Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Wenfan Yan

Second Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Third Advisor

Andrea DeCapua


The history of high school graduation rates in the United States shows that English Learners (EL) students graduate at rates considerably lower than that of their English language proficient and mainstream peers. Students who also have significant gaps or interruptions in their formal education (SLIFE) may be even further at risk of not graduating. Yet information about these students is not currently available as a separate subset of ELs on any reports, i.e., graduation rates, dropout rates, or high stakes testing results, making it problematic to track their progress or the effectiveness of policy and pedagogy. In addition, the literature for SLIFE is sparse and focused on pedagogy and teaching guidelines rather than on the factors that impact success and failure rates.

A mixed-method case study was conducted of a SLIFE program at an urban high school in the Greater Boston area to determine actual graduation rates of SLIFE in the 2020 cohort. The student demographic and program organizational factors that impact these rates were examined. The theoretical framework that guided this study was Critical Pedagogy, accompanied by Cultural Relevant Pedagogy, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, and Organizational theory.

The graduation rate for the 2020 SLIFE cohort was 37.5%, 15.5% lower than their EL peers at the school. Findings indicate that graduation rates of SLIFE are impacted by certain student and programmatic factors. Student factors that were found to have significant impact on these rates include age/grade placement, MCAS requirement for competency determination, and economic need. Program factors include strengths and limitations. Programs strengths were found in the areas of teacher-student connectedness, home visits, and music-based mindfulness classes. Whereas professional development, social-emotional support, and curriculum were areas that were lacking and/or in need of improvement.

Implications of this research can inspire educational policies and programs to recognize the uniqueness of SLIFE and instigate changes to meet their distinct needs.


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