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Participant Selection. The first phase of the study will be quantitative in nature. It will focus on identifying the behavioral and situational factors that predict truancy among middle school students. Employing a cross-section survey design, the study aims to collect data at a particular point in time (McMillan, 2000). The participants of this study will be around 100 middle school students enrolled in an alternative school in the DeKalb County Schools System. Being a small transition academy, total enumeration will be used. In order to identify which factors predict truancy among middle school students, participants will be grouped as a) truant, and b) non-truant. In this manner, we can pinpoint the behavioral and situational predictors of truancy that are not present in students who are not classified at truant. Identification of students classified as "truant" will be based on school attendance records and referrals from the school counselor. More specifically, using the definition in Hendricks et al. (2010), students considered "truant" are "students with attendance less than 90%, who were underachieving, marginalized, or experiencing transitional difficulties; had a supportive family or adult sponsor; had no chronic documented health concerns; were without chronic suspensions; and were without significant juvenile offending involvement" (p. 176). Both students and parents will be given an invitation to participate in the study. A consent form will be provided to the parents or guardians of students before the actual conduct of the study. Students who return signed parental consent forms will be considered official participants. Participation will be strictly voluntary and can be stopped at any given time.
Quantitative instrument. The quantitative phase of this study will involve a) survey questionnaire, and b) school records. Data from these sources will be used to answer research problems 1 and 2. Survey data will help identify the predictors of truancy among middle school students. School records particularly those that relate to school attendance will determine the effectiveness of the discipline programs being implemented to reduce truancy.
To answer the first research question, the primary instrument will be a self-report questionnaire which contains items that relate to some of behavioral traits exhibited by the participant as well as the environmental factors that surround the participant which may cause truancy. A self-developed questionnaire will be used to gather quantitative data. It will contain multiple format of responses such as multiple choice questions, dichotomous "yes" or "no" questions, self-assessment items, and items measured via a 5-point Likert-type format. The questionnaire will have a total of 20 questions to properly cover all the quantitative variables to be studied. In order to guarantee the content validity of the self-developed questionnaire, a panel of experts from the University will serve as evaluators.
The questionnaire will have four sections. The first section will gather responses related to their experiences with discipline programs in the alternative middle school. The second section will consist of self-assessment items that will determine the types of behaviors they feel they possess and their attitudes towards school. The third section will consist of items pertaining situational variables they face as middle school students that may influence their school attendance. The fourth section will be composed of demographic questions such as the student's 1) age, 2) gender, and 3) ethnicity. Some of the questions in the instrument will be open-ended such as the inclusion of an item "Other" so that students can specify the correct answer. The option of "N/A" or "not applicable" will also be provided. The surveys will be administered via the Internet. The service SurveyMonkey.com will be used. Upon giving consent, students will be provided a URL to the survey. One of the biggest advantages of a web-based survey is the ease in which the data can be transferred to Excel or SPSS for tabulation and for data analysis.
To answer the second research question, school data will be collected and analyzed to determine the effectiveness of discipline-based programs to reduce truancy rates in the target school. Records will be accessed after obtaining permission from the school. Administrative data will be collected from the target school, specifically school records spanning five years from 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-2010 school years. The specific data to be gathered are 1) the number of days attended, 2) the number of excused absences, and 3) the number of unexcused absences during each school year. The standard truancy rates will be computed by taking the number of unexcused absences that occurred in any given period (e.g., 30-day period) and dividing it by the number of school days during that period. This will reveal whether the discipline programs being implemented in the alternative school to reduce truancy has led to actual improvement in school attendance and a decrease in unexcused absences.
Reliability. In order to establish reliability, the self-developed instrument will be pilot tested to around 50 students or 5% of the total student population. Participants will be randomly chosen. The pilot test is a way of validating the instrument by measuring its internal consistency reliability. In order to test reliability, Cronbach's alpha coefficient will be computed (Gliem & Gliem, 2003). The standard or normal range for internal consistency is a Cronbach's alpha between 0 and 1. The internal consistency of an instrument is higher when the coefficient computed is closer to 1. The interpretation of the coefficients are "_ > .9 - Excellent, _ > .8 - Good, _ > .7 - Acceptable, _> .6 - Questionable, _ > .5 - Poor, and_ < .5 - Unacceptable" (George & Mallery, 2003, p. 231). The instrument will be revised accordingly depending on the results of the pilot test.
Quantitative Data Collection. Formal letters to obtain permission to access school records from the target school will be made. After permission is granted, the researcher will solicit the help of the school administrator and the school registrar for the data required. From the data on school attendance, the "truant" and "non-truant" groups will be classified based on the number of school days missed and number of excused and unexcused absences. One week before the online survey URL is operational, the researcher will send an email notification to participants asking for their cooperation and informing them of the importance of the study. A low response rate is expected of web-based surveys. In order to secure a higher rate of response, a two-phase follow up will be made. Target participants who have not completed the survey will be sent a reminder email 1) five days after the URL is provided, and 2) two weeks after.
Data Analysis. Descriptive statistics will be used to summarize the responses in the survey and to present them in tabular form.
RQ1. In order to analyze survey data for the research question "What are the current behavioral and situational factors that correlate with truancy in middle school students of alternative schools?", analysis of variance (ANOVA) and multiple regression analysis will be conducted. The F-values from the ANOVA will determine whether the independent variables (behavioral and situational factors) have a significant relationship with the dependent variable (truancy rates). Multiple regression analysis is the appropriate statistical method to measure relationships across two or more independent variables.
RQ2. A t-test for dependent means will measure whether there is a significant improvement in the standard truancy rates of the target school for five school years.
All statistical analysis of the quantitative results will be conducted with the help of Statistical Package for Social Sciences software (SPSS), version 11.0.
Phase II - Qualitative
Participant Selection. For the second qualitative phase of this study, the third research question will be answered. In order to determine how behavioral and situational factors can be manipulated in order to reduce truancy rates among middle school students, in-depth interviews of school authorities will be made. To this end, purposive sampling will be used in order to solicit more information on the phenomenon being studied (Creswell, 2006). Participants for the second phase will six school counselors from the DeKalb County Schools System. According to the sequential explanatory participant selection model, participants for the second phase were selected for a follow-up, in-depth, qualitative phase after analyzing the quantitative data in the first phase of the study (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). In the participant selection model the emphasis is on the second, qualitative phase of the study to gain a better understanding of the predictive variables of truancy among middle school students and how to address it.
Qualitative Instrument. The instrument used in the second phase of this study will be a semi-structured interview protocol. It will consist of around ten to fifteen open-ended questions that will focus on the role of discipline programs in addressing behavioral and situational predictors of truancy among middle school students. The content of the interview protocol, being an extension of the statistical results of the quantitative phase of the study, will be based on the results of the previous quantitative phase. The questions will emphasize on truancy and the significant variables that predict absence and non-attendance among middle school students. The protocol will be pilot tested on three school counselors.
Data Collection. The second, qualitative phase in the study will focus on explaining the results in the first, quantitative phase. The primary technique will be conducting in-depth semi-structured personal interviews with six school counselors from the DeKalb County Schools System. Triangulation of different data sources is important in qualitative study (Creswell, 1998) so the participants will be requested to bring additional materials or sources that could verify some of their assumptions or statements. In order to ensure that they are prepared for the interview, the researcher will send the interview questions ahead of the scheduled interview. A consent form will also be attached that will explain the purposes and objectives of the study and that the entire interview will be tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interviews will be done over time rather than in one single instance. This will provide the participants time to review, correct, or clarify the contents of the transcribed interview.
Qualitative Data Analysis. In the qualitative analysis, data collection and analysis proceed simultaneously (Merriam, 1998). In the second, qualitative phase of the study, the text data obtained through the interviews and other relevant documents will be coded and analyzed for themes with the help of the Qualitative Software and Research (QSR) N6, software for qualitative data analysis.
The steps in qualitative analysis (Creswell, 2006) will include:
preliminary exploration of the data by reading through the transcripts and writing memos;
coding the data by segmenting and labeling the text;
using codes to develop themes by aggregating similar codes together;
connecting and interrelating themes; and
constructing a narrative. (p. 132)
The first step in qualitative analysis is transcribing the interviews. Recorded interviews will be played back and typed out by the researcher. The second step is to read the data line-by line and make sure the transcriptions are accurate. The third step is the coding process, writing codes in the paper margin, then organizing the codes into categories in an excel spreadsheet using terms from the actual language of the participants. The interview responses were coded to see if any differences emerged. The fourth step will use codes to develop larger themes, which will then become the major headings in the qualitative results section of the study. In step five, the themes will be represented through quotes in order to substantiate the themes and to represent what the study found. The sixth step will involve the interpretation of the data. During this step the meaning from the qualitative data will be connected to the literature on factors that influence truancy among middle school students.
Establishing Credibility. In judging the qualitative study, the criteria are different. When in quantitative design, validity and reliability are established, the qualitative researcher is more concerned with credibility (Golafshani, 2003). Credibility refers to the believability of the findings through the coherence and utility of the gathered data (Eisner, 1991) and trustworthiness (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This is achieved by subjecting the data through a verification process as opposed to statistical determination of reliability and validity measures. The findings of a qualitative study are limited to a particular context and could not be generalized elsewhere. The interpretation of qualitative data is also at risk for subjectivity of the researcher's personal biases and positions on an issue. The manner of establishing rigor in qualitative study means that the risk for bias and subjectivity is minimized (Creswell, 2003).
Validating the findings of qualitative study is ensuring that the information presented matches reality (Merriam, 2009). The following forms of ensuring credibility will be used in this study: 1) triangulation, 2) member checking, 3) the use of rich, think descriptions, and 4) an external audit. Triangulation will be done by using multiple sources of data such as interviews, documents, and secondary sources. Member checking is ensuring the accuracy of the representation of data by allowing interviewees to check and if necessary, correct the interview transcripts. Rich and thick descriptions will allow for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. External audit will be performed by a qualitative research expert who will review the method and the findings of the study and give feedback thereafter (Creswell, 2003; Creswell & Miller, 2002).
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Sequential Explanatory Mixed Methods Design
The advantages and limitations of mixed methods design are well discussed in the literature (Creswell, 2002; Creswell, Moghaddam, Walker, & Harre, 2003). The strengths of this particular research mixed method paradigm are:
It is relatively easy to implement for a single investigator since the process is sequential and will be conducted from one stage to the next. It is not as taxing or consuming as the concurrent model.
Sequential explanatory mixed methods design is helpful in understanding or shedding light to the results of quantitative study more comprehensively (Green & Caracelli, 1997)
This particular design is particularly helpful when the results from the quantitative phase do not match theoretical expectations (Morse, 1991).
On the other hand, the weaknesses of the sequential explanatory mixed methods design are:
Compared to pure qualitative or quantitative designs, this mixed method model is lengthy and more time-consuming.
The first quantitative phase may not generate the results expected or not show significant difference.
Research Permission and Ethical Considerations
Ethical issues will be resolved for each phase of this mixed methods study. To comply with Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulations, permission to conduct the two phases of the study will be secured. The researcher will complete The Request for Review Form and personal and professional details as well as project information, including title, type, funding sources, and subjects.
Since the subjects of the first quantitative phase of the study are middle school students aged below 18, parental consent forms need to be obtained. To this end, the researcher will develop a consent form that states how the study will protect the confidentiality and rights of the subjects. A similar form will be attached to the web-based survey to prove that the requirements for ethics have been complied. The participants will be guaranteed anonymity. Each returned questionnaire will be numerically coded so that their names are not divulged and the information is confidential. For the personal interviews, the transcripts will not reveal their names; only fictitious names will be used in describing and reporting the results. The volume of data produced such as interview tapes and transcripts will be stored in a secure metal file cabinet and will be destroyed after publication of the study. It will also be explained to the participants that while the summary data may be accessible by the professional community, it will not be traced back to them as respondents.
The Role of the Researcher
The involvement of the researcher will be different for the two phases of this mixed methods research. During the first phase, the researcher will be involved in data collection, grouping the participants into truant and non-truant groups, administering the survey questionnaire by putting up the URL that links the participants to the web-based instrument. For the second, qualitative phase of this study, a more participatory involvement is expected of the researcher because of "sustained and extensive experience with participants" (Creswell, 2003, p. 184) as well the researcher's experience and personal involvement with the topic of truancy. In this phase, the researcher will conduct the interviews with school counselors.
The researcher is a teacher belonging to the same schools system as the participants in the second phase of the study. The possibility that the researcher is acquainted with some of the participants is possible. Moreover, the researcher's experience and involvement with students and teachers form the beliefs and assumptions she still holds today. This may influence the researcher's interpretation and control over the study. Therefore, care and effort will be directed at minimizing the risk and ensuring the objectivity of the study. It is pointed out that while the researcher belongs to the same county, the locale is not within the researcher's own school or classroom. The target school was selected purposefully.
Nonetheless, the study's design will ensure that bias and subjectivity will be eliminated as much as possible. In this regard, four forms of verification are proposed in order to enhance credibility. This includes triangulation, member checking, rich and thick case descriptions, and an external audit.