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High School and the 3R's: Students' Perspectives on "Good Work"


"Despite their prevalence today, standardized tests, including state exit exams, are but one measure of school achievement. What interested us is what students have to say about what academic achievement and personal success means to them. How do high school students articulate the conditions inside and outside of school that contribute to their academic achievement? As we describe in more detail in the section on Study Design, we chose the term "good work," rather than "academic achievement," as a more student-friendly and less research-laden term to get at students' own ideas of self-assessment. We posed the question, "How do you know when you've done 'good work' in school?" as an entry point for students to discuss and describe their own criteria for success in school. How do students' opinions and perspectives mesh with what the adults in their lives think about their school performance and success, and where do their ideas fit within the current accountability framework? Inquiring into how students talk and make sense out of what engages and motivates them to do well in school and in life are questions that researchers rarely ask. In this report, we present findings from our study of 11th and 12th graders and their perspectives on "good work" in school. In this climate of increased accountability, our research seeks to better understand what students have to say about their own performance and experiences in school, what their own academic achievement (i.e., good work) looks like and means to them, what roles their teachers and families play in their motivation to do good work, and lastly, where, if at all, do their state's exit exams fit into their concepts of academic achievement."