What Makes Students With Emotional Disturbance Stay in School and Graduate?

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Year of Completion


First Advisor

Jan Hammond


The purpose of this qualitative research study was to better understand why students classified with emotional disturbance (ED) were able to graduate from high school and earn high school diplomas. Students classified as having emotional disturbance have a host of deficits in the areas of reading, writing, math, and social and emotional skills. Despite these stumbling blocks, some students who had these deficiencies were resilient and able to graduate from high school, even in an era of school reform and heightened accountability. Using an extensive literature review, this phenomenological study explored reasons why this targeted population remained in school. Graduates were interviewed to determine the motivational factors that influenced and enhanced their decision to stay in an urban alternative high school. The subjects were classified with emotional disturbance over the age of 18 who were well past the age when they could legally withdraw from school and had graduated from a special education alternative high school in an urban setting. A cadre of administrators and teachers who supervised and taught this population during their 11 th and 12th grades were interviewed for comparison to determine what kept these students in school. The theoretical framework of Alderfer’s Existence, Relatedness, and Growth (ERG) theory was used; findings showed that the growth aspect was key in both the teachers’ beliefs as well as the students’ responses.