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High school graduates' perceptions of senior project and college and work readiness: A mixed methods study

Donna Pennacchia, Johnson & Wales University


State testing or end-of-course exams are recommended to determine if high school graduates are ready to enter college or the workforce because these assessments are aligned to content area expectations and standards that are measurable within each state as well as from state to state (Achieve, 2006). However, such assessments do not measure all the applied learning skills that graduates need to be successful in college and/or work (Conley, 2007; Wagner, 2008). These skills are assessed through research projects, oral presentations, and other non-test assessments (Achieve, 2006; Conley, 2007; Darling-Hammond, Rustique-Forrester & Pecheone, 2005; Wagner, 2008; Wiggins, 1998). To earn a high school diploma in Rhode Island, public high schools must require all seniors to have a minimum of credits earned, state testing in the junior year, and successful completion of two of three proficiency-based graduation requirements: end-of-course exams, student work portfolios, or senior exhibitions (projects). This diploma system must prepare students for college and work readiness (Board of Regents). The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which graduates of one Rhode Island high school perceived that senior project prepared them for entry into college and/or the workforce. A mixed methods sequential design (Creswell & Plano-Clark, 2007) was utilized for this study. For the quantitative study, high school graduates (n = 147) completed a questionnaire to determine their perceptions of the senior project. Open-ended responses (n = 60) from one item on the questionnaire and N = 6 standardized open-ended interviews expanded on the quantitative results. Descriptive statistics and t–tests were used to compare item and dimension level means with demographic response items (Huck, 2008). All qualitative data analysis was completed using a systematic coding of themes (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007; Patton, 2002). High school graduates in this study perceive that senior project was a graduation requirement that prepared them for college and/or work. College and work readiness expectations in written communications, oral communications, and research skills had dimension level means at M > 3.00 on a 4-point Likert-type scale. An unanticipated finding was that the senior project may promote self-efficacy for some students.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Pennacchia, Donna, "High school graduates' perceptions of senior project and college and work readiness: A mixed methods study" (2010). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3398379.