Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


Sixth grade (Education)--Iowa; Mathematical ability--Testing; Reading comprehension--Iowa--Testing; Iowa Test of Basic Skills;


A trend in the decline of proficiency levels, as measured by the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), exists at the sixth grade in both Mathematics and Reading Comprehension across the state of Iowa (Adequate Yearly Progress Statistics (2006–2008) [Data File] Des Moines, IA: Iowa Department of Education). This mixed method study focused on the practices impacting student performance between the fifth grade and the sixth grade. Research related to the decline of sixth grade student achievement reveals the possible factors resulting in lower achievement: Grade span configuration, the transition between fifth and sixth grade, adolescent development and middle level practices implemented consistently as possible reasons for the decline in achievement (Hough, 1995 & Alspaugh, 1998).

Phase one of this mixed method study, the quantitative phase, examined whether having a grade span configuration of 5–8 versus 6–8 has a relationship to student achievement. A statistical analysis was performed using 58 medium-sized schools configured as 5–8 or 6–8 schools. A t -test was run to see if there was a statistically significant relationship between grade-span configuration and student achievement; those tests reveals no statistically significant relationship between either a 5–8 or a 6–8 configured school and increased student achievement.

Phase two of this mixed method study, the qualitative phase, examined the common practices and principles related to stable or increased student achievement between fifth grade and sixth grade. Four schools, two 5–8 configured schools and two 6–8 configured schools participated in this qualitative study. Data from document collection, focus group interviews and classroom observations were triangulated to determine common practices leading to stable or increased achievement scores as measured by the ITBS standardized test.

Five common themes and subthemes emerged from the qualitative phase of this study. Named, "Pillars of Practice" and "Strategies for Student Success," these common themes were found in the two schools with stable or increased achievement. The themes and subthemes could provide a tool for analyzing their schools' current practice with a critical eye.

Since there is currently limited research done on sixth grade achievement, this study adds to the body of knowledge on this topic. Few studies have moved beyond the relationship between grade-span configuration and achievement levels as this study has done. Identified practices detailed in the "Pillars of Practice" could assist many schools in analyzing current practice resulting in improved student achievement.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Postsecondary Education

First Advisor

Victoria Robinson, Committee Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (xiii, 143 pages)



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