Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Ron Williamson, Ed.D.

Committee Member

David Anderson, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Jaclynn Tracy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Virginia Harder, Ph.D.


This study focused on young adolescent development, middle grades education, and the underlying supporting structures that assist students in achieving academically. Results were examined through the lens of Bandura’s social cognitive theory, and a big picture view of the interplay of beliefs, behavior, and environmental influences emerged. The study examined three ideas: (a) the level of academic optimism (AO), enabled school structure (ESS), middle level strategy implementation, and academic achievement; (b) how the implementation of middle level strategies and School to Watch (STW) status affected the level of AO, and ESS; and (c) how the factors of AO, ESS, STW status, and middle level strategy implementation impacted the academic achievement of students in math and reading. Data were collected through AO and ESS surveys completed by 210 teachers and demographic information provided by 29 principals and the Michigan Department of Education. Findings revealed that factors of free and reduced lunch recipients with school size and location had a significant relationship with middle level certification, middle level training, and interdisciplinary teaming. These in turn had a significant relationship to AO and ESS, which were beliefs within the school. This study supported previous findings that AO supported by enabled ESS had an even greater effect upon academic achievement than even socioeconomic status. Middle school staff working to improve student achievement could identify their readiness through an examination of the ESS, AO, and STW surveys, and using this data, the administrator could collaborate with staff to structure a building climate with appropriate middle level strategies to meet student needs.