An Examination of the Diagnostic Process in Urban High Schools

Brian Lee Rahaman, University of Pennsylvania


Over the past 40 years, a variety of school improvement initiatives have been designed and implemented in low-performing schools across the country, mostly with disappointing results. One potential explanation for the poor track record is that school leaders have too often designed improvement strategies without taking the time to understand the underlying causes of low performance. The purpose of this study was to examine the diagnostic process in a set of low-performing high schools in a large urban school district to understand how student achievement problems were diagnosed, as well as what school leaders believed were the root causes of low achievement. To answer these questions, the researcher analyzed the school improvement plans of 33 low-performing high schools and interviewed school leaders at three levels of the education system (school, district, and state). The researcher found that school leaders employed a flawed diagnostic process when planning for improvement. In most schools, the diagnostic process ignored curriculum and instruction, focused on outcome data rather than process data to understand problems, and failed to test preliminary diagnoses when planning. These findings suggest that the diagnostic process could be improved to achieve better school improvement outcomes.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational administration|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Rahaman, Brian Lee, "An Examination of the Diagnostic Process in Urban High Schools" (2021). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28318032.