Mary Lukasic, Vicki Gorski, Melinda Lea
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA
This review summarizes the research over the past 50 years on underachievement among gifted and talented students. The review was limited to published journal articles with a critical eye to describing, analyzing, and evaluating the literature. The review sought to answer five primary questions:
- What is underachievement?
- How do we identify underachievers?
- Who are the underachievers and what are they like?
- What causes underachievement?
- What can we do to turn underachievers into achievers?
It was found that although there is general consensus that underachievement is a discrepancy between potential and performance, operational definitions vary widely and make cross comparisons of studies difficult. Definitions of low achievement range from failing a grade to performing one and one-half years below grade level. Identification is a Catch-22. In order to be recognized one must already be performing at some level. No real data exist on the numbers of children, particularly among the low SES, who are never identified. Early identification promises the best hope for reversing underachievement, yet it is the most problematic to do. Underachievement in the gifted is attributable to personality characteristics of the child, dysfunction in the family, or failure by the school system. Most researchers blame one factor and ignore the interaction of several variables. Gifted underachievers are branded as nonconforming, socially isolated, and lacking in motivation and self-esteem. Few studies, however, distinguish between being different and being maladjusted or between achievement in socially-approved areas and achievement in other areas. Treatment approaches have been confined largely to counseling and changes in education. Both approaches appear to make gifted underachievers feel better about themselves, but little improvement in actual performance is noted.
In spite of great interest in the topic, the existing literature on underachievement among the gifted is drawn largely from studies of an anecdotal or a quasi-experimental nature. Research findings are sometimes based on studies which utilized small sample sizes, dubious measurement techniques, and inadequate controls. A basic need in the field exists for carefully controlled, experimental studies. Multivariate design and meta-analyses are also needed to sort out the effects on achievement of a multitude of internal and external factors.
Specific topics that seem promising for research include investigating the achievement of underachievers in nonacademic settings, training teachers and parents to recognize underachievement, developing techniques for early identification, identifying sex differences in the onset and pattern of underachievement, specifying peer, teacher, and classroom factors that contribute to underachievement, and expanding the study of approaches to treat underachievement.
Recommendations for practices include:
- screening for underachievement among gifted students as early as kindergarten,
- training of parents and teachers to recognize underachievement, using multiple identification criteria,
- seeking input from multiple sources in developing educational or counseling approaches,
- providing for psychological needs of gifted students,
- counseling involving family-centered approaches to intervention,
- intervening differently with males than females, and
- changing the educational environment through individualization, emphasis on study skills, promotion of creativity, accent on coping skills, and the addition of support services to gifted and talented programs.
Copies of the complete paper may be obtained by sending a stamped, self addressed business envelope to:
Rita R. Culross
388 Pleasant Hall
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803