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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research: Classroom Management & School Culture:
What Is Senioritis in a Portfolio Assessment High School

Research Summary

The Question

What is “senioritis” in a portfolio assessment high school?

Study Rationale

A 2001 report by the National Commission on the High School Senior Year found the restructuring of the senior year to be a national priority. Internationally, the U.S. is especially weak when comparing student performances at the end of secondary education. Throughout the U.S., senior grade inflation appears to have increased. Therefore, what perspectives do students and senior advisors have that may illuminate the phenomena that is “senioritis”? Do students not apply themselves as well as they can during their senior year, and if they do not, what are the reasons?

How substantial is the claim that the senior year is a period when students are not effective learners? What are the reasons for any altered capacity for learning? Do students and senior advisors have advice that may improve the senior year?

Background & Context

The Beacon School, a high-performing NYC public high school that uses portfolio assessments, is the setting for this analysis of senioritis. Fifty-four of the 238 Beacon seniors are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and 55.5% of the student population is female. Student retention was reported at 88% in 2004-2005; 96% of the 12th grade students graduated in 2005; and 94% of these stusdents were accepted to college. Comparing NYC schools, and as reported by Clara Hemphill in the book New York City’s Best Public High Schools, Beacon is a highly successful high school that admits about 1 in 10 of the students who apply for admission. Because of the high rate of students who attend college and the demand for admission, Beacon is a “choice” school according to Levin’s framework and definition of school choice. Anecdotally, the Beacon staff notes a trend for students to slack off during the senior year.


Creswell advocates that phenomenological methods are powerful methods for illuminating reasons for action and experience. Perhaps some of these reasons are indicators of causality. Therefore, with the intent to understand the events that may cause “senioritis,” and to give a true definition of the supposed phenomena that is “senioritis”, these research methods will be used.

Huebert and colleagues indicate that high school dropouts are a common occurrence that is both poorly tracked and poorly addressed. Testing reforms have outpaced educational reforms, and this disparity is troubling with respect to student expectations and the graduation rate. Some student groups are more likely to drop out from high school.

Conley gives solid advice for rethinking the senior year. His recommendations not only include policy recommendations, but directly address the National Commission on the High School Senior Year Report. However, the Report and Conley’s interpretation and recommendations do not adequately address the concept of “senioritis.” For example, Conley’s recommendations, while pragmatic and purposeful, do not address a framework of student sentiment that will better explain how seniors are engaging themselves with respect to school expectations.


Transcript and anacedotal report analysis will indicate which students have not performed as strongly after they have become seniors, and these data will be related to student demographics and overall grade performances.
Survey analysis will indicate the frequency of student-perceived senioritis, what the perceived senioritis is the result of, and if the college admissions process has influenced senioritis.
AP-class test-takers analysis will reveal the tendency of students to take the AP exams during their senior year, on account of teacher exam-requirement policies.
Senior advisor student-rankings and interviews will reveal what senior advisors believe about senioritis, and whether their familiarity with the students over several years has any predictive value. The interviews are expected to capture a part of the phenomena.
Student interviews are predicted to reveal student beliefs about the senior year and senioritis.


  • Transcript analysis indicates that the Beacon school has a declining GPA, and that several subgroups in the student population perform more poorly than others.
  • Survey analysis indicates that students have a strong awareness of senioritis, and that the college process is a reason for the tendency to not perform as strongly.
  • AP-test enrollments indicate that requiring students to take the AP exam improves the quality of the education that the students receive, and the rigor of the AP classroom is improved on account of the policy.
  • Senior advisors had some predictive ability with respect to senioritis.
  • Student interviews reveal a complex web of accountability-awareness and school-structure questioning with respect to the senior year. The system seems not to be aligned with student needs or expectations of themselves. In addition, students are highly aware of their college’s tendency to rescind any offer or to balk at scholarship offers on account of senior-year performances.


A good portrait of senioritis has been drawn. The reasons for senioritis include school structure, the college admissions and acceptance process, a sense of accountability in the schoolplace not having relevance after graduation, and some complex family-level and social phenomena.

Policy Recommendations

  • Conley’s recommendations about the senior year must be addressed. Especially, the 4 Commission questions must be further addressed in practical context and in the schoolplace.
  • Colleges must be held accountable for maintaining rigor in the secondary school place during the senior year—offer letters and warning letters must be made a mandatory responsibility of colleges.
  • Taking the AP exam if enrolled to take the AP class is a structurally sound recommendation.
  • Consider the NY Times, 30 May 2006: Can’t complete high school? Go straight to college. Alternative avenues to high school need to be offered, but the high school diploma must be a universal requirement that students must be supported to obtain.

J. Reid Schwebach

Research Focus:

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

The Beacon School 
227 W. 61st St.
New York, NY 10023

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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