Committee Chair

Freeman, John A.

Committee Member

Petzko, Vicki N.; Miller, Ted L.; Brimi, Hunter M.


Dept. of Education


College of Health, Education, and Professional Studies


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


The need to increase student academic achievement has been established and well-documented in the literature. With a heightened focus on accountability measures, school personnel are under significant pressure to find ways to increase student achievement. Research suggests that academic emphasis, collective teacher efficacy, and faculty trust in students and teachers actually work in concert and form a newly-identified construct – academic optimism – that has been shown to have a positive relationship with student achievement. The purpose of this study was to determine those factors that may be present in middle schools with high levels of academic optimism. Ten middle schools in a large, southeastern school district participated in this mixed-methods study. Faculty and staff members were invited to complete the School Academic Optimism Scale survey, the results of which were calculated to determine the academic optimism (AO) level of each school. Two schools were selected as case studies – a high-SES/high-AO and a low-SES/high-AO school. Two retired teachers conducted open-ended interviews of six teachers at each school, and the researcher also utilized document analysis and observations to corroborate the interview responses. Additionally, a number of quantitative factors that have been shown in the literature to be related to student achievement were examined to determine if they, too, were related to the academic optimism of schools. Quantitative analysis revealed a positive relationship between a school’s SES and attendance rate and its level of academic optimism, and a negative relationship between number of suspensions and academic optimism. A review of the interviews, documents, and observations revealed three themes that appeared to be prevalent in middle schools with high academic optimism: communication, collaboration and support, and a culture of excellence. Teacher communication with parents and with one another is evident in schools with high academic optimism. Also evident in schools with high academic optimism is a strong focus on teacher collaboration and a strong network of community, parent, and administrative support. Finally, those schools high in academic optimism were characterized by a culture of excellence grounded in the teachers’ expectations for students to be academically successful.


I am grateful to the many people who were instrumental in my pursuit of this degree. To Dr. Freeman, for taking an interest in my study, serving as committee chair, sharing your wealth of knowledge, and providing tremendous support throughout the dissertation process. To Dr. Petzko, Dr. Miller, and Dr. Brimi, for taking an interest in my study, serving on the dissertation committee, and providing invaluable insight during the writing process. To Mr. Reynolds, Dr. Loy, Mr. Critselous, and Mrs. White for your support as I attempted to balance work and school. To Kurt Best, for instilling in me at a young age a desire to learn. To Mitzi and Jeff Connell, for your support and encouragement and your belief that I could succeed. To Carl and Lynda Whittimore, for providing a place to stay when I had class in Chattanooga, and for your continued encouragement. To Vickie Wells and Sharon Bowman for assisting with the interviews. To Cohort 4, it was my pleasure to learn alongside each of you.


Ed. D.; A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Education.




Academic achievement; Teacher effectiveness, Educational evaluation; Self-efficacy


Academic Optimism; Middle School

Document Type

Doctoral dissertations




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