Graduation Year


Document Type

Ed. Specalist



Degree Name

Education Specialist (Ed.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Shannon Suldo, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lindsey O'Brennan, Ph.D.


Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, high school, student voices


Cognitive engagement has been linked to positive outcomes such as academic achievement (Eccles & Wang, 2012). However, students’ level of cognitive engagement tend to decline as students move into middle childhood and adolescence (Archambault, Janosz, Morizot, & Pagani, 2009; Wang & Eccles, 2012a; Wiley & Hodgen, 2012). In addition, two out of three high school students nationwide reported feeling bored at school because the academic tasks are not interesting or relevant (Yazzie-Mintz, 2006). In regard to this matter, researchers have examined factors that relate to cognitive engagement. Most of the existing research is quantitative in nature and only involves students who are low or average achievers. This study addressed this gap in the literature by examining the facilitators and barriers of cognitive engagement from the perspective of high-achieving students with qualitative methods. Participants were ninth grade students in accelerated curricula (i.e., enrolled in Advanced Placement classes or International Baccalaureate Diploma program). A mixed-method sequential design was utilized. Forty-seven participants who scored at the top or bottom 10% on indicators of cognitive engagement, specifically the Goal Valuation and the Motivation/Self-Regulation subscales of School Assessment of Attitudes Survey-Revised (SAAS-R) were identified from a larger sample of 320 freshmen. Among the selected participants, 13 were invited and 12 took part in the qualitative part of the study— individual interviews. A generic approach, focusing on the constant-comparative method, was used to analyze data generated from interviews. The qualitative analyses revealed nine themes. The first theme provided context to the voices of participants, including why they decided to join accelerated curricula and how their experiences in AP/IB classes have been. The next five themes were related to the facilitators of cognitive engagement. It includes (a) students’ role, (b) teachers’ role, (c) parents’ role, (d) school connectedness, and (e) technology’s role. Finally, the last three themes addressed barriers to cognitive engagement. Participants shared that some (a) student characteristics, such as mindset and life circumstance, (b) negative academic experiences, and (c) distractions deterred them from being cognitively engaged in their AP/IB coursework. Collectively, most of the themes generated from this study aligned with the findings from past research, except some themes from past studies were not found in this study. This study also discovered new themes that expanded upon the past literature’s understanding on ways to promote and remove barriers that hinder cognitive engagement. Consistent with the theories of other researchers, the results of this study showed that the three different types of student engagement (i.e., cognitive, behavioral, emotional engagement) are interrelated to each other. This study also found relatively little differences in the sentiments provided by participants who self-reported higher or lower level of cognitive engagement. Implications of this study include expanding the current literature body on facilitators and barriers of cognitive engagement. The results of this study also serve as a general guidebook for educators of AP/IB students to (a) create a learning environment that promotes cognitive engagement, (b) suggest to students strategies that might increase their level of cognitive engagement, and (c) share with parents home-based strategies that may promote students’ cognitive engagement. Future studies should focus on exploring the applicability of the findings on other student populations by conducting interviews with a more diverse set of participants (e.g., students with varying level of academic achievement) and further explore barriers to cognitive engagement.