Date of Award

December 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Nancy Rice

Committee Members

Raquel Farmer-Hinton, Rajeswari Swaminathan, Sara Jozwik


equity, inclusive education, intersectionality, school decision-making, school structures, special education


School personnel are accountable for the academic “achievement” of students with and without disability labels (Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA], 2015). In Wisconsin, “achievement” is measured via performance on standardized academic assessments (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [DPI], 2019). The use of these assessments privileges White middle-class students without disability labels (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Outcomes have been used to shame schools’ so-called poor performance while ignoring other indicators of success such as instilling real-world problem-solving skills, building positive learning communities, using a critical lens, and engaging in social activism (Connor et al., 2019).Many students with disability labels now receive instruction in the general education environment for most of the school day (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2015). Standardized assessments show that academic “achievement” gaps persist and fail as indicators for “achievement.” Placement of students in general education environments alone does not guarantee equitable access to learning opportunities (NCES, 2018). Personal experiences and beliefs of educators impact their teaching practices; therefore, their views may impact how they define “achievement” and provide access to equitable learning opportunities (Connor, 2017). The purpose of this study was to examine how school leaders and educators at two high schools perceived “achievement” and to explore factors they considered when developing individualized supports for students with disability labels. Both schools were selected due to showing progress in increasing student “achievement” for students with disability labels. Data were collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews and observations of planning meetings in schools. Through data analysis, I identified the following themes: 1) foundational beliefs of personnel regarding who can achieve and how they define “achievement”; 2) processes used to support students and teachers; and 3) understanding of inequities and steps taken (or not) towards providing equitable access to opportunities. Implications include: encouraging teacher leadership and empowerment; working with families, parents, and the community; focusing on racial equity via professional development, equity audits, and the use of a racial equity process in decision-making; and restructuring the state report card. The findings contribute to the literature supporting high school restructuring designed to meet the needs of all learners.