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The Influence of Cognitive Autonomy and Learning Environments on Student Academic Performance: An investigation of the relationships between levels of cognitive autonomy, aspects of school learning environments and academic performance at the ninth-grade level


Students transitioning from middle school to high school often experience academic difficulty in the ninth grade. The discontinuance between the two systems gives rise to the need for students to adapt to new academic environments. Academic failure or success is a predictor of high school graduation. Research reveals the personal characteristics of students influence successful adaptation to this transition and that the academic achievement of students depends upon the design of the learning environment.

This goal of this study was to examine whether the student characteristic of cognitive autonomy showed correlation to academic achievement during the ninth grade. This study also examined the relationships of non-cognitive characteristics of students to academic achievement. A sample of 458 ninth-grade students in a suburban high school participated in this study. The student participants were representative of a diverse community, allowing for the personal non-cognitive measures of students to include ethnicity, language proficiency, and gender.

Methodology included administration of a survey to the ninth-grade student population at the selected school. We entered the resulting survey data and demographic information into a statistical program, and academic information for each student was obtained from the school's student information database. Using a variety of statistical analyses, we disaggregated the data and examined for patterns giving indications of the relevance of student characteristics to their academic achievement. Specifically outlined in this study are the mean values of disaggregated data and correlations between cognitive characteristics, non-cognitive characteristics, the learning environment, and student academic achievement.

The results of the study indicated the characteristic of cognitive autonomy to have minimal influence on student academic achievement while non-cognitive characteristics of students showed stronger correlation to academic performance. The resulting implications from this study centered on improving teacher understanding of student characteristics and the resulting need to alter instructional practices. Further implications arise for district and site leaders and center on school structure, staff development, and budget considerations. While centered on the ninth-grade transition point, the implications from this study can be scaled to include further aspects of the high school system.

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