Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Paper presented at the 45th annual meeting of the New England Educational Research Organization (NEERO), April 17-19, 2013, Portsmouth, NH.


With trends toward high stakes testing moving inexorably forward, project-based components of Rhode Island's Performance Based Graduation system have been largely overlooked. Existing studies focus primarily on implementation of senior projects (Davidson, 2009; Lorenz, 1999; Mayer, 1999; Nicolini, 1999; Shaunessy, 2004; Singer & Hubbard, 2002). Some studies have found that increasing graduation requirements does not necessarily translate into rigor (Dounay, 2006; Lundsgaard, 2004). Less research exists on the lasting influence of projects as preparation for postsecondary pursuits (Egelson, Harman, & Bond, 2002; Pennacchia, 2010). Research on academic rigor is largely focused upon increasing course requirements (ACT, 2005; Christie, 2000; Kirst & Venezia, 2006; Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2005) and not on performance-based assessments such as senior projects. ^ This study addressed the following research questions: What are the perceptions of judges of the extent of rigor of senior projects with respect to the work required to complete the written and technical (filmmaking) components of the project, and a formal presentation of the project? Is there a relationship between arts major selected and academic achievement; arts major selected and achievement on senior projects; and academic achievement and achievement on senior projects? Finally, are there differences among judges regarding their perceptions of rigor based upon the nature of their professional positions? ^ The study utilized a sequential, mixed methods design including a survey of N=53 judges. Survey findings informed the focus groups, which included the following categories of judges: arts faculty employed by the school (n=4), school alumni (n=3), educators (n=3), and artistic professionals (n=4). ^ Judges perceived that there is rigor built into the project design. Educators found that student performance with the written components was not up to expected levels, while several judges across focus groups found that students were not always adequately prepared for the oral presentation component. Analysis of student performance data found that there was no connection between arts major and performance on the capstone project. It is anticipated that results from this study may help to shape a project for one school and perhaps make it a model for replication across other schools within the state.

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