Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Earl H. Cheek, Jr


By design, elementary schools are places where students perform specified tasks and become literate. In practice, elementary schools enroll students who engage in instructional activity, yet many of these students fail to reach minimum literacy standards. This multiple-case qualitative inquiry focused on the inner workings of schools where students placed at risk learned to read and examined schools where similar students did not learn to read. Research conducted in four elementary schools addressed the following questions: (a) What resources, time factors, and management systems do elementary teachers use to create an effective reading environment? (b) How do reading assessment measures and practices inform instruction? (c) Within the school context, what is the level of continuity in reading instruction from one classroom to the next? Four general findings emerged in response to the research questions. First, material resources were in short supply; and teachers did not utilize instructional-level appropriate materials to facilitate independent work. Human resources were squandered. In the majority of cases, ancillary teacher behaviors were counterproductive to student learning. These support personnel were scheduled inefficiently and were inadequately monitored, yet frequent principal classroom visitations positively impacted student and teacher performance. Second, management and use of time were not maximized in the two unsuccessful schools. In the two successful schools, learning time was extended by thirty minutes each day as a result of efficient time management; upper grades were departmentalized; and at one school, pull-out rather than inclusion was implemented for specialized instruction. Third, assessment practices limited rather than informed instruction. Teachers used intuition for informal assessment and inconsistent documentation for reporting. Finally, continuity was apparent at one site, Star One School, where grade-level teachers implemented like-reading instruction within each of the six grade levels. In the final analysis, this was the only school in the inquiry demonstrating aspects of successful reading instruction. Implicit in these findings is the need for further study. Yet insight can be gained; and students placed at risk could conceivably attend schools where factors within our control, such as those uncovered in this inquiry, would cease to interfere with their learning.