Dissertation: Carla Galbraith

Cohort 1, published 2010


A Phenomenological Study of Top Performing 12th Grade African-American High School Students


The Achievement Gap is the difference in the academic achievement of White students compared to students of color. It is often attributed to the effects of low socioeconomic status or even genetics. Racism and the lack of cultural responsiveness are also included as causes for the poor performance of students of color. The need for a solution to this problem has increased urgency as the United States remains ethnically diverse. A beacon of hope lies within students of color who have not only defied the Achievement Gap, but have maintained grade point averages (GPA) well over 3.5 throughout their four years of high school. Using phenomenology as a conceptual framework and qualitative research methodology, this study will analyze the characteristics, commonalities and lived experiences of the top performing 12th grade African-American high school students located in Elk Grove, California. Moreover, the theoretical frameworks of Attribution Theory and Locus of Control Theory will allow the researcher to delve deeper into the characteristics of these successful students. Through questionnaires, surveys and focus group discussions, the responses from the African-American participants will be examined and categorized into themes according to the factors they believed to have contributed to their outstanding academic performance. Analysis of the final chapters revealed seven characteristics of academically successful African-American students. These characteristics are (1) Self Motivation, (2) Racial Resiliency, (3) Stereotype, (4) Family Influence, (5) Academic, Teacher, School Support, (6) Spirituality, and (7) Socioeconomics. Of the seven attributes, Self Motivation and Racial Resiliency were the most frequent responses to address the research questions. In the final chapter, recommendations for school leaders are given as it relates to African-American students in order to increase academic performance and aid in closing the Achievement Gap.

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