken to
increase the health and nutrition of all students (Hutchinson, Powell,
Walker, Chang and Grantham-McGregor, 1997). The percentage of
students receiving free and reduced lunches is one of the measurements of
poverty rate in schools. The free and reduced lunch percentage is the
federal guideline for poverty (Sherry, 2005). In Denver Public Schools,
research done by The Colorado Childrens Campaign and the Pi ton
Foundation found that achievement in schools with the highest percentage
of free and reduced lunch rates in grades 6-8 actually saw a significant
decline over the course of two years on the CSAP, despite intensive
literacy programs (Sherry, 2005). This supports the idea that one of the
factors affecting student achievement is parental socio-economic status as
defined by free and reduced lunch.

Classroom Environment
As discussed, middle school is a very stressful and awkward time.
Increased amounts of stress can affect learning (Knowles & Brown, 2000),
so teachers who can create an atmosphere of academic safety and establish
realistic academic expectations and outcomes for each student tend to be
more effective (Knowles & Brown, 2000; Stronge, 2002).
Public schools must include all students by law, a public school
district must educate all students within its home area, including those
students who require special services for learning. The law requires
students be provided with instruction in the least restrictive
environment, which, for some students, depending on the type or level of
need, requires instruction outside of the regular classroom. These
pullout classes are often smaller, and staffed with teachers who are
specialists in dealing with students with special needs. Similarly, to
accommodate the more advanced student, honors or accelerated classes
are often offered and cater to the higher ability level students. This
practice goes by many names, including tracking and ability grouping.
Ability grouping is defined as a situation where students of similar ability
levels are placed together for certain types of instruction, such as
accelerated courses for high ability students and pull out courses that are
more remedial in nature. Most public schools group students by ability to

some extent (Mills, 1998), despite several national curricular
organizations opposition to the practice (NMSA, 2005; Linchevski &
Kutscher, 1998).
The fact that ability grouping occurs in schools leads to the
conclusion that academic classes are not completely heterogeneous.
Because of scheduling logistics, accelerated or pullout courses are offered
only at certain times, and the students in those classes will tend to move
together to other courses. This situation limits the amount of variability in
the academic classes; the higher ability and lower ability students are
limited to when a class might be taken based solely on when their
accelerated classes or pullout classes are taught.
However, the one place where inclusion is not only expected, but
often required is in the exploratory, or exploratory, courses. The National
Middle School Association has defined several facets that middle schools
(as opposed to junior high schools) have, and the combination of these
constitutes a middle school philosophy (NMSA, 2005). Middle school
philosophy dictates that grade level teams have common planning time
(Trimble, 2003) to plan activities that provide middle level students
emotional support (Scales, 1991) in the form of interdisciplinary units
using effective team strategies (Flowers, Mertens & Mulhall, 2000).
Because of the scheduling of common planning time for a given team, all

students in that team are usually at their exploratory courses at the same
time, and the tracking is not nearly as obvious as it is during academic
time. As a result, successful exploratory teachers are typically familiar
with and employ differentiated instruction, universal design and multiple
intelligences to accommodate students of all learning styles, abilities and
needs (Tomlinson, 1999). It is within the curriculum of these courses that
much of the application between content areas can occur, giving students
an outlet and an opportunity for learning.
Curriculum and instructional planning in the middle school
classroom needs to take into account the needs of adolescent students.
Learning involves the entire physiology (Caine & Caine, 1994; Emmer,
Evertson & Anderson, 1980; Stronge, 2002); so an effective middle school
teacher needs to be flexible in planning and delivery to account for all of
the varied needs of middle school students (Johnson, 1977; Knowles &
Brown, 2000; Stronge, 2002). Additionally, because of the intellectual
transition period between childhood and adulthood (Piaget, 1954,1959),
middle school students need to have reinforcement that they are correctly
approaching the subject matter. As a result, a teacher who can be sure that
student effort is recognized as well as the products of those efforts is more
likely to be effective in a middle school classroom (Knowles & Brown,
2000). Teachers who eliminate competitive situations that create inequity

among students and develop cooperative grouping strategies encouraging
students to collaborate in their learning and share expertise with one
another meet the need for acceptance that is common in this age group
(Knowles & Brown, 2000; Tomlinson, 1999).
In addition to meeting the emotional needs of middle school
students, effective middle school teachers choose alternative instructional
strategies to meet the learning style of every student in their classroom.
Additionally, teachers of middle school students recognize and appreciate
talents other than academic skills (Knowles & Brown, 2000). Although
middle school students sense of school belonging tends to decline over
time, it is enhanced when teachers promote adaptive academic and
interpersonal contexts in the classrooms (Anderman, 2003; Stronge,
Curriculum Development
Curriculum development spurs many debates. At the beginning of the
20th century, John Dewey (Dewey, 1910) observed there were two distinct
camps when it came to curriculum development. The first camp started
with the content, determining how it should be divided until individual
lessons remained. The second group thought it reasonable to begin with
the child, and that the needs and readiness of the individual child should

be the deciding factor. The first camp derived standards and benchmarks
students should meet to be proficient and was defined by a high degree of
structure, while the second gave rise to constructivism and other child-
centered philosophies, often associated with a lower degree of structure to
allow for flexibility (Piaget, 1959; Tomlinson, 1999; Knowles & Brown,
Which side is right? If both are right to some extent, how then do
teachers create curriculum that meets the standards yet is still student-
centered with a degree of freedom? In reality, there just is not enough time
for students to explore in Colorado, schools are required to provide
1,080 hours of instruction per year, and in that time, teachers should
present and assess many standards in every curricular area. How can
curriculum be planned to help students meet with success and make
adequate yearly progress in each area without considering the needs of the
student, and, how effective would it be when students are not at the
forefront of the planning process?
If research into how people learn has taught educators anything, it is
that intelligence is variable (Tomlinson, 1999), and the theories to explain
how people learn are as varied as the individual. There are many theories
about intelligence and cognitive development, but all of these theories
return to the same idea students are individuals. Plato and Pythagoras

were making observations into where in the body the mind must reside.
The Egyptians were looking for patterns in thought and learning. Franz
Joseph Gall was looking for differences in learning based on the shape of
the skull or features, leading to the study of phrenology. As time
progressed and as more was learned about the human brain, the things we
had in common when thinking became more obvious (Koizumi, 2004).
Several researchers, psychologists and educators have examined
learning and the process by which one learns. Over the course of time and
by many different names, they have developed two essential conclusions
by which education is driven (Tomlinson, 1999). We have learned that
people learn and create differently (Gardner, 1993; Sternberg, 1997), and
that the development of potential is affected by what they learn and how
that material interacts with the intelligences they possess (Caine & Caine,
1991). Therefore, successful teachers will differentiate instruction
(Tomlinson, 1999,2001; Wehrmann, 2000) and present material at an
appropriate level of difficulty (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000; Tomlinson,
2001; Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003). Successful teachers will make the
content accessible to all learners (CAST, 2004; Howard, 1994, Vygotsky,
1978). A successful classroom should be student centered and the teacher
flexible enough to meet the needs of all students (Danielson, 2002;

Jonassen & Land, 2000; Tomlinson, 2003; Sandholtz, Ringstaff & Dwyer,
With a student-centered philosophy comes a new way, for many
teachers, of teaching and planning; often integral is Problem-Based
Learning (Albion, 2000; Borich, 2004) with real-life applications that
students can consider. Students are more likely to become interested in
tasks that are relevant and interesting (Erickson, 2002; Smith, 2003;
Simkins, Cole, Tavalin & Means, 2002; Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003) or
offer the opportunity for leadership roles (Lambert, 2003).
Curriculum Development in Exploratory Courses
Given the wide range of students seen in exploratory classrooms, how
do teachers of these subjects plan curriculum so all children are included?
One of the most effective ways to get students involved in curriculum is to
assure cross-disciplinary integration between exploratory courses (art,
music, physical education and technology, for example) and the core
courses (language arts, math, science and social studies) (Reeves, 2004).
By increasing the integration between these disciplines, teachers can
take their students on intellectual journeys that allow them to become
deeply involved in projects and problems that are not only real-life
problems, but relevant to their lives and interesting to them personally.

The variety, the involvement of students in the selection of curriculum and
the informality of instruction are vital to the success and happiness of
middle school students (McEwin, 2001). It is schools that involve these
type of activities, often disregarded by traditional education, that are more
successful because of the opportunity to expand the scope of curriculum
and allow for student exploration of interests (Reeves, 2004, Tomlinson,
2001a). Core teachers who are often tied to curriculum and standards often
find very little time for this type of activity, considering the many
standards that need to be taught and assessed in a short amount of time.
Schools are often too quick to remove the arts from the curriculum,
despite research showing that students can learn problem-solving, writing
and math skills through arts instruction (Foshay, 1998; Reardon, 2005).
There are many schools that believe that more time spent on core
subjects will lead to increased achievement, despite the ease with which
students who think differently can fall through the cracks of traditional
education. Studies examining increased time and the effect on
achievement have mixed results (Karweit, 1985; Zimmerman, 2001), but
studies that do show a positive correlation between time on task and
achievement warn that it is effective teaching strategies that improve
student achievement (Cawelti, 1999).

Learning Processes and Instruction Models
in Exploratory Courses
Exploratory courses are often the only outlets for middle school
students. Many exploratory classes encompass open-ended authentic
problems that create an environment of acceptance because of the lack of
right answers. This problem-based learning environment takes
traditional instruction and creates an experiential and constructivist
atmosphere, giving learning and knowledge meaning because of the
opportunity to apply new knowledge to new situations (Catterall, 2002;
Knowles & Brown, 2000).
As different exploratory courses are examined, it should be noted
that the learning opportunities for students are different depending on the
teacher, the curriculum and standards applied, and the resources available,
both intrinsic and extrinsic. See the appendices for a listing of the
standards available for each exploratory content area. The National Arts
and Education Network (ArtsEdge, 2005) contains standards for visual art,
dance, and music. Content can be assumed to be similar across school
environments, based on Colorado State Model Content Standards, which
correlate with the national standards in each area, the Standards for
Technological Literacy (2000) or the National Educational Technology
Standards for Students (1998). Descriptions of each of the types of classes

as they are taught in Colorado public schools and the learning processes
described by Halpem (1997) are discussed. Content discussed in each
section was taken from the Colorado State Model Content Standards for
each subject. Research relating to each subject area is also discussed.
Music. Music (Colorado Model Content Standards for Music,
1997) is taught with both the beginner and the advanced musician in mind.
Lessons on reading music precede discussions and examinations of
different musical styles and composers. Assessment ordinarily includes
various musical theory tests and some form of assessment about each style
or composer. Assessments may include a practical exam requiring
identification of auditory cues or a project of choice on a particular
composer or style. Once a student becomes more advanced, band,
orchestra or choral opportunities become available (Colorado Model
Content Standards for Music, 1997).
Between the variety of styles and activities designed to help
students see and understand music theory and different styles of music,
students have a variety of avenues toward knowledge acquisition
(Bilhartz, Bruhn & Olson, 2000). Learning is distributed over time. As
new things are learned at each class session, they are expected to be
integrated into previous knowledge as they go. The nature of music

requires that multiple cues for retrieval of knowledge be presented to the
Audio cues are extremely effective for knowledge retrieval
(Bresler, 2002). Music consists almost entirely of auditory cues, as
melodies are learned and followed, whether the music is present or not
Music is one of the few things that can be learned by rote by the very
young (Bilhartz, Bruhn & Olson, 2000; Costa-Giomi, 1999). Pieces of
music evoke different reactions from different people, so there are rarely
stereotypes or prejudices unless a style of music is examined and related to
a particular part of history and the events therein. Rhymes are also
effective mnemonics, and most vocal music is written using rhyming
lyrics, making it easier for students to remember both the words and the
melody that go with particular syllables (Costa-Giomi, 1999).
Persistence is definitely something that musicians need in
abundance. To progress, practice time is required. The amount of practice
time can vary based on the difficulty of the piece relative to the level of
the student. Certainly the composing or performing of music would be
considered a well-defined problem, but very open ended. It is the
performers task to not only read the music, but also to follow the
composers intention, and interpretation often becomes part of the
performance. The same piece of music can be performed by three different

people but never performed the same way. Individual creativity is a big
part of a successful musician, including the ability to improvise and
improvisation is often an integral part of jazz music and other types of
music (Colorado Model Content Standards for Music 1 and 5,1997;
Foshay, 1998).
Studies show that children that have music instruction have
improved spatial-temporal reasoning (Bilhartz, Bruhn and Olson, 2000;
Costa-Giomi, 1999; Hetland, 2000; Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Wright,
Dennis and Newcomb, 1997; Rauscher and Zupan, 2000), reading ability
(Butzlaff, 2000), spatial-temporal mathematical reasoning (Graziano,
Peterson and Shaw, 1999; Vaughn, 2000), writing motivation and skill
(Kariuki and Honeycutt, 1998).
Theatre. A course in drama and theatre usually encompasses
learning the mechanics and the vocabulary involved in stage productions
(Colorado Model Content Standards for Theatre 2,2000). Assessment for
this type of course can be as formal, such as a practical exam that involves
monologue or skits, or informal, such as participation in some aspect of a
stage production, whether acting, directing, or part of the technical or
support staff.
In theatre, several learning processes relating to knowledge
acquisition are present (Catterall, 2002). First, students must pay attention

to the script, to their fellow students, to the director and to the authors
intent Over-learning is also particularly important for productions that
require memorization for parts played in front of an audience. Students
learn stage presence, public speaking and performing skills while gaining
confidence (Catterall, 2002; Colorado Model Content Standards for
Theatre 2,1997).
As mentioned, much of theatre is memorization and familiarization
of materials. Forgetting lines is a natural part of theatre, but with memory
cues such as chunking and other retrieval cues, prompters may be less
utilized as show time nears (Koizumi, 2004). Other mnemonic devices,
like methods of places (as the actor moves around the stage to hit a mark)
and remembering events, such as the plot of a show, make lines easier to
remember without a script (Mulhall, Flowers & Mertens, 2002).
Advance organizers in theatre have a natural role. The scene
progression, both for actors and audiences is useful to genetically describe
the progression of the show. Matrices are often used in character
developments or stage directions and set construction. Diagrams are also
helpful to help bridge the gap between the author and the director or
between the director and the actors and stage crew (Sternberg, 1997).
Like music, theatre requires the development and use of problem-
solving skills (Colorado Model Content Standards for Theatre Standards 1,

5 and 6,1997). Persistence with rehearsals and individual preparation is
imperative for a show to run smoothly. Because an actor is usually only
responsible for the action of one character, actors can specialize in that
one character, making a strong production when a team of strong actors is
available. Hints can be made available if the director chooses to employ
the services of a prompter when lines are forgotten. Additionally,
creativity is key to the success of both the individual actor and the
performance as a whole. The interpretation of individual characters is vital
to the development of the product (Colorado Model Content Standards for
Theatre Standards 4 and 5, 1997)
Foreign Languages. Foreign language classes are generally more
like the traditional classrooms found in the core content areas. Here,
students generally spend time quietly listening or deliberately speaking
(Colorado Model Content Standards for Foreign Language, Standard 1,
1997). Students also tend to be assessed more formally than in some of the
other exploratory courses. The most common foreign language courses in
Colorado are Spanish and French, although many schools offer German,
Japanese and Italian at the high school level. In addition to language,
courses also include a cultural component, and students learn local
customs as well as food and history (Colorado Model Content Standards
for Foreign Language Standard 2,1997).

Second language learners are not at all uncommon in the
classroom. Students newly arrived from other countries deal daily with the
feelings of frustration daily as they struggle with a new language.
Students learning a foreign language, whether through an exploratoiy
course by choice or by default as a student placed into a school that works
in a different tongue than the one they were taught deal with these feelings
daily (Krueck, 2005).
Learning processes dealing with knowledge acquisition are similar
to many other courses. Paying attention is crucial to the success of a
student in a foreign language class to acquire the skill of language in
context. Teachers often speak to students and ask them to translate,
monitoring meaning and understanding. Learning is distributed over time,
whether one year of basic language or four or five years of advanced
study, leading to testing for fluency (Colorado Model Content Standards
for Foreign Language Standard 1,1997).
There are many learning processes relating to retention. Learning
vocabulary by using pictures, keywords, and other retrieval cues is
common, particularly in primary study. Most courses use syllabi or an
advanced organizer. Matrices for vocabulary and verb conjugations are
often used as well. Meaning is monitored and assessed both with paper-
pencil and practicum exams, requiring the student to speak with the

teacher and be assessed for comprehension (I. Krueck, personal
communication, September 13,2005).
In many courses, projects that require students to explore topics
within a culture are often assigned for students to explore and research. A
multi-cultural food fair is often part of a students study in a foreign
language. Many courses require students to evaluate a countrys
governmental structure and relate it to our own. Students decide what
information is relevant to the scope of their report and are graded on a
rubric according to the teacher or classs categories.
Visual Art. A course in middle school art usually encompasses a
variety of art styles, identification of particular artists and perhaps a
mimicry of their work (Colorado Model Content Standards 1,4 and 5,
1997). Several media are explored, and may include painting, drawing
sculpture or ceramics. Learning generally centers around the visual and
tactile styles.
Prior art knowledge is often very important in courses in the visual
arts. Students often have varying experiences and varied levels of
expertise with art. Creativity is a factor that cannot be assessed in art, and
students who do not achieve visually often have difficulty with courses
such as those in the visual arts. It is vitally important teachers take non-

cognitive factors like learning style into account (Baker, 2002; Colorado
Model Content Standards for Visual Art Standard 3, 1997).
Like learning any new skill, persistence is important to achieve and
progress. Because of the very open-ended nature of tasks often given,
students should evaluate interpretation and decide how to demonstrate
what they are trying to express. Therefore, the exposure and exploration of
varying art forms is crucial to a student feeling successful in a visual arts
class. Additionally, research shows increased reading readiness (Burger
and Winner, 2000), writing skill (DeJamette, 1997) and reading
motivation (Wilhelm, 1995).
Technology or Vocational Education. This course is one course,
but is called by one of two names, depending on the school. Districts that
have moved away from vocational education and Perkins funding usually
call this course Technology Education whereas districts that are tapping
Perkins funding often call it Vocational Education. Courses in
technology or vocational education are often more nebulous compared to
other exploratory courses (National Educational Technology Standards for
Students, 1998; Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the
Study of Technology, 2000). The State of Colorado does not have model
content standards for either technology or computer courses; however, the
International Technology Education Association (ITEA) and the

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) have both
developed standards, or profiles, for technological literacy.
Technology or vocational education is fairly nebulous, and can
mean different things in different schools. Curriculum can vary from
computer and keyboarding courses to what other schools consider to be
industrial arts, possibly including drafting, architecture, engineering,
manufacturing and others. A particular schools handling of technology
education can vary with the teachers involved. Because there are no
Colorado Model Content Standards for Technology or Computer
Education, there is no continuity between districts. The computer courses
generally center around keyboarding skills and general office software
applications, although some work may be done with digital photography
and similar creative programs. Technical or vocational education is much
different. The focus can range from very industrial in nature to more
technology centered.
One international organization is trying to stabilize technology
education. The Technology Student Association (TSA) is an extra-
curricular organization arising from technology education programs. Many
technology educators who are advisors for TSA chapters in Colorado have
reformed their curriculum to match TSA events, which are based on ITEA

standards. Other clubs that are similar include the Future Business Leaders
of America (FBLA) and SkillsUSA.
Learning processes involved in technology education classrooms
are extremely varied because of the lack of continuity in the state. Several
learning processes are integral to success in technology education courses.
Paying attention is a safety issue, as tools are used that can cause serious
bodily injury to a student who is not paying attention. With the types of
projects that are available, differentiation by process and interest is usually
Knowledge can be either independent or sequential, and often
builds on knowledge from science, a natural connection. Because of the
nature of the material, research is often part of the development process.
Both inductive and deductive reasoning, reasoning with diagrams, and
using operational definitions are part of the technology education
classroom. Jargon in several vocational areas including drafting, Computer
Aided Drafting and Design (CADD), mechanical engineering, structural
engineering, computer systems, graphic arts, desktop publishing, digital
photography, robotics, aerospace sciences, automotive engineering,
pneumatics and laser sciences are used extensively.
To create the most effective product, extensive testing of student
projects should take place (Standards for Technological Literacy Standard

8, 2000). This includes isolating and controlling variables to look for
causal relationships between design and function and changing the design
to achieve the desired response. Therefore, persistence and patience can
play a critical role in the success of a student in a program like this.
Problem-solving skills are crucial (Standards for Technological
Literacy Standards 3, 10 and 11, 2000, National Educational Technology
Standards for Students Standards 5 and 6,1998). Many of the projects in
class and in extra-curricular activities such as TSA require students to
consider a very open-ended, ill-defined problem without a single correct
solution. An example of a typical problem, students are given a bag of
various materials with no apparent connection and a challenge to solve
using those materials. Students must brainstorm with a partner and plan
how they are going to use their materials to solve the problem. The more
creative the solution, the more points awarded to the student on the rubric,
which scores the process by which the solution was reached in addition to
the solution itself. Thinking in different ways is often required and usually
Engineering, such as structural engineering, requires students to
use a particular length of balsa wood to construct either a bridge or tower
that has the greatest efficiency. To succeed with such a challenge, a pair of
students should brainstorm and use their knowledge of structures.

Efficiency is calculated with an equation that takes into account the weight
of the bridge or tower and the weight that it can hold. They should
evaluate the situation and determine if using more wood, and thereby
increasing the weight of the structure is worth the extra weight the
structure will hold. Technical reading, writing and speaking is also a part
of a technology education curriculum. Research in particular themes and
the preparation of a technical report or speech presentation is required and
presented at competition (National TSA website, 2005).
Technology education is often the catch-all for students that are
uninterested in anything else. The wide range of curriculum offered in a
technology education classroom appeals to a variety of students and
learning styles. Nearly every student can find something interesting in a
technology education classroom.
Computer Education. Middle schools treat computer instruction
differently between schools. Many middle schools in Colorado have
computer classes that are separate classes as part of an exploratory
program. These computer classes usually teach some basic software
applications, such as word processing, basic spreadsheet applications and
a presentation software program (National Educational Technology
Standards for Students Standards 3 and 4,1998). Occasionally, these

classes will venture into video production and the use of computer-based
editing programs.
Some schools, however, treat their computer laboratory facilities
very differently. Rather than offering a separate class, the computer
laboratories are made available to teachers of other classes to use as part
of their classroom instruction, either to integrate technology or to make
professional looking presentations or papers. The philosophy of the school
dictates how computer laboratories are used.
Physical Education. Physical education is a course that deals with
physical activity, health, and fitness (Colorado Model Content Standards
Standards 1, 2, and 3,1997). Content involves rules, sportsmanship and
lifestyle choices. Many physical education programs also involve health
curriculum, teaching students about themselves, physically and
emotionally. Additionally, cooperation and character and other affective
behavior issues are a large part of the curriculum (L. Mason, personal
communication, July 18, 2005).
In physical education, several learning processes relating to
knowledge acquisition are practiced. As in every course, a student giving
his or her undivided attention allows for greater transfer of information.
As students play games or learn new things in the classroom, they should
monitor the meaning of the information they are learning. Learning is

often distributed over time, as in most classes in k-12 schools. Student and
teacher organization is crucial to success, as in most classes. Finally, by
playing or repeating information many times, over-learning occurs.
Prior knowledge in physical education is often key to student
success. Students prior knowledge varies drastically, but it is physical
education where an educator sees students that have experience with
sports, organized and informal, and students that have little or no
experience with sports. Unlike many classes where students are learning
material for the first time, some students are familiar with the rules and
information before entering the course. This wide chasm of knowledge is
an area appropriate both for differentiated instruction and for the
application of universal design, to give each student a level at which they
are comfortable and allowing them to grow. During the course, students
access prior knowledge as the instructional units are generally taught in
chunks, such as diamond games, which includes baseball, softball,
dodgeball, kickball and any other game played on a diamond field.
Students utilize prior knowledge about one game to help them learn and
simplify actions and rules about other similar games (Colorado Model
Content Standards for Physical Education Standard 1,1997).
Vocabulary is also a factor in success in physical education. There
is a body of terminology in physical education, like the other courses

examined, that is specific to physical education. Keywords like stance
representing a particular body position, the throwing position represents
the same motion of planting the opposite foot and using the momentum to
propel any ball forward help students with retrieval of information.
Many physical education teachers use prepared materials including
matrices and other graphic organizers to simplify the rules of games. As a
part of their examination of sportsmanship, using diagrams to reason is an
integral part of understanding the ramifications of rules infractions.
Additionally, students are asked to look at causal relationships between
factors, including activity and subsequent heart rate, calories and weight
Recognizing the need for and using operational definitions is important to
understand comparisons and how they relate to one another. Similarly,
isolating and controlling variables in order to make legitimate causal
claims is widely used for the reporting of information and comparing data
with other students.
Students widely use problem-solving skills in physical education
courses as they study character, sportsmanship and effective leadership on
and off the field. Often they are given hypothetical situations and asked to
determine the cause of action that should be taken against a teammate who
committed an infraction, or asked to hypothesize about the best way to
handle an uncomfortable situation. Role-play, such as skits, is often used

as practice for difficult actions (such as Just say No or handling bullies).
As part of the exercise, students are asked to plan out the problem and
often asked to create a graphic representation to explain the problem and
their solution to the problem. After such a presentation, students may be
asked to select the best strategy and discuss how the problem might be
best solved (Colorado Model Content Standards for Physical Education
Standards 1 and 2,1997).
Students may also be assigned the task of researching and
reporting on topics such as the history of a game or sports figure, or
discussing an ethical topic such as drugs in professional sports. Students
should be able to evaluate appropriate and relevant information and apply
their own moral fiber, either individually or in groups to determine the
ramification of the actions of others.
Previous Research
Achievement Differences
Much of the previous research in arts education or aesthetic
education deals with courses in the fine arts, such as music, dance and
art. Some scholars consider courses like vocational education to be a path
lower achieving students take when they are incapable of being successful

in scholarly courses (Bresler, 2002). Researchers also state that the
impact of arts education can be revealed and understood through
quantitative research by studying exemplary programs and examining the
conditions that facilitate excellence (Eisner, 1979,1991). One study
found a significant relationship between rich, in-school arts programs and
creative, cognitive and personal competencies identified as crucial for
academic success (Burton, Horowitz & Abeles, 2000). This study also
found that students participating in arts classes performed better on
measures of creativity, fluency and originality and were better able to
express their thoughts and ideas, exercise their imagination, and take risks
than students who did not participate in the arts curriculum.
While studies have shown that achievement in middle school
students tends to decrease during the middle school years (Wheeler-
Clouse, 2004; Rodick & Henggeler, 1980), surprisingly little research has
been done on middle school students achievement because of the
difficulty in studying these students individually (Dashiff, 2001).
However, some research has been done on elementary school students
relating to their achievement and perceived competence in those areas.
Hanich and Jordan (2004) found that students who have normal
achievement in both math and reading rate their competence higher than
students that are deficient in one or the other or both. But they did not

find that children reported how they perceived their intelligence
differently children still felt they were smart, and that there were no
differences in the childrens IQ perceptions, despite finding evidence to
support significant group differences.
Outside of school activities, content area clubs such as science
clubs and exploratory clubs such as vocational education, drama, speech
and debate clubs, have been shown to positively impact student
achievement (Schrieber & Chambers, 2002). Educational philosopher
Harry Broudy said that imagination cultivated through arts education
provided essential support to other functions of the educated mind.
Evidence for this can be found when looking at the extraordinary amounts
of mathematicians and scientists who were (and are) also musicians (Root-
Bemstein, 2001).
Chapter Summary
Middle school students have different needs than elementary or
high school students partly because their individual rates of development
are extremely variable. Piaget (1959) identified the levels of development
that all children go through, and a major level change occurs sometime
during the middle school years, leading to greater differences between
children in middle school. Achievement level tends to decrease in middle

school. What factors, then, affect achievement? Past research has shown
that factors such as daily attendance rate, student mobility, free and
reduced lunch rate, and discipline have some effect on overall student
achievement If these factors are considered, would exploratory factors,
which students tend to enjoy and help students develop skills in different
ways than in the core academic classes, have an effect on student

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear
of being wrong.
-Joseph Chilton Pearce
Often when educational research is done, often individuals are
studied. Sometimes a treatment is administered to individuals or a part of a
group, sometimes a group of students is studied as a whole. Before studies
of individuals can take place on topics not often seriously studied,
descriptive studies using available data are necessary to determine if there
is a reason for studying individuals or further studying populations. This
study is a descriptive study to determine if there is a reason to look more
closely at the effect of exploratory classes at the middle school level on
student achievement.

To truly understand the impact of exploratory classes on middle
school students, individual surveys and test scores would be necessary.
That sort of exercise is far beyond the scope of this study. This was a
descriptive study, which looked at trends in achievement differences
between middle schools in the state of Colorado with different numbers of
exploratory classes available to students. Factors in previous studies
shown to affect student achievement (student mobility, daily attendance
rate, discipline incidents and free and reduced lunch rate) were tested for
multicollinearity. After those factors were controlled for, exploratory
classes were tested as a factor, to see if additional predictability is
Research Questions
The questions driving this study were:
1) Does the reduction of exploratory courses affect a
schools achievement on the CSAP?
2) Does knowing the variety of exploratory courses in
addition to other factors (discipline incidents, free and
reduced lunch rate, student daily attendance rate and
student mobility rate) in a middle school help to predict

where that school will score on the CDE designation
The population for this study was all middle schools in Colorado.
The sample consisted of those who elected to participate in the study. Four
hundred fifty-two middle schools administered the CSAP during the 2003-
2004 school year. All middle schools were contacted via their Internet
websites. If courses or teaching staff were available on a school or district
website, information was taken from those websites to determine what
type of exploratory courses were available. Those schools not found on the
Internet were contacted individually. Three hundred three schools had all
of the data necessary available to be included in the study. Twenty-four
schools were rejected from the study because their CSAP scores were
listed as unreportable by the Colorado Department of Education, and
one hundred twelve cases were rejected because a school official failed or
refused to give the information regarding their teaching staff or course
offerings; such schools were contacted three times for this information and
either did not respond or reported that the information was not able to be
divulged without district administration approval. Three cases were
rejected because they did not have a CDE rating despite having CSAP

scores reported, and one was rejected because the course information
available was not specific to their middle school students and there was no
person available at the school to clarify the available information. This
resulted in the sample size of three hundred and three schools used in the
study (n=303). One included case had one piece of missing information.
Case number three did not report attendance data to the state. This case
was included in the study as all of the other data was present.
A quantitative descriptive study was chosen using logistic
regression to attempt to understand how exploratory courses relate to
schools achievement levels. To determine whether there is a correlation
between schools types of exploratory courses and the achievement level
(measured by the CDE designation, which is based solely on the results
from the CSAP), data was gathered about the different types of
exploratory courses from each schools website or personal contact. The
rest of the data, including CSAP scores, discipline incidents, free and
reduced lunch rate, student daily attendance and student mobility rate were
taken from the School Accountability Report (SAR). With the design of
this study, a regression analysis was the appropriate methodology to use
(Hair, Anderson, Tatham & Black, 1998; Leech, Barrett & Morgan, 2005).

Regression analysis relates a quantitative factor to a specific
outcome (Hair et al., 1998) and is the appropriate method of analysis when
one dependent variable (in this case, student achievement in two levels) is
presumed to be related to two or more independent variables (in this case,
exploratory course offerings, free and reduced lunch rate, daily attendance
rates, discipline incidents per capita and mobility rates). One of the uses of
regression analysis is in the evaluation of determinants of effectiveness for
a program. In this study, regression analysis was used to determine the
factors of effectiveness of exploratory programs in Colorado middle
schools as reported on the CSAP and School Accountability Reports. Data
was collected on the amount of different types of exploratory classes
offered in a school and then that school was compared using exploratory
information and other factors known to impact student achievement. In
this study, the factors examined were socioeconomic status, daily
attendance rates, discipline incidents per capita and student mobility rates.
By looking at correlations in areas that are well researched, it was hoped
that the data will reveal whether or not the exploratory class offerings can
be considered as a cause of differences between middle schools that were
similar to each other except for that one factor.
Binary logistic regression rather than multiple regression was
chosen because of several factors. First, multiple regression requires that

the dependent variable be equidistant and continuous. The CDE
designation is not equidistant (it cannot be assumed that the distance
between the Excellent and High ratings is the same as the distance
between the Low and Unsatisfactory rating), nor is it continuous.
Secondly, logistic regression is governed by fewer assumptions than
multiple regression, including the question of normality of variables. For a
multiple regression analysis to yield valid results in this study, this data
would have had to be skewed to yield normal distributions, but for logistic
regression, normality is not an assumption that is subject to violation.
Binary logistical regression does require large samples, an assumption this
study satisfied. Additionally, binary regression requires the dependant
variable to be dichotomous. To satisfy this assumption, the data was be
categorized into Excellent/High and Average/Low/Unsatisfactory.
Multicollinearity was an issue with both binary logistic and multiple
regression; therefore, multicollinearity was tested. Binary logistical
regression allows for the introduction of factors individually to determine
how much additional predictive power (over chance) each of the factors

I believe that when all other factors are controlled for, the number
of exploratory courses will yield additional predictability on the CDE
designation scale. I also believe that there will be a significant trend in
achievement as given by the CDE designation rating and schools free and
reduced lunch rate, discipline incidents per capita, mobility rate and daily
attendance rate. I think that I will find that these factors will increase the
predictability of schools placement on the CDE scale.
Socio-Economic Status Comparison. The first factor examined was
schools socio-economic status, as reported in the school accountability
report as the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Research has already shown that achievement levels in schools with a
parent base having more money and resources achieve at higher levels
(Darden, 2003; Okpala, et al., 2001). Does knowing the free and reduced
lunch percentage add to the predictability of the model and give additional
predictability over chance?
Discipline Incidents Per Capita. The School Accountability
Reports from the Colorado Department of Education show different types
of office referrals students can get, and a total is given. However, the size
of schools, and the number of office referrals given vary drastically. To
put all schools on equal ground when comparing discipline incidents, the

total number of discipline referrals was divided by the total student
population of the middle school, obtaining a number that represented the
number of discipline referrals per capita. How much additional predictive
power does the per capita discipline referrals add to the model of student
Student Mobility Comparison. Research shows a negative
relationship between mobility and school achievement (Heywood &
Thomas, 1997), so it follows that schools with a higher mobility rate will
have, on average, lower achievement. Research shows that schools with a
higher poverty level and lower socio-economic status have higher mobility
rates (Barton, 2004; Rothstein, 2004; Heinlein & Shinn, 2000; Wright,
2001). How much additional predictability does the addition of the student
mobility factor add to the model?
Daily Attendance Rate. Research also shows a strong positive
relationship between student achievement as measured by high grades and
student attendance (McPartland, 1998). Studies that examined college
classes and attendance rates found that students who attended class
regularly were much more likely to be successful (Gump, 2005).
Therefore, schools that have a lower daily attendance rate may have lower
success rates. Does the attendance rate percentage add any predictability
to the model if all other factors are accounted for?

Chapter Summary
This study examines three hundred three of the four hundred fifty
two Colorado middle schools that administered the CSAP in the 2003-
2004 school year. By quantifying and examining several factors taken
from the school accountability reports and data collected from school and
district websites and personal contact, it is hoped the data will allow for a
prediction with a percentage significantly above chance where each school
will score on the CDE designation scale (excellent/high or
average/low/unsatisfactory). My hypotheses are:
1) Information on the number of exploratory courses
offered in a middle school will allow for a more accurate
prediction where a school will score on the CDE
designation scale.
2) How is predictability increased for each factor (free and
reduced lunch rate, daily attendance rate, student
discipline rate per capita, and student mobility) added
into the model?
To test these hypotheses, a binary logistic regression will be used. All data
were entered into SPSS and analyzed for correlations, and then put into a
model to determine how much additional predictability over chance each
added factor provides.

What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge,
and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end
there are no certain answers.
-Martina Homer
Data were collected from 303 of 475 middle schools in
Colorado that administered the CSAP in 2003-2004. The analysis of
choice for this study is binary logistical regression and descriptive
statistics are provided to provide background and assist with the
interpretation of the statistical analysis.
Descriptive Statistics
The following table represents the descriptive statistics for this

Table 4.1: Descriptive Statistics
N Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Variance
Exploratory Classes 303 0.00 16.00 5.45 2.82 7.96
Daily Attendance 302 85.40 100.00 94.24 2.31 5.35
Discipline Incidents 303 0.00 2.00 0.29 0.30 0.092
Enrollment Stability 303 16.00 100.00 94.73 5.85 34.17
Free/R educed Lunch 303 0.00 89.30 25.45 22.4 502.60
CDE Designation 303 1.00 5.00 3.30 1.01 1.01
Exploratory classes ranged from zero to 16 different types of
classes offered. The mean was between 5 and 6 different types of
exploratory courses offered. The variance was 7.96, and the standard
deviation was 2.82. The effect size (d) for exploratory courses was 0.33.
The daily attendance rate is reported by the school as an average
percentage of students who are present each day. One of the cases had all
other data available except for the daily attendance rate. Therefore, only
302 cases were included in the daily attendance rate. The range for daily
attendance was 85.40% to 100%. The average attendance rate was
94.24%, the standard deviation was 2.31, and the variance was 5.35. The
effect size (d) for daily attendance rate was 0.61.
Discipline incidents are reported as any incidents requiring the
school to complete a behavior referral or documentation form. They are

reported per capita, or the average number of incidents per student in the
school. The range of reported incidents ranged from zero to two. The
mean was 0.29, the standard deviation was 0.30, and the variance 0.092.
The effect size (d) was 7.08.
Enrollment stability is the measurement of the percentage of
students who leave or enter the school after the first day of school. All 303
cases had this information available. The minimum percentage of student
turnover was 16.00%, and the maximum was 100.00% (the school was a
rural school with a student population of one). The mean percentage of
stability was 94.74%, the standard deviation was 5.85, and the variance
was 34.17. The effect size (d) was 0.64.
The free and reduced lunch rate ranged between 0 percent and
89.30%. The sample size was 303. The mean free and reduced lunch
percentage was 25.45%, the standard deviation was 22.4, and the variance
is 502.60. The effect size (d) was 1.157.
Assessment of Assumptions for Binary Logistic Regression
Before the analysis can be run, the assumptions for binary
logistical regression must be analyzed for violation. The first assumption
in binary logistic regression is the dependant variable is dichotomous and
is mutually exclusive. The GDE designation is currently categorical with

five categories, which would require multinomial logistic regression. This
analysis is extremely complex and not common (Leech, et al, 2005). When
a multinomial logistic regression analysis was run on this data, the results
were convoluted to the extent that no valid information was given. To
achieve a dichotomous dependent variable in order to run the binary
logistic regression, the CDE designation categories were grouped together.
When student achievement is considered in Colorado, schools are quick to
advertise on their websites their Excellent or High status. Therefore,
schools scoring Excellent or High were grouped together, and schools
that fell into the Average, Low, or Unsatisfactory categories were
grouped together. This grouping provided the dichotomous dependent
variable required for valid binomial logistic regression. Because a school
can only be in one category in a given year, the variable is also considered
mutually exclusive.
Binary logistical regression requires large samples to be accurate.
A rule of thumb is 20 cases per predictor or independent variable. As five
independent variables with 303 cases were being tested in this sample, this
assumption of large sample sizes is met.
Finally, multicollinearity needs to be assessed. Multicollinearity
was assessed before any analysis was run. The collinearity statistics are

Table 4.2: Multicollinearity Assessment
Independent Variable Tolerance VIF
Exploratory classes .935 1.070
Daily Attendance .703 1.423
Discipline Incidents .657 1.521
Enrollment Stability .825 1.212
Free/Reduced Lunch .519 1.926
Multicollinearity was measured using the Tolerance and VIF
measurements, and both measure multicollinearity differently. For the
Tolerance to be acceptable (multicollinearity is not a problem), the figures
cannot approach zero. In this case, they do not. The VIF statistic confirms
that. For VIF to be acceptable, it cannot approach 10, and they do not The
assumption of minimal multicollinearity between the independent
variables is met.
Binary Logistic Regression
When running a binary logistic regression, the output is in blocks.
Each block yields different information. Each block is examined below.
Block 0: Beginning Block
This block breaks down the cases based on their classification on
the dependent variable (dichotomous CDE designation). This block shows
that 170 schools were classified as Average/Low/Unsatisfactory and 132

schools were classified as Excellent/High. Using the model of prediction,
it is possible to classify the cases correctly 56.3% of the time by chance.
For the variables not in the equation, which include exploratory
classes, attendance, discipline incidents, student mobility rate and free and
reduced lunch rate, the table is given below.
Table 4.3: Variables Not in the Equation
Score df Sig.
Exploratory Qasses 7.946 1 .005
Daily Attendance Rate 27.913 1 .000
Discipline Incidents 34.708 1 .000
Student Mobility 30.251 1 .000
Free /Reduced Lunch 101.232 1 .000
Total Score 104.259 5 .000
These results show that each of the independent variables are separately
significantly related to the dependent predictor variable (a c.05).
Block 1: Method = Enter
This block tests the overall effectiveness of the model. The model
was significant (a <05) when all five independent variables were entered.
In this block, additional information is found regarding the variance that
can be predicted from the combination of the five independent variables.
In this case, the Cox & Snell R Square was .402 and the Nagelkerke R
Square was .538, indicating that about half of the variance can be
predicted by the five independent variables when they are considered

together. With the combination of the five independent variables, it can be
predicted which schools will fall into each of the two CDE dichotomous
categories about 80% of the time.
When considering the variables in the equation when all five
independent variables are considered together, only mobility and free and
reduced lunch percentage are significant at the .05 level (.001 and .0001,
respectively) when attempting to predict a schools dichotomous CDE
Hierarchical Logistic Regression
Following the Binary Logistical Regression, a hierarchical logistic
regression was run to determine how much predictive power knowing the
exploratory courses would have after the variation from the other
independent variables were taken into account. In order to do that, the
dichotomous CDE designation as the dependent variable and four of the
independent variables (daily attendance rate, discipline incidents, student
mobility and free and reduced lunch rate) were entered into the first block,
and exploratory courses were entered into the second block.
Prediction on the dichotomous CDE designation scale was found
to be correct 56.3% of the time by chance, which was found to be
significant at the .05 level (p = .029). When entered separately, all four of

the independent variables were found to be significant predictors (all p <
.0001) erf a schools score on the dichotomous CDE designation scale. The
combination of the independent variables daily attendance, discipline
incidents, student mobility rate and free and reduced lunch rate also
significantly raise the ability to predict the score on the dichotomous CDE
designation scale (all p < .0001).
The Cox & Snell R Square (.401) and the Nagelkerke R Square
(.538) give estimates of how much knowing the daily attendance rate,
discipline incidents, student mobility rate and free and reduced lunch rate
can help predict what the score will be on the dichotomous CDE
designation scale. These four independent variables allow an accurate
prediction of a schools score on the dichotomous CDE designation scale
approximately 79.8% of the time.
Exploratory courses were added to the model to determine if there
was any additional predictive power above what was obtained with the
other four independent variables of daily attendance, discipline incidents,
student mobility rate and free and reduced lunch rate. The addition of
exploratory courses to the model does not yield significant predictive
power (p = .747) to the model.

Correlation Matrix
In addition to the Binary Logistic and the Hierarchical Regression,
a Pearson correlation matrix was run. In each cell, the N was 303, with the
exception of the Daily Attendance row and column, which was 302 (one
case was missing). The Pearson Correlation is given first, with the
significance (a = 0.01, two-tailed) given in parenthesis.
Table 4.4: Pearson Correlation Matrix
Exp. Classes Daily Attendance Student Mobility Discipline Incidents Free/ Reduced Lunch CDE Desig.
Exp. 1 .106 .177 -.025 -.209 .205
Classes (n/a) .067 (.002) (.659) (.000) (.000)
Daily .106 1 .248 -.426 -.516 .451
Attendance (.067) (n/a) (.000) (.000) (.000) (.000)
Student .177 .248 1 -.189 -.400 .409
Mobility (.002) .000 (n/a) (.001) (.000) (.000
Discipline -.025 -.426 -.189 1 .555 -.455
Incidents (.659) .000 (.001) (n/a) (.000) (.000)
Free/ -.209 -.516 -.400 .555 1 -.677
Reduced Lunch (.000) (.000) (.000) (.000) (n/a) (.000)
CDE .205 .451 .409 -.455 -.677 1
Desig. .000 (.000) (.000) (.000) (.000) (n/a)
In the following discussion of significant interactions, significance is at
the a = .01 level from a two-tailed test of significance.
Exploratory Classes
There are several significant correlations with exploratory classes
and the other variables. A slight positive correlation (. 177) between
exploratory classes and enrollment stability exists. Also significant is the

slight negative correlation (-.209) between exploratory classes and the free
and reduced lunch rate. Finally, there is a slight positive correlation (.205)
between the number of exploratory courses offered and the CDE
designation scale.
Daily Attendance Rate
There are several very significant trends between daily attendance
rate and the other variables. First, there is a small positive correlation
(.248) between the daily attendance rate and the enrollment stability.
Second, there is a significant negative correlation (-.426) between the
daily attendance rate and the number of discipline incidents reported.
Third, there is a negative correlation (-.516) between the daily attendance
rate and the free and reduced lunch percentage. Finally, there is a
substantial positive correlation (.451) between the daily attendance rate
and the score on the CDE designation.
Student Mobility
Enrollment stability had significant interactions between every
other variable in the study. Between enrollment stability and exploratory
courses, there was a very small positive correlation (. 177). Secondly, there
is a positive correlation (.248) between enrollment stability and daily

attendance. Third, there is a slightly negative correlation (-.189) between
enrollment stability and discipline incidents. Fourth, there is a substantial
negative correlation (-.400) between the enrollment stability percentage
and the free and reduced lunch percentage. Finally, there is a significant
positive correlation (.409) between the enrollment stability percentage and
the score on the CDE designation scale.
Discipline Incidents
There were four significant correlations between discipline
incidents and the other variables. First, as discipline incidents increased,
daily attendance decreased, with a substantial negative correlation (-.426).
Secondly, a slightly negative correlation (-.189) exists between discipline
incidents reported and enrollment stability. Third, a significant correlation
exists between discipline incidents reported and free and reduced lunch
rate (.555). Finally, there is a substantial negative correlation (-.451)
between discipline incidents and score on the CDE designation scale.
Free and Reduced Lunch Rate
Like student mobility, the free and reduced lunch rate has a
significant trend with every other variable. With exploratory classes, free
and reduced lunch rate has a slight negative correlation (-.209). With daily

attendance rate, there is a significant negative correlation (-.516). There is
also a significant negative correlation (-.400) between free and reduced
lunch and enrollment stability. A substantial positive correlation (.555)
exists between free and reduced lunch rate and discipline incidents.
Finally, a very substantial negative correlation (-.677) exists between free
and reduced lunch and score on the CDE designation scale.
CPE Designation
CDE designation also has significant relationships between every
other factor. Between exploratory courses and CDE designation, there is a
slight positive correlation (.205). There is also a significant positive
correlation between CDE designation and daily attendance (.451). Another
significant interaction (.409) exists between CDE designation and
enrollment stability. A significant negative interaction (-.455) exists
between CDE designation and discipline incidents. Finally, a substantial
significant interaction exists between CDE designation scale and free and
reduced lunch (-.677).
Chapter Summary
Binary logistic regression was conducted to assess whether the five
independent variables, exploratory classes, daily attendance rate, student

mobility rate, discipline incidents, and free and reduced lunch rate,
significantly predict a schools score on the CDE designation scale. When
all five independent variables are considered together, they significantly
predict the schools score on the CDE designation scale, X2 = 155.11, df=
5,N= 303,p < .001. Table 4.5 presents the odds ratio, which suggests that
the odds of correctly estimating the schools CDE designation improve by
23% if the mobility rate is known, by 2% if the number of exploratory
courses offered is known, and by less than 1% if the daily attendance rate
is known.
Table 4.5: Odds Ratio
Variables B S.E. Odds ratio P
Exploratory Courses .018 .055 1.018 .747
Daily Attendance Rate .002 .082 1.002 .977
Discipline Incidents -.082 .763 .921 .914
Mobility Rate .204 .062 1.227 .001
Free/Reduced Lunch -.090 .015 .914 .000
Constant -18.256 10.045 .000 .069
A correlation matrix yielded many significant trends, including
that as schools score higher on the CDE designation scale, they tend to
have more exploratory courses available for students, higher daily

attendance, fewer discipline incidents, lower free and reduced lunch scores
and lower student mobility rates.

That is what learning is. You suddenly understand
something youve understood all your life,
but in a new way.
-Doris Lessing
There are many factors affecting student achievement.
Achievement can be very nebulous, and in Colorado, many schools have
tried a myriad of options to increase scores on the CSAP. Some schools
are teaching their curriculum using released CSAP items or writing their
own CSAP-like items to help students practice how to take these exams.
Some schools are teaching more study skills to help students do better on
the exams, while some schools stop all schedules on the days CSAP is
administered. There are intrinsic motivations (a student knowing they did
his or her best on the exam) and extrinsic motivation (receiving homework
passes or extra credit for completing all sections of the exam during the
scheduled time). Some schools have changed their curricula for the
subjects being tested on the exam, in favor of curricula that better develop
the skills needed for the exam. Some schools are removing subject areas

not tested on the exam in favor of more time for the areas that are tested,
and often, this means subjects like social studies (in the case of two of the
lower achieving middle schools that made social studies an exploratory
course) and exploratory courses are taken out of the daily schedule and no
longer offered.
The purpose of this study was to attempt to examine how
exploratory courses affect achievement and identify the trends that exist
between the achievement of Colorado middle schools. Five factors,
including exploratory courses, daily attendance rate, student discipline
incidents, student mobility rate and free and reduced lunch rate were
identified as possible reasons student achievement may differ among
schools. Data were collected and analyzed to determine if trends exist that
may help to define achievement differences in Colorado.
The results show that while all factors have some effect on student
achievement, only student mobility has any significant predictive power.
If the percentage of students who move in or out of the school in a given
year is known, the scoring on the CDE designation scale of
Excellent/High/Average, and Low/Unsatisfactory can be predicted
nearly 23% better than chance. The other factors had only slight predictive
power. With the model including all of the factors, most (79.8%) of the

variance found between schools can be identified by the five independent
variables in this study.
While this study does not support the notion that exploratory
courses increase student achievement, it also does not advocate for the
removal of those courses from the curriculum. The schools included in this
study are very different, and they deal differently with the CSAP and how
they prepare their students for the examination.
Administrators are often held responsible for their schools
achievement level. Unfortunately, the factors that account for nearly 80%
of the variance when studying student achievement are, for the most part,
out of an administrators control. Administrators cannot control how many
students come to school on any given day, nor can they control how many
students move in or out of their home area or change schools for other
reasons, since Colorado is a state of school choice, parents may enroll
their child at any school they wish, so long as there is room and the school
accepts them. The school cannot refuse any student who has a residential
address in the schools home area. Additionally, administrators can make
rules, but children will be children, and discipline incidents will occur.
Finally, an administrator cannot control how much money is made by a

students parents or how many qualify for free and reduced lunch based on
the federal standards. Many administrators, in efforts to increase their
schools scores, try to change the one thing they have control over the
curriculum. This often means that administrators will remove classes from
the curriculum that may not be directly tested or ask students who scored
below an acceptable rate to attend remediation classes instead of
exploratory classes to raise their personal scores in an effort to raise the
overall scores of the school in general.
Many middle schools in Colorado have limited curriculum in this
way. This particular study did not look at change from one year to the
next, nor did it consider that the construction of the exam requires
different groups of students to be tested last years fifth graders who
took the CSAP are now taking the entirely different 6th grade exam but
possible further study would be to look at the CSAP scores from 2004-
2005 to see how the scores changed. This examination may help to
determine if more time in the core curriculum is raising test scores
If schools are to achieve at higher levels on any standardized test,
students must be retained for an entire year. Mobility was the single most
important predictor of achievement, providing nearly 23% better than
chance in predicting where a school was going to fall on the CDE scale.

As the binary logistical regression showed, the five factors studied did
have predictive power, raising the predictability nearly 30% over chance
alone. However, the hierarchical regression showed that as each factor was
added, after all other factors were introduced into the model, the
exploratory course value did not have any additional predictive power.
However, when correlations are considered, some interesting trends begin
to emerge.
Exploratory Courses
When looking at the exploratory classes, significant correlations
with enrollment stability, free and reduced lunch and CDE designation are
found. While none of these correlations show anything more than small
effects, significant trends are still seen, in that schools with more
exploratory classes tend to have more stable populations, tend to have
smaller free and reduced lunch percentages and tend to score better on the
Another interpretation of the data is that schools that are in higher
socioeconomic areas with lower free and reduced lunch percentages, more
stable populations, and higher scores on the CSAP provide more
exploratory opportunities. Several schools examined in this study that had
higher free and reduced lunch rates had lower exploratory opportunities;

three schools in the study indicated that social studies, which is not
directly tested on the CSAP was removed from the core curriculum and
made an exploratory course specifically because the school was trying to
raise CSAP scores. There is nothing in the data that supports this
philosophy as being effective. It is important to understand that there is no
data to support that the removal of exploratory courses raises CSAP
Daily Attendance
When looking at the daily attendance factor, significant
correlations were found with enrollment stability, discipline incidents, free
and reduced lunch and CDE designation. These correlations, with the
exception of enrollment stability, showed medium effects. There was a
small positive effect (.248) between daily attendance and enrollment
stability, indicating that schools that have more stable populations with
less student mobility also have, in general better daily attendance. Medium
effects are found between daily attendance and discipline incidents (-
.426), indicating that schools with fewer discipline incidents had higher
daily attendance. This could be that with fewer discipline incidents,
schools were suspending students out of school less, thereby achieving a
higher attendance rate. However, there was a very significant interaction

between attendance and free and reduced lunch (-.516). As the free and
reduced lunch percentage decreased, daily attendance increased. Also, as
daily attendance increased, CDE designation, or CSAP achievement, also
increased (.451).
Enrollment Stability
Enrollment stability was one of three factors that had significant
interactions with every other factor in the study. Small effects were found
between exploratory classes, daily attendance and discipline incidents. As
the enrollment stability increased, the number of exploratory classes
increased (.177), the daily attendance increased (.248) and the discipline
incidents went down (-.189). A medium effect was found between
enrollment stability and free and reduced lunch (-.400), showing that as a
school population increases in stability, the free and reduced lunch
percentage decreases. Another medium effect was found between
enrollment stability and CDE designation, indicating that the more stable
the school population is, the higher the achievement on CSAP.
Discipline Incidents
Discipline incidents showed significance when compared with
daily attendance, enrollment stability, free and reduced lunch and CDE

designation. As has already been discussed, discipline incidents exhibited
a medium negative effect (-.426) with daily attendance and a small
negative effect (-.189) with enrollment stability, indicating that as the
number of discipline incidents increase, daily attendance and enrollment
stability both decrease significantly. Discipline incidents had larger effects
with free and reduced lunch rates (.555) and with CDE designation
(-.455). This indicates that schools with a larger free and reduced lunch
percentage also have more discipline incidents to report, and tended to
score lower on the CSAP than schools with fewer discipline incidents.
Free and Reduced Lunch Percentage
Free and reduced lunch was another factor that showed
significance with every other factor in the study. A small effect was found
between free and reduced lunch and exploratory classes (-.209), indicating
that schools with higher free and reduced lunch percentages had fewer
exploratory opportunities than schools with lower free and reduced lunch
percentages. Daily attendance shows a medium negative effect (-.516)
with free and reduced lunch rate, indicating that as the free and reduced
lunch rate increased, the daily attendance decreased. When compared with
enrollment stability, as free and reduced lunch rate increased, the
enrollment stability decreased. Finally, a substantial negative correlation

exists between free and reduced lunch and CDE designation (-.677). This
indicates that the higher the free and reduced lunch percentage, the lower
the school scores on the CSAP.
CDE Designation
CDE designation is another factor that had a significant correlation
with every other factor in the study. Schools that have a high CDE
designation score well on the CSAP; therefore, schools that score better on
CSAP tend to have higher exploratory course opportunities (.205), higher
daily attendance (.451), more stable populations with lower mobility
(.409), fewer discipline incidents (-.455), and a lower free and reduced
lunch rate (-.677).
There are many implications for education that come from this
study. First, the binary logistic regression and hierarchical regression do
not show that exploratory courses have any predictive power in the model
when attempting to predict where a school will fall in the CDE designation
scale. The other factors, when taken together, added nearly 30% of
predictive power over chance, but exploratory classes did not add any

other predictive power. However, removing exploratory courses does not
help raise CSAP scores.
As the correlations showed, exploratory classes are correlated with
factors that do affect predictive power on the CDE designation scale.
Schools that had more exploratory courses tended to score better on CSAP
exams, evidenced by the significant positive correlation with the CDE
designation scale. Additionally, schools that have more exploratory classes
tend to have less student mobility and a lower free and reduced lunch rate.
However, there are several ways to interpret this data.
The factors that had predictive power were daily attendance rate,
enrollment stability, discipline incidents and free and reduced lunch. It is
important to consider the reasons for the significant correlations that were
seen in this study. This study began by measuring exploratory courses.
The results, however, lead to the consideration of poverty.
The free and reduced lunch score is indicative of socioeconomic
status, and free and reduced lunch scores and the correlations associated
with that score have some interesting implications when considering a
schools achievement. The first correlation was with exploratory classes;
the negative correlation, although the effect size was small (-.209),
indicates that schools with a higher free and reduced lunch rate had fewer
exploratory classes offered to students. These schools in higher poverty

areas might have fewer resources to provide these courses or may have a
more difficult time retaining teachers, making it less likely that they would
staff these positions, so students in these schools are punished several
ways for their poor achievement.
Secondly, the negative correlation between free and reduced lunch
and daily attendance (-.516) indicates that schools in higher poverty areas
have lower daily attendance rates. Because the daily attendance rate
positively correlated significantly with CDE designation (.451), it is
reasonable to think that schools that have a lower attendance rate also
score lower on the CSAP exam. Schools that have a higher free and
reduced lunch score had a lower daily attendance rate and also scored
lower on the CSAP exam.
Third, schools with higher free and reduced lunch scores tended to
have lower enrollment stability. When considering the financial state of
people in higher poverty areas, in particular the inability to buy real
estate, it is often necessary for people to move more often. This negative
correlation (-.400) indicates that the higher the poverty level in an area, the
more likely students in that area are to change schools during a school
year. As enrollment stability correlated positively with CDE designation,
it can be concluded that a school with a more stable population (with less
student mobility) will score higher on the CSAP.

Fourth, free and reduced lunch correlated positively with discipline
incidents (.555). This could mean several things, including schools in
higher poverty areas have more discipline incidents than schools in lower
poverty areas. Because achievement on the CSAP correlates negatively
with discipline incidents (-.455), schools that have higher discipline
incidents tend to score lower on the CSAP. The reason for the discipline
incidents could be many. Schools in higher poverty areas probably have a
parent base with lower education levels. Parents in these schools may be
disenfranchised with education in general and less supportive of the rules
when educators or administrators attempt to enforce them. This finding is
supported by other current research showing schools with lower
socioeconomic factors having lower achievement levels (Toutkoushian &
Taylor, 2005).
Finally, the negative correlation between free and reduced lunch
and CDE designation (-.677) is relatively telling. All of the previous
factors had correlations with each of the other factors that also correlated
with CDE designation, indicating that this correlation is not unreasonable.
With all of the other factors involved, an effect on CSAP achievement that
is confounded by other factors is plausible. In an attempt to explain this
effect, the procedure for testing for bias in CSAP was examined.

The CSAP examination is carefully constructed and according to
the CSAP Technical Report 2004 (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 2004), there were
four procedures used to test for bias in the CSAP exam. The first
procedure is the editorial examination of content validity. The editors were
concerned about the inclusion of irrelevant skills, as that can increase the
possibility that the examination is measuring different things in different
groups. Second, the McGraw-Hill guidelines designed to reduce or
eliminate bias were followed, and item writers were to follow Guidelines
for Bias-Free Publishing (McGraw-Hill, 1983) and Reflecting Diversity:
Multicultural Guidelines for Educational Publishing Professionals
(Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, 1993). The third procedure involved
community members, who examined each item to determine if there were
items that could be biased by a child of their ethnic background or gender.
The fourth procedure involved the statistical examination of test items
(CTB/McGraw-Hill, 2004). However, the only groups examined for bias
on CSAP items, either statistically or editorially were the gender groups,
and Black and Hispanic.
Conclusions and Future Research
Student achievement is important to every educator. Because The
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2001) requires standardized