Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Roderick Willis


Lack of academic proficiency in ninth grade is a serious concern because of its associations with subsequent grade retention and dropout risk. The purpose of this qualitative single case study was to explore teachers' perceptions of the prospective causes of poor academic performance of ninth-grade students, with particular attention to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional barriers to student engagement. Self-determination theory provided the interpretative framework for this study. Data were collected through semistructured interviews with 10 ninth-grade teachers, observation of teachers' classrooms, and review of archival documents. Results of 6-phase thematic analysis indicated 8 themes: (a) no or little student engagement, (b) lack of support, (c) lack of basic skills, (d) lack of interest in school, (e) different levels and styles of learning, (f) mind-set in relation to performance, (g) disciplinary issues, and (h) belongingness in the classroom. Results confirmed the importance of students receiving support from parents and teachers in developing psycho-social skills to cope with the rigors of high school life. Findings may be used to update teacher training courses to emphasize promoting students' autonomy, competence, and relatedness.