All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Gary Peters

Advisory Committee Members

Loucrecia Collins

Keith Gurley

Marcia O'Neal

Melanie Shores

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Education (EdD) School of Education


ABSTRACT Principals are held accountable for the academic achievement of their students. This study addressed renewed interest in how principals can improve student achievement (SA) by improving the culture of their schools. Previous research demonstrated a positive relationship between the construct of academic optimism (AO) and SA. The purpose of this mixed methods sequential Quan  Qual research study was to understand how principals in Alabama middle schools create a culture of AO that fosters high SA. In the quantitative phase 218 Alabama schools with Grade 8 were stratified into high and low categories of SA based on the percentage of students performing in the top two levels of proficiency on the Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT+). These schools were also stratified into high, medium, and low categories of socio-economic status, based on the percentage of students eligible for the Free and Reduced Program for Lunch (FRPL). The purpose of the qualitative phase was to understand how AO and its three dimensions, faculty trust (FT), collective efficacy CE), and academic emphasis (AE), were related to SA. Using non-probabilistic diversity sampling, 156 Alabama schools were invited to participate in the study. Teachers from 26 participating schools completed the School Academic Optimism Scale (SAOS) which measured the degree of AO within each school. Correlation, regression and recursive partitioning analyses indicated that AO was a nonsignificant predictor of either reading or math achievement even when controlling for SES. Regression did identify AE, one of the dimensions of AO, as a significant predictor of SA. In the second qualitative phase, using purposive sampling, 11 principals of high achieving middle schools identified strategies that developed a culture of AO which fostered high SA in both high and low SES schools. Analyses identified five strategies that interacted reciprocally among multiple dimensions of academic optimism: data based decision making (DBDM), collaborative team work, principal support for teachers, consistent communication, and routine celebrations of academic excellence. Implications for practitioners include: build collaborative teams, especially around DBDM efforts, encourage strong personal relationships, provide emotional and tangible support for teachers, and stress consistent professional communication with all stakeholders.

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