Educational success in the face of adversity as measured by high school graduation

Bolgen Vargas, University of Pennsylvania


The New York State Education Department cited a graduation rate of 52 percent within the Rochester City School District for the 2007-2008 academic year. Poor outcomes were attributed to multiple risk factors (i.e., schools/neighborhoods marked by poverty, limited English language skills and family instability). While Rochester was the location of this study, fewer than 50 percent of at-risk students who attend schools in large, urban cities nationwide graduate with a diploma. Despite multiple risk factors, however, more than half of all students enrolled in the RCSD overcame adversity to achieve academic success as measured by high school graduation. This study hypothesized and found that strong, mitigating factors offset their risk and, in that way, can inform efforts to improve graduation rates within the RCSD and elsewhere. A two-phase, sequential, mixed-method resilience methodology was used to obtain quantitative results regarding resilience among RCSD high school seniors who either graduated or dropped out. In Phase One, quantitative research questions were used to address adversity and mitigating, protective factors among both groups; qualitative data were also gathered through a census survey in which students described the obstacles they faced while enrolled. Their responses shaped analysis of risks and protective factors experienced. In Phase Two, in-depth qualitative interviews explored the quantitative results to further identify protective and risk factors impacting RCSD students. The primary mitigating factors for students at risk included supportive relationships across multiple contexts (i.e., school, community) and meaningful participation in activities at or outside school. Students' external assets also came into play; for each protective factor measurement, graduate group responses resulted in higher means and the observed difference was statistically significant (with the exception of the internal assets category). Significance test results provided overwhelming support for this study's hypothesis: RCSD Class of 2009 students who graduated with a diploma had experienced a greater number of mitigating, protective factors and were better equipped to overcome risk and achieve academic success as defined here.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Educational psychology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Vargas, Bolgen, "Educational success in the face of adversity as measured by high school graduation" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3410470.