Date of Award



© 2020 Verlin (Skip) Wilhoit

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Brianna Parsons

Second Advisor

Cynthia Kennedy

Third Advisor

Robert “Pace” Edwards


The passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2001, ushered in a new era of federal oversight in state educational accountability systems. While the act may have succeeded in identifying schools in need of support and creating data systems to help inform parents and assist educators in establishing clear and consistent goals, the state accountability systems created under this law were widely criticized for their narrow academic focus and failure to include the holistic and multifaceted nature of school quality. In response, the federal government replaced NCLB in 2015 with The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The new law included a provision widely referred to as the “Fifth Indicator” of student success, which was to be non-academic in nature. To address this indicator in state accountability plans, the federal government specifically recommended several strategies, to include measures of school climate and safety. Despite this recommendation and despite decades of research to support its inclusion, only a handful of states have adopted such measures. As a result, schools and districts in most states are left to develop their own systems of school climate assessment and improvement.

The primary purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the efforts of a single Florida school district in their quest to develop such a system. The Sunshine School District (SSD) had begun looking at innovative ways to assess and improve school climate as the ESSA was passed. An instrument had been developed that was loosely based on research and had not been tested in school settings. This instrumental case study provided an in-depth examination of the literature and an analysis of archival data to help refine the instrument and prepare it for a pilot test in nine district schools. Through this study, a follow-up focus group with pilot participants was conducted to determine whether the instrument held promise as a means to assess school climate and safety, as well as drive improvement. Analysis of the data revealed participants found the instrument to be flexible, useful, and effective – particularly as it pertains to the assessment of school climate and safety practices and establishing improvement goals. The analysis additionally revealed the instrument can be lengthy and may not be equally applicable to all schools and grade levels. Although the instrument needs further refinement, pilot participants reported it to still be effective and beneficial as an informal assessment and improvement tool.


Ed.D. Dissertation