The Impact of Smaller Learning Communities On the Academic Achievement of Ninth-Grade Students In the State of Florida

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership and School Counseling

First Advisor

Thelma J. Roberson

Advisor Department

Educational Leadership and School Counseling


The topic of this dissertation is to explore and identify the impact of smaller learning communities on the academic achievement of high school freshmen in the state of Florida as determined by their performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). In the study, a group of Florida schools which were selected for the Federal Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) grant was compared with a control group of non-SLC schools that were not receiving funding. FCAT archival data from 2005 and a pre-implementation year of 2002 were used, as well as data from a questionnaire that was sent to both groups. The FCAT data from both the SLC and control group were analyzed and compared to see if there was a statistically significant difference in mean scores of schools between the groups. The questionnaire provided insight into particular structures and strategies that were being utilized by both groups as defined by the Federal SLC grant. Data collected from the questionnaire revealed that, of the Florida SLC schools which responded to the survey instrument, 87% of schools in the SLC group used some type of academy approach. In this same group, 100% of respondents utilized a freshman transition program to aid ninth graders as they moved into the high school environment. Results from the study indicated that there was a statistically significant difference in mean school scores between the SLC group and non-SLC group, with the non-SLC group performing better than the SLC group on the majority of measures. The relatively infancy of the Federal SLC grant, higher at-risk student populations for the SLC group, and reduced numbers of ninth grade retentions and drop-outs are discussed as possible contributors to this finding. The SLC group showed significant academic achievement gains between 2002 and 2005. An appreciable increase in the percentages of students achieving Level 3, 4, or 5 on the FCAT (an indication that the student met or exceeded proficiency on the test) was noted, as was the decrease in percentages of students scoring at Levels 1 and 2.