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Sally M. Reis (University of Connecticut)
THE UNDERACHIEVEMENT OF
Multiple Frustrations and Few Solutions
Student performance that falls noticeably
short of potential, especially for young people
with exceptionally high ability, is bewildering
and perhaps the most frustrating of all chal-
lenges faced by both teachers and parents.
Why do so many talented students fail to
realize their potential? For years, the under-
achievement of gifted and talented students
has troubled both parents and educators. Too often, students who show great aca-
demic potential fail to perform at a level commensurate with their abilities. Some un-
derachieving students lack self-regulation skills; other low achievers may suffer from
either obvious or hidden disabilities. Still others may underachieve in response to in-
appropriate educational conditions.
The literature describing the problem of academic underachievement among high
ability students dates back to Conklin (1940), who conducted research about high IQ
students who were failing. After over five decades of research, underachievement
among high ability students is still considered a major problem. As early as 1955,
John Gowan described the gifted underachiever as “one of the greatest social wastes
of our culture” (Gowan, 1955, p.247). According to a 1990 national needs assess-
ment survey conducted by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented,
most educators of gifted students continue to agree with Gowan, as they identified
the problem of underachievement as their number one concern (Renzulli, Reid &
Some students underachieve or fail in school for obvious reasons: excessive ab-
sences from school, poor performance, disruptive behavior, low self-esteem, family
problems, and poverty. In addition to the risk factors that predict the reasons why
most students fail, another long-standing problem that causes underachievement in
gifted or high potential students is the inappropriate curriculum and content that they
encounter on a daily basis. The hundreds of hours spent each month in classrooms
in which students rarely encounter new or challenging curriculum, the boredom of be-
ing assigned routine tasks mastered long ago, the low levels of discussion, and the
mismatch of content to students' ability lead to frustration on the parts of many of our
brightest students. In fact, dropping out of school is the only way that some students
believe they can address these issues effectively. How do I know this? For the past
decade, I have been involved in research about underachievement and have experi-
enced this problem first hand.
SALLY M. REIS
A Personal Story
My husband had been my friend and colleague for a long time before we married. My
new stepsons Mark and Scott, however, were teenagers, and having a new step-
mother was not easy for either of them. Scott loved school and was an excellent stu-
dent, but Mark's work in school had frustrated both of his parents for years. Always a
child of remarkably high potential, Mark's grades fluctuated in elementary, junior and
senior high school. He lived with his father and me and I became more involved in his
life, both in school and at home. Mark took advanced math classes in school and
achieved a near perfect score on the math section of the SAT during his junior year
of high school. However, he was labeled an "underachiever" because of his variable
attitudes toward school. Figuring out the situation was not difficult. If Mark liked his
teacher, he would do well in class, regardless of the content. If Mark liked the content
of the class, but not his teacher, he would do enough to get by with marginal grades,
usually C's. But if Mark did not like either his teacher or the content, or the content
was well below his achievement level, Mark usually failed the class or pulled through
with a D. He always did well on his exams, even when he had done none of the as-
signed work in class. He simply lost credit for every bit of homework and class work
that he did not do.
The problem wasn't that Mark was idle. In fact, we usually had to plead with him to go
to bed on time because he was reading books about artificial intelligence or pursuing
his own interests, which happened to be designing software and building computers.
In his senior year, Mark got recruitment letters from the best colleges in the country
because of his SAT scores, but unfortunately, he did not graduate from high school,
failing both English and History. He did not like his teachers, and the work was too
easy in the lower-track classes to which he had been assigned because of his lack of
effort in earlier years. Not graduating from high school was for Mark the lesser of two
fates. The worse fate, in his opinion, was pretending to be interested in boring, non-
inspiring classes taught by teachers he believed did not care about him. Was he
wrong? Or in some way did he respond honestly to a bad situation? What always
troubles me when I remember these difficult months in his life were the dilemmas his
father and I faced when we tried to give him advice. Should we have told him to pre-
tend to be interested and to play the game?
We encouraged Mark to try to negotiate with his English teacher about substituting
more challenging and more enjoyable assignments. He even tried to show his teach-
ers some of the work he was doing at home, but few of them cared. He did not fit the
model of the student who goes to school well, and was, in their words, an enigma.
We were asked over and over again how someone so bright could fail to do such
relatively easy work, and we were blamed and felt helpless, despite our experience
and background in education.
Almost 15 years have passed since Mark flunked his senior year of high school and a
happier ending has unfolded. After a few years of switching jobs and searching for
the right school and the right program, Mark started college part time, despite the fact
that he did not have a high school diploma. Eight years later he had completed both
his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Systems Engineering, and he is currently
working on cutting edge software design as an engineer. The reversal of his under-
achievement occurred when he made up his own mind that it was time to succeed
academically, and that he wanted to succeed, and also when he found the right aca-
demic program for him. He didn't get high grades in every class, but he learned to put
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out the minimum effort necessary to pass required classes that were not in his major
area, which in turn enabled him to continue taking the classes he loved.
The problem of academic underachievement among high ability youth has long been
believed to be widespread (Gowan, 1957; Renzulli, Reid & Gubbins, 1990). Estima-
tes of the numbers of underachievers range from two to ten percent of high school
students, to Pirozzo (1982) who suggested that up to one half of high-ability students
underachieve. The National Commission on Excellence in Education reported in A
Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (O'Connell-Ross, 1983), “Over
half the population of gifted students do not match their tested ability with comparable
achievement in school” (p.8). Underachievement in school is clearly an issue of great
importance for young people, their parents, and society, despite difficulties in defining
and assessing what is meant by underachievement (McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer,
The conceptual and operational definitions of underachievement are complicated and
problematic. Essentially, most people agree on the commonplace, general definition
of underachievement as it applies to education: “the underachiever is a young person
who performs more poorly in school than one would expect on the basis of his mental
abilities” (McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992, p. 2). This conceptual definition represents
a discrepancy between the actual and expected performance, but categorizing differ-
ent types of underachievers continues to be problematic.
Since the Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957, and the resulting concern over U.S.
technological ability, both public and educational critics alleged that our country was
not doing enough educationally for its most capable students, many of whom were
performing at mediocre levels in school. Social, political, and educational attention
was focused on the gifted underachiever - the student of superior ability who aca-
demically performed much more poorly than was expected (McCall, Evahn, &
Kratzer, 1992). Generally, current studies of underachievement have focused on the
high ability students who underachieve. Shaw and McCuen (1960) provided educa-
tors with an early definition, stating that “the underachiever with superior ability is one
whose performance as judged either by grades or achievement test scores, is signifi-
cantly below his high measured or demonstrated aptitudes or potential for academic
achievement” (p. 15).
The label “gifted underachiever” implies that it is important to recognize a learner’s
level of potential. A belief in the need to recognize a student’s level of potential pro-
vided a rationale for the idea that appropriate academic performance would consti-
tute the fulfillment of that potential. Although there appears to be no agreement on a
precise definition of gifted underachievement, most researchers would agree that a
general description involves a discrepancy between intellectual potential and aca-
Even more difficult than assessing a learner’s potential is the task of evaluating at the
level of academic performance at which we should identify a student as underachiev-
ing. Simply performing below average for the current grade level appeared to be the
SALLY M. REIS
most commonly applied standard (Morrow & Wilson, 1961). Rather than targeting a
particular school year, some researchers regard gifted underachievers as those stu-
dents who evidence a long-standing, and therefore chronic, pattern of academic un-
derachievement (Lukasic, Forski, Lea, & Culross, 1992).
Most researchers define high ability underachievers as learners who display a dis-
crepancy between potential and actual classroom performance. Their research usu-
ally involves learners whose scores are high on some standard measure of ability,
but whose academic performance is not correspondingly high. Defining gifted under-
achievement should be a fairly straightforward task. Unfortunately, just as there is no
universally agreed upon definition of gifted and talented learners, no universal defini-
tion of gifted underachievement currently exists. Students identified as gifted and tal-
ented learners are not a homogeneous group. Most researchers who have studied
gifted and talented learners agree that there is no one portrait or definition of a gifted
student as talents and strengths among the gifted vary as widely as they do with any
diverse sample of students. The most common component of the various definitions
of gifted underachievement involves identifying a discrepancy between ability and
achievement (Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995; Butler-Por, 1987; Dowdall and Colan-
gelo, 1982; Emerick, 1992; Redding, 1990; Rimm, 1997; Supplee, 1990; Whitmore,
1980). For a more thorough review of issues surrounding the definition and identifica-
tion of underachievement in gifted students, see Reis and McCoach (2000).
Underachievement in Different Forms
A distinction between chronic and situational underachievement was made three
decades ago (Fine, 1967; Fliegler, 1957; Shaw & McCuen, 1960). A temporary or
situational underachiever is one whose academic performance temporarily declines
below what is expected, often in response to personal or situational stress, such as a
divorce, a particular teacher or a family move. In contrast, a chronic underachiever
displays the underachievement pattern consistently over a long period of time (Whit-
more, 1980). Unfortunately, no specific length of time has been found to distinguish
chronic from temporary or situational underachievement (McCall, Evahn & Kratzer,
1992). In more recent years, personal issues have also been discussed as contribut-
ing to underachievement. Either personal characteristics or personal problems or
personal issues relating to school performance can contribute to underachievement
(Reis & McCoach, 2000).
When Does Underachievement Begin?
It is commonly reported that underachievement begins during the late elementary
grades, certainly by junior high school, and that it begins earlier for males than for fe-
males (McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992; Shaw & McCuen, 1960).
Research findings indicate that underachievement begins in elementary school may
be meaningful to educators because the problem becomes more noticeable at this
time. For example, the amount of assigned homework usually increases in upper ele-
mentary and junior high school, and students who refuse to complete homework or
do it so with little care or effort are easily identified. Some gifted students may
achieve easily and without effort through the early years in school, but falter when
they meet the challenge of strenuous effort, real production, or increased homework,
and are labeled underachievers. The identification of smart students who under-
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achieve raises an important question regarding the stability of underachievement and
the resulting problem in defining underachievement. McCall, Evahn and Kratzer
The very fact that underachievers do not learn as much in school as would
be expected will mean that their mental ability may decline to match their
grades, at which point they will no longer be underachieving. Prolonged
underachievement, then, may be unusual, not because of lack of stability
in the psychological characteristics of such students, but because their
mental ability has not been nurtured by effort in school (p. 18).
Causes and Contributors to Underachievement
Determining why some high ability students demonstrate low levels of achievement is
difficult because underachievement occurs for many different reasons. However,
practitioners must explore the causes of students’ underachievement if they plan to
help these children. A review of research indicates that in the vast majority of cases,
the underachievement of bright students occurs for one of three basic reasons:
(1) An apparent underachievement problem masks more serious physical, cogni-
tive, or emotional issues.
(2) The underachievement is symptomatic of a mismatch between the student and
his or her school environment (Siegle, 2000).
(3) Underachievement results from a personal characteristic such as low self-
motivation, low self-regulation, or low self-efficacy (Reis & McCoach, 2000; Siegle,
What would cause a capable learner to engage in behaviors that mask ability? No
definitive answers exist to this perplexing question, but several theories and some
speculation are used as a background for studies. Research concerning under-
achievement among gifted students has examined many possible causes including
the following: biology, environment, self pressure, school pressure, peer pressure,
parental pressure, boredom with school, and inappropriate teaching methods (Lu-
kasic, et al., 1992).
Many researchers point to the school environment as the place where bright students
lose their interest and drive. Some teachers may be too easily satisfied with minimal
work and their low expectations may have a negative impact on the academic
achievement of bright youngsters (Pirozzo, 1982). Some teachers may even feel
threatened by high ability students and may continue to assign boring and repetitive
work rather than provide them with creative activities (Pirozzo, 1982). Banks (1979)
suggested that the formal structure of the school may not encourage imagination or
creativity, leaving bright youngsters unwilling to achieve in such an environment. In
an educational setting where conformity is valued, the classroom standards may be
designed to promote rote learning rather than critical thinking and problem solving
and bright students are left without challenge.
In addition to the rigidity of the school system, an inappropriate curriculum was found
to contribute to underachievement in the high ability high school students in a study
we conducted at the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (Reis,
Hebert, Diaz, Ratley, & Maxfield, 1995). In this study, high ability students who were
identified as high achievers were compared with students of similar ability who un-
SALLY M. REIS
derachieved in school. Thirty-five students participated in this three-year study in a
large urban high school. Qualitative methods were used to examine the perceptions
of students, teachers, staff, and administrators about the reasons that some aca-
demically talented students fail to achieve in school. High school students who un-
derachieved in school believed that their problems began because of particularly
easy elementary school experiences. These young people never learned to work,
primarily because their elementary and middle school experiences had been too
easy, which directly affected their high school experiences. Their daily elementary
curricular experiences were inappropriate for them, and that affected their later ex-
periences. Their classes and academic tasks were "too easy," and participants in our
study recalled "breezing" through elementary school, and indicated that schoolwork
required no major effort. Schoolwork was so simple that students did not acquire ap-
propriate opportunities to develop important academic skills, sophisticated study
skills, or effort. In other words, the young people in this study simply never learned
how to work hard at learning, or became so accustomed to learning without effort be-
cause the work was so easy that when they had to exert effort, they thought they
were no longer smart.
Behavioral Characteristics of Underachievers
A variety of personal and psychological characteristics have been attributed to under-
achievers and their parents, often based on clinical impressions and reports of pro-
fessionals, teachers, and parents rather than on systematic, objective measurements
and observations (McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992). Self-concept, or an individual’s
cognitive view of self, is closely tied to the more important measure of self-esteem,
the feelings of worth that one’s self-image produces. Most literature on self-esteem
among bright underachievers is in agreement that these children perceive themselv-
es as inadequate (Lukasic, et al., 1992). Generally, underachievers are believed to
have poor self-perception, low self-concept, and low self-esteem, especially with re-
gard to their academic abilities. They are described as self-critical, fearing both fail-
ure and success, and could be anxious or nervous, especially over their perform-
Poor self-perception is one of the most commonly cited characteristics (McCall,
Evan,& Kratzer, 1992), and numerous researchers have discovered underachieving
gifted students with overall low self-esteem (Thiel & Thiel, 1977; Whitmore, 1979,
1980). Rimm (1984) cited negative comments made by underachieving youngsters
about themselves as reported by parents and teachers. She regarded these com-
ments as a defense mechanism which stemmed from a low sense of self-efficacy,
and concluded that youngsters would achieve if they could see a direct relationship
between their efforts and positive outcomes in the classroom.
Other studies report that underachievers have poor peer relationships, and that they
lack friends and may be socially withdrawn (Dowdall and Colangelo, 1982). Fine and
Pitts (1980) found that bright underachievers usually had a strong interest in some-
thing outside of school, and this interest frequently kept them isolated from their
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Parental Issues with Underachievement
As noted in this section, most research about parents of students who underachieve
indicates a series of negatives. Students who underachieve are reported to have pro-
blems relating to authority figures such as their parents, teachers, and other adults.
They may be overly aggressive and hostile to authority figures, exhibit discipline
problems and high rates of delinquency, lack self-control, and be irresponsible and
unreliable. These students may have serious problems establishing independence
from their parents and may be regarded as rebellious and perceived as frequently at-
tempting to manipulate others (McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer, 1992). Bricklin and Bricklin
(1967) suggest that some underachievers "hit" their parents where it hurts the most -
that is, through achievement, while McIntyre (1964) perceives the dawdling, stub-
born, procrastinating, and daydreaming underachiever as rebelling through inaction.
The most commonly described characteristics of parents of underachievers include
indifference, lack of interest, distant relationships with little affection, and neutral to
negative attitudes toward education (Fliegler, 1957; Gowan, 1957; Gurman, 1970; Pi-
rozzo, 1982). These characteristics may occur singly or in combination with two other
themes. One is an authoritarian, restrictive, and rejecting parental style (Fliegler,
1957; McIntyre, 1964; Pirozzo, 1982), especially by the father. The second theme in-
volves permissiveness and freedom, bordering on parental neglect. With a gifted un-
derachiever, it may often be a case of the youngster leading the parent, who treats
the child as an independent, miniature adult (Gurman, 1970; McIntyre, 1964; Rimm,
Overindulgent, overprotective parents may also contribute to underachievement.
Some youngsters may believe that they can't do anything independently and fail to
develop any sense of self-sufficiency, responsibility, or feelings of self-fulfillment
(Bricklin & Bricklin, 1967; Gurman, 1970;; McIntyre, 1964). Parental inconsistency is
a problem that may worsen a situation for underachievers (Rimm, 1984: McIntyre,
1964) in different types of families. In one type, the father restricts and controls the
child in an authoritarian fashion, and the mother capitulates to the youngster, trying to
compensate. The opposite situation may also occur. The third type of inconsistency
occurs when the father is uneducated or simply withdraws from childrearing in the
face of the mother’s dominance. In each case, there is a strong and weak parent,
and conflicting messages that work against promoting achievement. The unhealthy
combination enables the youngster to play one parent against the other parent.
Rimm (1984) also cautions that underachievement may be a result of a particularly
negative school year or a highly competitive environment, and therefore a situational
problem. Yet once the pattern of underachievement is begun, it may continue be-
cause of reinforcement from home or school.
Some anecdotal reports cite inconsistent, overly strict, or overly indulgent familial dis-
cipline as contributors to underachievement. Other researchers suggest that conflict-
ing attitudes between two parents toward the child will also lead to underachieving
behaviors (Fine & Pitts, 1980; Thiel & Thiel, 1977). Often, the conflict within the fam-
ily is directly related to the high ability of the child. Parents push the youngster to ex-
cel and often the future goals set by the parents are unrealistic or do not coincide
with the goals of the child. This difference in goals results in emotional conflict for the
young person and may contribute to underachievement.
SALLY M. REIS
The causes and correlates of gifted underachievement have received considerable
attention in the research literature (Dowdall & Colangelo, 1982; Whitmore, 1980);
however, research on effective intervention models for this population remains
scarce. Although conducting case studies and qualitative research on underachieving
gifted students has become quite popular, very few researchers have attempted to
utilize true quasi-experimental designs to study the efficacy of various interventions.
Most of the interventions reported in the literature (i.e. Supplee, 1991, Whitmore,
1980) were designed to effect immediate results with a group of acutely under-
achieving gifted students. Ethically, it may be difficult to have a true comparison
group in such studies because the researcher must withhold treatment that is valu-
able for underachieving gifted students.
The documented effectiveness of most interventions designed to reverse underachie-
vement in gifted students has been inconsistent and inconclusive (Emerick, 1992).
Furthermore, the majority of interventions have attained limited long-term success
(Dowdall & Colangelo, 1982; Emerick, 1992). Interventions aimed at reversing gifted
underachievement fall into two general categories: counseling and instructional inter-
ventions (Butler-Por, 1993; Dowdall & Colangelo, 1982).
Counseling interventions concentrate on changing the personal and / or family dy-
namics that contribute to a student's underachievement. Counseling interventions
may include individual, group, and / or family counseling. In most counseling situati-
ons, the counselor's goal is not to force the underachiever to become a more suc-
cessful student, but rather to help the student decide whether success is a desirable
goal, and if so, to help reverse counterproductive habits and cognitions.
The most well known educational interventions for gifted students are either part-time
or full-time special classrooms for gifted underachievers (e.g. Butler-Por, 1987; Sup-
plee, 1990; Whitmore, 1980). In these classrooms, educators strive to create a favor-
able environment for student achievement by altering the traditional classroom or-
ganization. Usually, a smaller student/teacher ratio exists, teachers create less con-
ventional types of teaching and learning activities, teachers give students some
choice and freedom in exercising control over their atmosphere, and students are
encouraged to utilize different learning strategies.
Whitmore (1980) designed and implemented a full-time elementary program for gifted
underachievers. Supplee (1990) instituted a part-time program for gifted elementary
underachievers. Both programs stressed the importance of addressing affective edu-
cation as well as the necessity of creating student-centered classroom environments.
However, neither study used a control or comparison group; therefore, the results of
their studies may not be generalizable to the entire population of underachievers.
Emerick (1992) investigated the reasons that some students are able to reverse their
academic underachievement without the assistance of formal interventions. Her qual-
itative research study examined the patterns of underachievement and subsequent
achievement of 10 young adults. Several common factors appeared to play a part in
the students' reversal of underachievement. Participants in Emerick's study perceived
that out of school interests and activities, parents, development of goals associated
with grades, teachers, and changes in "selves" had a positive impact on achieve-
ment. Other research also suggests that students who are more involved in extracur-
ricular activities (Colangelo et al, 1993, Reis et al., 1995) are less likely to be under-
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achievers. All participants in Emerick's study believed that a specific teacher had the
greatest impact in reversing their underachievement behavior. In addition, partici-
pants were most likely to develop achievement-oriented behaviors when they were
stimulated in class and given the opportunity to pursue topics of interest to them.
These findings suggest that "reversing the underachievement pattern may mean tak-
ing a long, hard look at the underachiever's curriculum and classroom situation. The
responses and actions of the students in this study suggest that when appropriate
educational opportunities are present, gifted underachievers can respond positively"
(Emerick, 1992, p. 145).
Emerick's study indicates that one type of effective intervention may be based on
students' strengths and interests (Renzulli, 1977; Renzulli & Reis, 1985, 1997). In a
recent study, researchers used self-selected Renzulli Type III independent projects
as a systematic intervention for underachieving gifted students. This approach
(Renzulli, 1977) specifically targets student strengths and interests in order to help
reverse academic underachievement (Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995). In a qualita-
tive study of this intervention technique, five major features of the Type III enrichment
process contributed to the success of the intervention. These factors were the rela-
tionship with the teacher, the use of self-regulation strategies, the opportunity to in-
vestigate topics related to their underachievement, the opportunity to work on an
area of interest in a preferred learning style, and the time to interact with an appropri-
ate peer group appeared to improve achievement. Almost all of the students who
completed Type III investigations showed some positive gains in either behavior or
achievement during the course of the school year. Eleven of the 17 participants
showed improved achievement, 13 of the 17 students appeared to exert more effort
within their classes, and 4 of the 17 students showed marked improvement in their
classroom behavior. The results of this research suggest that flexible student-cent-
ered enrichment approaches may help reverse underachievement in gifted students.
Most researchers conclude that more specificity is needed in defining gifted or high
ability underachievement. Most agree that the earlier underachievers are identified,
the better the opportunity for concerned adults to help to try to reverse the patterns of
underachievement. Though several researchers believe a combination of factors
contribute to underachievement, others cite a single factor as the cause of academic
underachievement. Predominantly examined in the research were familial factors and
school environment. Biological, personal, and peer influences were also suggested
as possible contributors. Although data were not uniform or complete, underachiev-
ers are more often male and from lower socioeconomic (Reis & McCoach, 2000). Di-
vorce is commonly reported to be more frequent in families of underachievers. Over-
all, most researchers seem to agree that low self-esteem is a predominant character-
istic among this population. The reasons for the low self-esteem in students who un-
derachieve vary. Some concluded that low self-concept comes from inability to
achieve in school while others saw negative self-image as a root of underachieve-
In the research study cited earlier (Reis, Hebert, Diaz, Ratley, & Maxfield, 1995), my
colleagues and I found many similarities between high ability students who achieved
as compared with students of similar ability who underachieved in school. The find-
ings in this study indicate that achievement and underachievement in this urban high
SALLY M. REIS
school were not disparate concepts. In many cases, students who underachieved
were high achieving in the previous year or semester in school. Some of the high
achieving students had experienced periods of underachievement in school and were
supported in their achievement by a network of high achieving peers who refused to
let their friends falter in school. To these students, achievement was like walking up a
crowded staircase. If one student started to underachieve and tried to turn and walk
down the staircase, many other students pushed them back up. Once, however, the
cycle of underachievement began and a student went down that crowded staircase, it
was extremely difficult to turn around and climb back up.
Other findings from our research included the following. No relationship was found
between poverty and underachievement, between parental divorce and under-
achievement, or between family size and underachievement. High ability students
who underachieved in high school acknowledged that their underachievement began
in elementary school when they were not provided with appropriate levels of chal-
lenge. Students who achieved in school also acknowledged the importance of being
grouped together in honors and advanced classes for academically talented stu-
dents. Successful students received support and encouragement from each other
and from supportive adults including teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and
mentors. Students who achieved in school took part in multiple extracurricular activi-
ties both after school and during the summer. Students who underachieved in school
did not exhibit a high belief in self, often came from families in which problems were
evident, and were not resilient enough to overcome urban environmental factors such
as gangs and drugs.
What, then, can be learned from this summary on underachievement?
First, it appears that the beginnings of underachievement in many young people oc-
cur in elementary school, perhaps due to a non-challenging curriculum. A relationship
seems to exist between inappropriate or too easy content in elementary school and
underachievement in middle or high school.
Second, underachievement appears to be periodic and episodic, occurring in some
years and not others and in some classes, but not others. However, eventually in-
creasing episodes of underachievement will result in a more chronic pattern for many
Third, parental issues interact with the behaviors of some underachievers, yet no
clear pattern exists about the types of parental behaviors that may influence or cause
Fourth, peers can play a major role in keeping underachievement from occurring in
their closest friends, making peer groups an important part of preventing and revers-
Fifth, busier adolescents who are involved in clubs, extracurricular activities, sports,
and religious activities are less likely to underachieve in school. While frantically busy
teenagers are not a goal, those with too much free time may develop poor self-
Sixth, helping gifted students develop regular patterns of work and practice seems to
be very beneficial. Music, dance and art lessons, and regular time for homework and
reading can be very helpful for developing positive self-regulation strategies.
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Seventh, a caring adult in school can help reverse the process of underachievement.
This adult may be a counselor, a coach, or an academic content teacher.
Eighth, there are some students who may underachieve as a direct result of an inap-
propriate and unmotivating curriculum, and before we try to 'fix' them, or punish them
for their behavior, perhaps we need to advocate drastic curriculum changes for them.
If the curriculum can't be changed, we may want to reconsider our attitudes towards
students who make conscious decisions not to put their best efforts into school work
that fails either to motivate, engage or challenge them.
Last, too few interventions have been tried to reverse underachievement, and some
of these interventions are provided without an attempt to match the intervention with
reasons that gifted students underachieve. School personnel should consider imple-
menting interventions for gifted students who are underachieving, as they are too
precious a resource to squander.
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