Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen

Second Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Third Advisor

Dr. Jessaca Spybrook


Student success, regional online school, student-level predictors, school-level predictors


Online education options in the K-12 environment have steadily increased from the infancy of online education at the turn of the millennia. Educators have utilized this format to meet the many different needs that exist for all students. Early research into the academic success of students in these environments prior to 2000 indicated there was no significant difference in student achievement for distance learning as compared to face-to-face learning. Since 2000, there has been increased focus on student performance in higher education online environments, but research is limited for K-12 schools. For the research that does exist, school-level variables and the reasons why students select online environments have not been investigated.

This study examines the within-school and between-school factors that predict the performance of students in online environments utilizing hierarchical linear modeling (HLM). The data sample represents information from a regional online school (ROS) that enrolls 9-12 students in online coursework from local schools in the region. The sample included 886 students from 36 local schools. The student-level variables that were investigated included prior student performance, special education status, student free or reduced-price lunch status, race, gender, age, and the reason for selecting online coursework. The school-level variables included in the analyses were school enrollment, percentage of students who qualify for free or reducedprice lunch, school average SAT score, percentage of Black students enrolled, and percentage of Hispanic students enrolled. This study analyzed student overall performance, mathematics performance, and English language arts (ELA) performance at the ROS utilizing three models: the unconditional model, the control model with student-level variables, and the full model with school-level variables. A fourth model was applied to a subset of the data for each academic area and included students’ reason for choosing online coursework at level 1.

The results identified multiple significant factors that predicted student performance. At the student level for all three academic areas, prior academic performance (GPA) was a positive predictor of student achievement while special education status and qualification for free or reduced-price lunch were negative predictors. At the school level, the only significant predictor is the average SAT score which positively predicts overall academic achievement at the ROS. When the students’ reasons for selecting online coursework were analyzed, health reasons were a significant negative predictor for overall academic performance. Behavioral reasons were a significant positive predictor and family reasons were significant negative predictor of mathematics achievement at the ROS.

The findings on significant predictors of student success in online classes are important information for students, parents, educators, and others. These findings can provide clarity in decision making around the placement and support of students. They also provide important areas of focus for program quality and improvement to support student success. Future research could investigate further the relationship between special education classifications, other school level factors, and additional reasons for selecting online courses, on the one hand, and success in on-line classes, on the other.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access