Recent Research

Spring 1995 Masthead

The Paradox of Academic Achievement of High Ability, African American, Female Students in an Urban Elementary School
Jann Harper Leppien
College of Great Falls
Great Falls, MT

This qualitative study investigated the school experiences of 12 high ability, African American female elementary students in an urban school. The purpose of the investigation was to examine the self-perceptions these students held regarding their academic success and to explore why some high ability females achieve in this school setting, while other high ability females underachieve. For several decades, high ability children who do not achieve scholastically at levels commensurate with their mental abilities have been the focus of considerable concern of educators. While research has identified variables that have influenced the underachievement of high ability students, a paucity of research focuses on the achievement of high ability, African American females at the elementary school level. This study offers additional insight into the underachievement phenomena experienced by females in grades 4, 5, and 6 who live in an urban setting.

Through participant observation, ethnographic interviews, and document review, factors were identified which may influence patterns of achievement and underachievement in this population. The perceptions these females held regarding the reasons for their academic achievement/underachievement, and the factors which influenced their academic achievement/underachievement were also explored.

Findings from this study indicate that numerous differences existed between the students who achieved and those who underachieved in this urban elementary school. The high ability achievers had a strong belief in self; employed learning and behavioral strategies which maintained their academic performance and regulated the effects of the negative peer culture; and acknowledged the importance of numerous support systems on their achievement including school- and community-sponsored extracurricular events, teachers, and the immediate and extended family network. The high ability underachievers employed negative behaviors to maintain their belief in self; adopted learning and behavioral strategies that made them vulnerable to academic failure; were unsuccessful in managing and regulating their peer culture; and acknowledged fewer support systems.

Effects of Teacher Training on Student Self-Efficacy
Del Siegle
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

Over 15 years of research has been conducted in the field of self-efficacy since Albert Bandura’s seminal article was published in 1977. The popular construct has been applied to areas ranging from snake phobias to basketball free throw shooting averages. Although its educational implications have been extensively researched, little research had investigated the purpose of this study, which was to assess changes in students’ self-efficacy and achievement after staff development on self-efficacy was conducted with their teachers.

A pretest-posttest control-group quasi- experimental nested design using a volunteer sample of intact groups was used. The sample included 872 fifth grade students (n = 435 males; n = 432 females) from a volunteer sample of 10 school districts in 6 states with 15 schools and 40 fifth grade classrooms.

This study consisted of two phases. In the first phase, the classroom teachers from the schools assigned to the treatment group received a handbook on self-efficacy and attended a videotape inservice training session on self-efficacy instructional strategies. The teachers of the control classrooms did not receive any special training.

During the second phase of the study, all of the teachers taught a 4-week mathematics measurement unit provided by the researcher. The treatment group teachers were expected to use the classroom management techniques demonstrated and practiced in the training workshop while teaching the mathematics unit.

Students of teachers who were trained in self-efficacy strategies showed significantly higher mathematics self-efficacy after 4 weeks of mathematics instruction than students of teachers who were not trained in self-efficacy strategies. No practical achievement differences were found between the two groups, although possible differences may have been limited by the curriculum of the measurement unit. No practical gender differences were found. There also was no interaction between experimental group and gender, nor between ability level and treatment. Students of all ability levels benefited from the self-efficacy strategies.

This study demonstrated that teachers can modify their instructional strategies with minimal training and that significant increases in student self-efficacy can be achieved during a short time period with minor changes in instructional style.

Regular Classroom Practices with Gifted Students in Grades 3 and 4 in New South Wales, Australia
Diana Ruth Whitton
University of Western Sydney
New South Wales, Australia

The Regular Classroom Practices Survey (RCPS) was conducted to determine the extent to which gifted and talented students received differentiated education in the regular classroom across New South Wales. This research paralleled the Classroom Practices Study completed in the United States. The survey focused on information about the teachers, their classrooms, and regions. Classroom practices, in relation to the curriculum modifications for gifted and average students, were analyzed. The survey sample was drawn from the three sectors of education: government, Catholic, and independent schools, within the 10 regions of New South Wales. This included 401 third and fourth grade teachers in government schools, 138 teachers in Catholic schools, and 67 teachers in independent schools. The research questions that guided this study were:

  1. Do teachers modify the curriculum content to meet the needs of gifted students?
  2. Do teachers modify their instructional practices for gifted students?
  3. Are there any organizational variations in planning to meet the educational needs of gifted children?
  4. Are there differences in the types of regular classroom services provided for gifted students in relation to the type of school or region?

Provisions for the gifted included variations in the content taught, the organizational strategies, and the instructional techniques used in the classroom. As the American study found, this survey showed that third and fourth grade teachers make only minor modifications in the regular curriculum to meet the needs of gifted students. Teachers who provided for gifted students encouraged participation in discussions, asked open ended questions and questions that required reasoning and logical thinking. However, these strategies were not unique for the gifted students. This result was apparent for all samples. One reason for the lack of provision made for gifted students may be the limited number of qualified teachers in the education of gifted students. It was found that 46 percent had no training in the area. In addition, there was a high percentage of teachers who had no knowledge of the current practices or options available for gifted students within their school or region.

The Successful Practices Study
Karen L. Westberg
Francis X. Archambault, Jr.

University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

Can you name a school that has a reputation for meeting the individual needs of students and, specifically, the needs of high ability students? If you can name one, do you know how or why this is occurring? These were among the questions that guided the University of Connecticut site of The NRC/GT as we conducted the Successful Practices Study. The research was designed to extend information gained from studies in 1990-91 conducted by the University of Connecticut. These included the Classroom Practices Study, which revealed that little instructional and curricular differentiation for bright students was occurring within the majority of regular classrooms throughout the country, and the Curriculum Compacting Study, which indicated that teachers who modified the curriculum for high achieving students could eliminate a substantial amount of their regular curriculum without any significant decrease in students’ standardized test scores.

The overall purpose of the Successful Practices Study was to gather qualitative data to describe the practices used for meeting the needs of high ability students in third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. Purposive sampling was used to select 10 elementary school sites, and ethnographic case studies were conducted at each site (two urban, six rural, and two suburban.) The researchers, who spent several months gathering observational and interview data for the study, were Linda Emerick, Thomas Hays, Thomas H├ębert, Marcia Imbeau, Jann Leppien, Marian Matthews, Stuart Omdal, and Karen Westberg. They wrote case studies describing the findings at each site, which will be part of a research monograph on the Successful Practices Study.

The findings from the study are informative and varied. In some situations, the classroom teachers implemented curriculum modification procedures, employed flexible grouping practices, provided advanced level content, or provided opportunities for advanced level projects. At some of the sites, the teachers collaborated with the other teachers at their grade level or with district curriculum specialists to provide more academic challenge to talented students. In some situations, the teachers and parents described the leadership of school principals or superintendents whom they believed were responsible for teachers’ instructional practices, and some of these administrators were also strong advocates for the schools’ gifted education programs.

Several themes emerged across the 10 sites, including the three themes below. First, the students were viewed as individuals, not as a conglomerate of young people in classrooms. Teachers had a vision for students, not a general “curriculum plan,” that guided their efforts. If students already knew the content or how to do something, teachers would modify the curriculum and move on! Second, the educators in these schools were not satisfied with the status quo; they were making changes. They were not just providing lip service to the “reform movement” or “excellence in schools”; they were actively making changes, even when it meant experimenting with new programs and practices. They weren’t afraid of change; they embraced it! And finally, a supportive attitude toward capable students was expressed by individuals at these sites.

As with all qualitative research, it is not appropriate for the researchers to make generalizations; rather, the consumers decide if generalizations are warranted. In the Successful Practices Study, the findings from each of the 10 sites and the themes across sites will, hopefully, inform practice and policy making.


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