A comparison of high achievers' and low achievers' attitudes, perceptions, and motivations.
The purpose of this study was to compare high achieving and low achieving adolescents' attitudes toward school, attitudes toward teachers, goal-valuation, motivation, and general academic self-perceptions. Specifically, we sought to determine whether high achievers really differed from low achievers on these five factors, and to ascertain which of the five factors were the best predictors of students' status as either a high achiever or a low achiever. The comparison of the scores of high achievers and low achievers on attitudes toward school, attitudes toward teachers, goal-valuation, motivation, and general academic self-perceptions revealed large differences between high achievers and low achievers on all five factors. However, two factors, academic self-perception and motivation/self-regulation, predicted students' achievement status as well as the five-factor model did. Using logistic regression, these two subscales were able to classify students' achievement status correctly over 85% of the time. These results suggest that high achievers and low achievers differ in both their motivational patterns and their academic self-perceptions. uture research should continue to explore the relationships between these student characteristics and academic achievement.
Every teacher knows at least one student who "could do better." These are the students who come to school without books or homework, the students who appear to choose not to study for exams, the students who seem unphased by parents' and teachers' pleas that their grades now will affect the rest of their professional lives. We commonly dub these students "underachievers."
Underachievement is most commonly defined as a discrepancy between potential (or ability) and performance (or achievement) (Reis & McCoach, 2000). Therefore, a student who appears capable of succeeding in school but is nonetheless struggling is often referred to as an underachiever. Factors commonly associated with underachievement include low academic self-concept (Schunk, 1998; Supplee, 1990; Whitmore, 1980), low self-efficacy (Schunk, 1998), low self-motivation (Weiner, 1992), low goal-valuation (McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992), and negative attitude toward school and teachers (Colangelo, Kerr, Christensen, & Maxey, 1993; Ford, 1996; Rimm, 1995). Most of the literature on underachievement suggests that underachievers have lower academic self-perceptions, lower self-motivation and self-regulation, and less goal directed behavior, and more negative attitudes toward school than high achievers do (Reis & McCoach, 2000). However, the majority of research investigating the common characteristics of underachieving students has employed qualitative, clinical, or single subject research methodology. Very few large-scale quantitative studies have examined the legitimacy of these hypotheses (Reis & McCoach, 2000).
The purpose of this study was to compare high achieving and low achieving adolescents' attitudes toward school, attitudes toward teachers, goal-valuation, motivation, and general academic self-perceptions, using the School Attitude Assessment Survey-Revised (SAAS-R). Specifically, we sought to determine whether high achievers really differed from low achievers on these five factors, and to ascertain which factors were the best predictors of students' status as either a high achiever or a low achiever.
Review of the Literature
Students develop confidence in many ways, and those who are confident about their skills are more likely to engage in a variety of activities. The perceptions students have about their skills influence the types of activities they select, how much they challenge themselves at those activities, and the persistence they exhibit once they are involved in the activities (Ames, 1990; Bandura, 1977, 1986; Schunk, 1981, 1994). Perceptions or personal expectancies generally fall into two categories: self--efficacy and self-concept. Underachievers often exhibit low self-concept or low self-efficacy (Bruns, 1992; Dowdall & Colangelo, 1982; Ford, 1996; Supplee, 1990; Whitmore, 1980). Research suggests that as much as one third of the variance in achievement can be accounted for by academic self-perceptions (Lyon, 1993). The correlation of students' academic self-perceptions with their achievement raises an interesting but unanswered question. Do low self-perceptions cause underachievement, does underachievement result in a deterioration of a student's self-perceptions, or does a third factor exert a negative influence on both academic self-perceptions and academic achievement? Future longitudinal studies of achievers and underachievers may help clarify the direction of causality between these two variables.
Attitude Toward School
Attitudes toward school consist of the students' self-reported interest in and positive feelings toward school. Previous research suggests that underachievers appear to display negative attitudes toward school (Bruns, 1992; Clark, 1988; Diaz, 1998; Ford, 1996; Frankel, 1965; Mandel & Marcus, 1988; McCall Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992; Rimm, 1995). "Research findings over many years have consistently indicated that young people who do well in school tend to be interested in learning" (Weiner, 1992, p. 260). Underachievers exhibit more negative attitudes toward school than average and high achievers do. Mandel and Marcus (1988) hypothesize that when underachievement relates to personality and motivational characteristics, students exhibit negative attitudes toward school. Majoribanks (1992) found that children's cognitive attitudes toward school demonstrated moderate, statistically significant associations with achievement. Interestingly, in his study, affective attitudes toward school and achievement were correlated for girls, but not for boys. As with academic self-concept, although there appears to be a relationship between attitude toward school and achievement, this relationship does not suggest or determine any flow of causality between the two variables.
Attitude Toward Teachers and Classes
Because it is difficult to separate the confounding effects of attitudes toward teachers and attitudes toward the classes they teach, the attitude toward teachers factor of the SAAS-R encompasses students' interest and positive affect toward their teachers and their classes. Students' interest in their coursework is related to their use of self-regulatory strategies in the academic domain as well as their motivation (Scheifele, 1991; Wigfield, 1994) and their academic achievement.
Students who have positive views of their teachers are more likely to demonstrate achievement-oriented behaviors. Many underachievers exhibit problems with authority, including problems with teachers and school personnel (Mandel & Marcus, 1988; McCall et al., 1992), and they may exhibit hostility toward authority figures, including teachers (Mandel & Marcus, 1988). Therefore, students' attitudes toward their teachers and courses should be positively related to their academic achievement.
Motivation and Self-Regulation
The relationship between motivation and academic achievement is complex. However, self-regulation may hold the key to understanding student achievement. Self-regulation refers to students' "self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions which are systematically oriented towards the attainment of goals" (Zimmerman, 1994, p. ix). Self-regulation comprises processes by which people are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants in their own learning (Zimmerman, 1994). Self-regulation comprises three major stages: forethought, volitional control, and self-reflection (Zimmerman, 1998). Self-regulation is a significant predictor of academic achievement, and the use of internalized self-regulatory strategies helps individuals to achieve in school. However, whether students' self-regulation and motivation can be manipulated through educational interventions is less clearly documented. Unfortunately, disentangling the constructs of motivation and self-regulation has proven challenging. Underachievers may lack motivation, self-regulation skills, or a combination of the two traits. "Underachievers may not lack knowledge of strategies, but rather they may not understand that strategic behavior in conjunction with effort results in achievement" (Borkowski & Thorpe, 1994).
Valuing learning, and believing in the importance of the task increases students' achievement orientation and motivation. When students value the goals associated with school, they are more likely to be achievers. Intrinsic value consists of the enjoyment that a task brings. The effect of valuing goals may be mediated through self-regulatory strategies (Wigfield, 1994). "Achievement values include whether an individual likes a task, the importance the individual attaches to a task, and the potential usefulness of the task" (Wigfield & Karpathian, 1991, p. 236).
We compared the response patterns of high achieving students and low achieving student on the five factors of the School Attitude Assessment Survey -Revised (SAAS-R): attitudes toward school, attitudes toward teachers, goal-valuation, motivation, and general academic self-perceptions. The sample for this analysis consisted of 244 ninth through twelfth grade students from a mostly white, suburban high school in the Northeast. Participation in the study was voluntary. The sample for this study was drawn from a larger sample of 942 students, representing over 90% of the school, population. The SAAS-R employed a 7-point Likert-type agreement scale. Examples of questions from the SAAS-R include "I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork" (motivation/goal-valuation), "I am confident in my scholastic abilities" (academic self-perceptions), "My teachers make learning interesting" (attitudes towards teachers), "I am glad that I go to this school" (attitude toward school), and "I want to get good grades in school" (goal-valuation). Students also provided a self-reported GPA. For this study, high achievers were defined as those who self-reported that they had at least a 3.75 GPA in high school. Low achievers reported a GPA below 2.5. We chose to categorize low achievers as those who reported having a GPA at or below 2.5 because they represented the bottom 15% of the school in terms of GPA. Less than 5% of the school had GPAs at or below 2.0. There were 96 high achievers and 148 low achievers in the present study. The SAAS-R exhibited adequate evidence of reliability; Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficients the five subscales ranged from .82 to .94. An analysis of the data from the entire school population revealed significant differences among the grade levels. Goal valuation and attitudes toward school were lower for seniors than for freshman (p [is less than] .05). In addition, juniors attitudes towards school were lower than those of freshman. There were no significant differences by grade level for academic self-perceptions, attitudes towards teachers, or goal valuation.
A comparison of the low achievers and the high achievers as determined by self-reported GPA revealed that there were statistically significant differences between the high achievers and the low achievers on all five factors. (Hotelling's multivariate t-test, p [is less than] .001). We then conducted five univariate t-tests, using a Bonferroni adjustment to control the type I error rate. The t-tests of the five factors indicated that high achievers and low achievers exhibited statistically significantly different scale scores on each of the five factors (p [is less than] .001). In every case, high achievers had higher mean scores than low achievers. Furthermore, the mean differences of high achievers versus low achievers on all five factors exhibited large to very large effect sizes. Table 1 depicts the results of the univariate t-tests, including effect sizes for each of the factors.
For Tables 1,2, 3
see issue's website http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sump.htm
A direct logistic regression with achievement status as the outcome and the five factors of the SAAS-R as the predictor variables indicated good model fit (discrimination among the groups) on the basis of the five factors of the SAAS-R (Hosmer & Lemeshow, 2000; Menard, 1995). Table 2 presents the beta weights for the logistic regression analysis using all five factors. The five factor solution correctly classified over 85% of the students in the sample according to their achievement status.
However, the results of the Wald test revealed that academic self-perceptions (ASP) and motivation/self-regulation (MOT) were the only significant independent variables in the model. Therefore, we conducted the logistic regression with only the two significant predictors. Both the Cox and Snell [R.sup.2] ([R.sup.2]=.46) and the Nagelkerke [R.sup.2] ([R.sup.2]=.63) indicated that the two factor model explained a large amount of variance within the data. Table 3 presents the beta weights for the logistic regression analysis for the two-factor model.
As a result of this analysis, we found that after controlling for the effects of motivation/self-regulation, for each point gain in academic self-perception, a student was over 4 times more likely to be a high achiever. After controlling for the effects of academic self-perceptions, for each point gain in motivation/self-regulation, a student was over 2.7 times more likely to be a high achiever. The two-factor solution correctly classified almost 86% of the students in the sample according to their achievement status. Almost 89% of low achievers and over 81% of high achievers were correctly classified by the two-factor logistic regression model.
High achieving students exhibited more positive academic self-perceptions, motivation/self-regulation, goal valuation, attitudes toward school, and attitudes toward teachers than low achieving students. However, academic self-perceptions and motivation/self-regulation appear to be stronger predictors of academic achievement status than attitude toward school and attitude toward teachers. The goal valuation factor was highly correlated with motivation and self-regulation; therefore, although goal-valuation did not make a strong contribution to the logistic regression model, it is moderately correlated with self-reported GPA. The results of this study suggest that students who possess high self-motivation and self-regulation and who have positive academic self-perceptions are much more likely to be high achievers than students who possess lower academic self-perceptions and lower motivation/self-regulation. The results of this study were strictly correlational in nature; therefore, one cannot infer causality from these results. It remains to be seen whether increasing students' academic self-perceptions and motivation/ self-regulation will translate into achievement gains for low achieving students. Future research should explore whether programs that seek to increase these attributes in underachieving students can effectively reverse their underachievement. This study suffers from one large limitation: the use of self-reported GPA as a measure of academic achievement. Future research should compare the results of the SAAS-R to actual achievement data (such as GPA). In addition, researchers should investigate whether remediating any or all of these five factors can help increase student achievement.
In conclusion, this study sought to examine differences between high achieving and low achieving high school students' academic self-perceptions, attitudes toward school, attitudes toward teachers, motivation/self-regulation, and goal valuation. There were large differences between high achievers and low achievers on all five factors. However, two factors, academic self-perceptions and motivation/self-regulation, predicted students' achievement status as well as the five-factor model did. Using these two factors, we were able to classify students' achievement status correctly over 85% of the time. These results suggest that high achievers and low achievers differ in both their motivational patterns and their academic self-perceptions. Future research should continue to explore the relationships between these student characteristics and academic achievement. Specifically, researchers should investigate whether interventions that increase students' academic self-perceptions or their self-regulatory skills can also improve their school performance.
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D. Betsy McCoach, University of Connecticut Del Siegle, University of Connecticut
D. Betsy McCoach is a doctoral student in gifted education and school psychology. Del Siegle is an assistant professor in residence in Educational Psychology.