Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Dugas, Daryl

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF)


The COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide closures of schools resulting in a sudden shift to online instruction for a large population of students. For many students, this shift caused a decrease in academic performance. This four-paper dissertation explores the impact of this shift on newly struggling high school students. These students earned a D or F as their final course grade in two or more classes during the first semester of 2020 online learning but earned zero or one D or F final course grade during the first semester of 2019 with in person instruction.Using a correlational research design, the first paper explores whether the demographic characteristics of gender, racial/ethnic minority status, low household income status, and special education status were associated with decreased academic outcomes among newly struggling high school students. Findings suggest that students from low-income households were impacted more by the shift to online learning than students from non-low-income households. Conversely, while special education students did see an increase in the frequency of D and F final course grades between semesters, it was a significantly lower increase than their newly struggling sample group peers. Through data collected from focus groups interviews, the second paper seeks to understand the perceptions of newly struggling high school students regarding their academic struggle with the shift to online learning during the pandemic. An overarching theme generated from the focus group data was a struggle with motivation. A subtheme generated from the data was a loss of connection with teachers and peers that contributed to participants’ struggle with motivation. The third paper is a research brief for the quantitative portion of the study. The fourth paper is a research brief for the qualitative portion of this study. The purpose of these briefs is to provide a concise, nontechnical summary of the key findings and takeaways from this study for educators and educational leaders.


84 pages




Northern Illinois University

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