Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Mallette, Marla


In 1985, 66 school districts filed a suit against the Kentucky Department of Education accusing the system of inequitable spending practices. In 1990, the Supreme Court declared the entire educational program unconstitutional, resulting in the Kentucky Education Reform Act or KERA. This new reform movement brought a plethora of changes to school districts across the state including its mode of assessment. KERA introduced new avenues of measuring student progress using writing as the main vehicle to assess content and communication skills. Unfortunately, the majority of Kentucky's high schools showed little improvement in this tested area with only 34% of high schools reaching proficiency in the past twenty years of KERA's existence. In 2009, Kentucky passed into law Senate Bill 1, voiding the previous assessment but increasing the focus on on-demand writing for five grades rather than the three required by KERA. Preempting this new reform was the adoption of the Common Core Standards, which also includes a focus on writing. This consistent attention to writing assessment, and data identifying writing as a major weakness across the Commonwealth, prompted the impetus to examine four schools that achieve high scores in on-demand writing assessment. This qualitative investigation employed a case study design to research these four sites, which represented four different geographic locations in the state. Data sources included observations, interviews, document analysis, and fieldnotes to explore these schools through an interpretivist lens. The collected data were entered into qualitative research software to enable collective coding resulting in distinct categories and resulting themes. Three themes evolved in this cross-case analysis: curriculum, learning culture, and motivation. Teachers from these schools use similar classroom strategies and the learning environments reflect corresponding characteristics. Each school addressed student motivation differently, but the analogous perception of inducing intrinsic and extrinsic student engagement in writing occurred in all four schools. The implications of these results could be overwhelmingly positive as schools seek suggestions to improve writing scores. The findings from this investigation are relevant to the time and may serve as an impetus to improve writing instruction.




This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.