Exploring Academic Self-Concepts Depending on
Acculturation Proﬁle. Investigation of a Possible Factor for
Immigrant Students’ School Success
Nanine Lilla * , Sebastian Thürer , Wim Nieuwenboom and Marianne Schüpbach
Citation: Lilla, N.; Thürer, S.;
Nieuwenboom, W.; Schüpbach, M.
Exploring Academic Self-Concepts
Depending on Acculturation Proﬁle.
Investigation of a Possible Factor for
Immigrant Students’ School Success.
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432. https://
Academic Editor: Elena Makarova
and Wassilis Kassis
Received: 5 June 2021
Accepted: 19 July 2021
Published: 16 August 2021
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Department of Education and Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, 14195 Berlin, Germany;
email@example.com (S.T.); firstname.lastname@example.org (W.N.);
Academic achievement and academic self-concepts are reciprocally related; hence, investi-
gating academic self-concepts should offer a potential approach for gaining a better understanding
of immigrant students’ (lack of) school success. Proposing that immigrant students’ acculturation
orientations need to be taken into account, in this study, we empirically investigate whether im-
migrant students’ general and domain-speciﬁc academic self-concept facets differ from those of
non-immigrant students depending on their acculturation proﬁle. Based on data from the German
National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), we ﬁnd initial indications that immigrant students’ aca-
demic self-concept facets are subject to their acculturation proﬁle. The idea that acculturation may
inﬂuence the known comparisons relevant for self-concept development will be discussed.
Keywords: academic self-concept; acculturation; immigrant students; school success
Addressing academic self-concepts, i.e., the individuals’ self-perception of his or her
academic abilities in general and in different domains [
] can help gain insight into educa-
tional inequalities as academic self-concepts have been shown to be reciprocally related
to a variety of academic outcomes [
]. While this has been done with regard to gender
and socio-economic differences [
], the study of academic self-concepts has not received
much attention in examining immigrant students’ academic outcomes [
]. Therefore, this
study seeks to improve our understanding of the (lack of) academic success of immigrant
students, which has been repeatedly revealed by international school achievement studies,
by examining the academic self-concept of immigrant students in Germany.
In one of the ﬁrst studies to investigate the academic self-concept of immigrant
students in Germany over 20 years ago, Roebers, Mecheril, and Schneider [
that immigrant students would show lower academic self-concepts than non-immigrant
students due to the “acculturative stress” they face during adaptation to the new cultural
context. This notion referred to Berry [
] and his understanding of migration as a critical life
event, which may result in a lack of conﬁdence in one’s own skills. Although this reasoning
has been taken up by others addressing immigrant students’ academic self-concept in
relation to their academic achievement [
], studies so far have widely failed to consider
that Berry’s acculturation model proposes four different patterns of acculturation, which
are associated with different degrees of acculturative stress and adaptation outcomes.
To narrow this research gap, in this study, we aim to investigate immigrant students’
academic self-concepts depending on their acculturation orientation. To do so, we employ
data on ninth grade students in Germany collected within the framework of the German
National Educational Panel Study (NEPS). Moreover, for a complex examination of im-
migrant students’ acculturation orientation, acculturation proﬁles based on Latent Proﬁle
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11080432 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/education
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 2 of 16
Analysis considering affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of acculturation will be
utilized in exploring different academic self-concept facets as a function of immigrant
2. Theoretical and Empirical Background
2.1. Acculturation Orientations and Immigrant Students’ School Success
2.1.1. Theory of Acculturation
Immigrants have to juggle two different cultures, i.e., the culture of the country of
their or their family’s origin and the culture of the country of residence. Considering the
situation of immigrant students, everyday life entails switching back and forth between the
family and the school context with both possibly being connected with different values and
beliefs, languages, and cultural practices. Acculturation describes the processes following
when different cultures are in enduring contact, resulting in changes on the side of one or
both cultures involved [
]. Regarding the individual, these processes of change are also
referred to as psychological acculturation [
] and are likely to occur on different levels,
e.g., altering attitudes and/or behavioral changes [7,11].
] postulated four different patterns of cultural orientation in his accultur-
ation model: Integration, where the individual’s orientation toward both the culture of
the country of origin and the host culture is strong; assimilation, where the individual’s
orientation toward the culture of origin is weak while it is strong toward the host culture;
separation describes the opposite pattern, where the individual’s orientation toward the cul-
ture of origin is strong while it is weak toward the host culture; and marginalization, where
the individual’s orientation toward both the culture of origin and the host culture is weak.
Following a stress and coping paradigm, Berry proposed that acculturation orientations
differentially relate to different levels of acculturative stress and therefore may promote or
hamper successful adaptation. In general, integration is considered most adaptive because
this pattern is associated with the lowest level of acculturative stress. Marginalization,
on the other hand, is considered the least adaptive. The adaptability of assimilation and
separation is considered mediocre, since these patterns relate to intermediate levels of
Based on Berry’s fourfold acculturation model, acculturation researchers have de-
veloped new conceptualizations and found new approaches to gain a more complex
understanding of the acculturation of immigrants. Among the most prominent approaches,
there have been models including inﬂuences of context or situation, emphasizing more
strongly that acculturation is not only a consequence of individual decisions and expresses
itself in the same way in all domains of life [
]. Further, Motti-Stefanidi, Berry, Chrysso-
choou, Sam, and Phinney [
] were the ﬁrst to address the issue that a broad understanding
of immigrant children’s and youths’ adaptation and adjustment needs to consider develop-
mental processes and developmental tasks that are intertwined with their acculturation
(for a detailed review on the evolution of acculturation models please refer to Juang &
2.1.2. Immigrant Students’ Acculturation and Academic Achievement
Employing the notion of different acculturation orientations into studies, empirically
investigating immigrant students’ school success has shown that the academic achieve-
ment of students from ethnic minority backgrounds in fact relates to their acculturation
orientation. In an attempt to systematize the ﬁndings of empirical research on accultura-
tion in the school context, Makarova and Birman [
] found that a bi-cultural orientation,
i.e., integration, was predominantly positively associated with the school adaptation of
minority youths. However, some studies also identiﬁed assimilative attitudes as beneﬁcial
for student performance, and psychological and behavioral adaptation. Since the review
included mainly studies conducted in the US (school) context, it is difﬁcult to directly trans-
fer the ﬁndings to others (school contexts), as the link between acculturation orientation
and adaptation is context-dependent .
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 3 of 16
With regard to Germany, there has been some research in recent years investigating
relationships between immigrant students’ acculturation orientation and school-related
outcomes, showing relationships with competence and grades [
], and even envis-
aged school-leaving certiﬁcate [
]. Furthermore, acculturation has been shown to relate
to other outcomes than achievement, such as immigrant students’ emotional school en-
]. The general pattern of ﬁndings shown in these studies is that a strong
orientation toward the German culture—as is the case for integrated and assimilated immi-
grant students—is linked to more favorable outcomes on the side of immigrant students’
Generalizations across these studies, however, are problematic, as there is a lack of
methodological consensus regarding the operationalization of immigrant students’ accul-
turation pattern. Whereas in the majority of studies, acculturation attitudes and ethnic
identity have been in focus [
], Lilla and colleagues [
] identiﬁed patterns of
acculturation, taking affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of acculturation into ac-
]. Conducting latent proﬁle analysis in a sample of 4400 immigrant students
from secondary schools in Germany, four distinct acculturation proﬁles were identiﬁed.
Three of the proﬁles identiﬁed resembled assimilation, integration, and separation. The
fourth proﬁle, which was characterized by a rather ambiguous tendency of orientation
for all of the considered aspects irrespective of the culture behind, was labeled indifferent.
Latent proﬁle analysis offers the advantage of empirically modeling acculturation with-
out anticipating any patterns in advance, and has already been applied occasionally in
acculturation research [
]. In the sample of secondary immigrant students in Germany,
the indifferent proﬁle was rather prevalent, comprising 46% of immigrant students, while
the assimilated proﬁle comprised only 12%, and the integrated proﬁle and the separated
proﬁle comprised 20 and 22% of immigrant students, respectively. In line with the general
pattern of ﬁndings from studies conducted in Germany, Lilla and colleagues found that
students with integrated acculturation proﬁles and students with assimilated acculturation
proﬁles did not differ from non-immigrant students whereas students with separated and
indifferent acculturation proﬁles achieved lower reading competences [
], and were more
likely to envisage a low school-leaving certiﬁcate instead of an Abitur, i.e., the highest
school-leaving certiﬁcate than non-immigrant students .
2.2. Academic Self-Concept and Immigrant Students’ School Success
2.2.1. Academic Self-Concept
Academic self-concept is deﬁned as the individual’s self-perception of his or her
academic ability in general and in speciﬁc domains [
]. Based on the notion of a hierar-
chical and multidimensional self-concept structure [
], the academic self-concept is widely
assumed to consist of a general and several domain-speciﬁc facets (for a detailed discus-
sion on the structure of the academic self-concept, please refer to Arens, Jansen, Preckel,
Schmidt, and Brunner [
]). The Marsh and Shavelson [
] model of academic self-concept,
which proposes that academic self-concept is divided into a verbal self-concept and a
mathematical self-concept, also speciﬁes how students develop their academic self-concept
through both an internal and external frame of reference. The external frame of reference
involves comparisons with signiﬁcant others within the social environment [
the context of the classroom is a relevant source for social comparisons of one’s perfor-
mance (e.g., how well do I do compared to my classmates). The performance feedback
from teachers and grades function as external signals in social comparison. In addition,
parents and further signiﬁcant others within the family have been discussed as relevant
sources for the development of the academic self-concept [
]. The internal frame of ref-
erence involves intra-individual comparisons such as temporal comparisons, where current
performance is compared with previous achievements [
], and dimensional comparisons,
where the performance in one domain is set as standards of comparison for the evaluation
of the performance in other domains [
]. If there is a discrepancy in performance between
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 4 of 16
the domains, the self-concept in the domain with the better performance is valued more
positively and the self-concept in the weaker discipline is devalued.
2.2.2. Academic Self-Concept and Academic Achievement
Numerous studies give empirical support for the relationship between academic self-
concept and academic achievement [
]. Based on the ﬁnding that the relationship
with academic achievement was especially strong when the link between domain-speciﬁc
self-concept and domain-speciﬁc achievement was regarded [
], it has been suggested
that verbal self-concept and mathematical self-concept should be considered, rather than
focusing on a single general facet of academic self-concept. In consequence, the verbal
self-concept and the mathematical self-concept have been extensively researched, showing
strong relationships with achievement in L1 subjects and mathematical subjects, respec-
tively. Also, the link showed to be more positive when grades instead of standardized
test results were used as indicators for domain-speciﬁc achievement [
]. Though the
relationships between achievement and general academic self-concept were shown to be
less strong, general academic self-concept also proved to be a valid dimension.
Whereas the causal ordering has been in question for some time, today empirical
evidence suggests a reciprocal relationship between students’ academic self-concepts and
academic achievement [
]. Further, academic self-concept has been shown to impact
interest or intrinsic motivation [
], educational aspirations, school attainment, and
learning behavior [
], as well as education-related decisions such as course choice and
subject interest [44,45].
2.2.3. Immigrant Students’ Academic Self-Concept and Academic Achievement
Based on the notion of a reciprocal relationship between academic achievement and
academic self-concept, for immigrant students it has been typically hypothesized that due
to their weak(er) academic performance, they lack conﬁdence in their own abilities [6,8].
However, empirical investigations frequently observed that immigrant students, on
average, demonstrate considerable positive academic self-concepts despite their low aca-
demic achievement. For example, Seo, Shen, and Benner’s [
] investigation of the link
between self-concept and academic achievement in minority students in the US found
that Black and Latinx students demonstrated lower academic achievement (GPA and stan-
dardized test scores) but not lower academic self-concepts (general and domain-speciﬁc)
than their White peers. Furthermore, the impact of value in schoolwork, which was hy-
pothesized to be lower in Black and Latinx adolescents due to gradual disidentiﬁcation
with school following from repeated negative academic experiences [
], and external
attributions, i.e., perceived school fairness, were considered. Neither helped explain the
paradox of positive academic self-concept but low academic achievement: Black and Latinx
students showed to place greater value in schoolwork, which was positively related to
academic self-concept regardless of students’ ethnicity. In addition, external attribution did
not explain the paradox as a later self-concept showed to be similarly related to previous
achievement between Black and White adolescents and even more closely related among
In a recent study in Germany, Siegert and Roth  focused on the general academic
self-concept of ninth graders with a Turkish immigrant background. Descriptive analyses
showed no difference in the levels of academic self-concept between non-immigrant stu-
dents and immigrant students with Turkish background despite lower competence levels
in reading and mathematics and higher proportions in attending the lowest school track
[Hauptschule]. Considering family background, gender, average competencies on the
individual and class level, and type of school attended, however, their analysis revealed
signiﬁcantly more positive academic self-concepts for Turkish immigrant students than for
non-immigrant students. More positive general academic self-concepts were especially true
for Turkish immigrant students attending Gymnasium, i.e., the highest school track. As a
possible starting point for explaining their results, the authors draw on Billmann-Mahecha
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 5 of 16
and Tiedemann’s [
] assumption that Turkish immigrant students possibly ignore neg-
ative feedback to protect self-esteem and rather compare themselves within their social
environment to family members who often exhibit low levels of education themselves.
In another German study conducted with secondary students, Schöber, Retelsdorf,
and Köller [
] did not ﬁnd signiﬁcant differences in verbal self-concept between immigrant
and non-immigrant students although immigrant students’ achievement was signiﬁcantly
lower. Longitudinal analysis revealed reciprocal effects between achievements in the
language domain and verbal self-concept, which were robust regardless of the type of
school and migrant background.
Considering both domain-speciﬁc facets of academic self-concept, namely verbal
self-concept and mathematical self-concept of 15-year-old immigrant students’ in Ger-
man Hauptschulen, Shajek, Lüdtke, and Stanat [
] revealed signiﬁcantly lower verbal
self-concepts but higher mathematical self-concepts for immigrants compared to non-
immigrants also when grades in German and in mathematics were considered. Given
that immigrant students’ grades were comparable to non-immigrants in mathematics but
signiﬁcantly worse in German, this complex pattern of ﬁndings was interpreted as evidence
for the existence of the internal reference effect.
2.2.4. Immigrant Students’ Academic Self-Concept and Acculturation
There is some anecdotal evidence suggesting signiﬁcant relationships between im-
migrant students’ integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization, and their
academic self-concept from the US context.
Investigating the relationship among acculturation, academic self-concept, and aca-
demic achievement in a sample of Latino community college students (N= 148), Hernan-
] found that acculturation level, operationalized linearly on a continuum from very
Mexican oriented to very Anglo oriented, moderated the association between academic
self-concept and GPA, lowering the strength of academic self-concept in predicting GPA.
Further, a study on 200 Caribbean American adolescents lent some support to the
hypothesis that immigrant students’ acculturation relates to academic self-concept [
Correlational ﬁndings showed that as heritage and mainstream orientations, which were
considered as two separate components of acculturation, increased, academic self-concept
also increased. These positive correlations were interpreted as support for the notion
that integration, where both heritage and mainstream orientation are strong, is related to
more positive academic self-concepts, whereas marginalization, where heritage as well as
mainstream orientation are weak, is associated with lower academic self-concept.
The only study we know of which considered integration, assimilation, separation,
and marginalization as distinct categories of individuals’ acculturation orientation, was
conducted in a sample of 97 Mexican-American students around the age of 15 years [
The analysis identiﬁed a signiﬁcant difference in academic self-concept for integrated
students in comparison to assimilated students. No signiﬁcant difference was observed
between integrated students’ academic self-concept and students categorized as rejection
(i.e., separation) and deculturated (i.e., marginalized). A serious limitation of this study,
however, is that acculturation categories were operationalized based on a midpoint scale
split technique, which led to disproportional distributions across categories (e.g., 73% were
identiﬁed as integration and only 9% as assimilation). Also, confounding background
characteristics such as gender or generational status were only considered regarding mean
differences but not controlled for in the main analysis.
Though generalization and transferability of the ﬁndings from minority students in
the US to immigrant students in Germany are limited, ﬁndings from these studies can
be understood to conﬁrm that “acculturation, which is an extremely important process
for immigrant youths, plays a signiﬁcant role in understanding academic self-concept
in this population” (p. 120) [
]. Furthermore, the state of research is limited as aca-
demic self-concept was assessed on a global level rather than evaluating several facets of
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 6 of 16
2.3. Research Questions of the Present Study
Taking up the notion that acculturation relates to immigrant students’ academic self-
], which might be a possible explanation for immigrant students’ (lack of)
school success, this study examines possible associations between immigrant students’
acculturation orientation and their academic self-concepts. For this purpose, a representa-
tive sample of ninth graders in Germany is investigated to examine whether immigrant
students differ from non-immigrant students regarding their academic self-concepts de-
pending on their acculturation proﬁle. Doing so, general academic self-concept as well as
subject-speciﬁc academic self-concepts are considered.
More speciﬁcally, this article examines the following research questions:
(1) What is the nature of general and domain-speciﬁc academic self-concepts of immi-
grant students depending on their acculturation proﬁle in comparison to non-immigrant
(2) What are the relationships between general and domain-speciﬁc academic self-
concepts and grades in German and in mathematics in immigrant students depending on
their acculturation proﬁle?
(3) What are the relationships between immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁle and
their general and domain-speciﬁc academic self-concepts when controlling for grades,
students’ gender, socio-economic background, and attended school track?
The empirical basis of the study is the data from the German National Educational
Panels Study (NEPS), a longitudinal study on educational trajectories following a multi-
cohort sequence design A detailed description of the panel study can be found in Blossfeld
et al. [
]. The overall sample of ninth graders who took part in Starting Cohort 4 comprises
16,425 students. The data from 1186 students attending special schools were excluded
for our analysis. The resulting analyses sample comprises N= 15,239 students (47.6%
male, 47.3% female, 5.1% did not indicate their gender) who were approximately 15 years
old (M= 14.73, SD = 0.72) at the time of the survey. The sample includes a total of
n= 4070 stu
dents characterized as immigrant students in ﬁrst, second, or third generation.
The major immigrant groups were from Turkey (19.5%), the Former Soviet Union (17.0%),
and Poland (10.8%).
3.2.1. Acculturation Proﬁles
Within the NEPS, immigrant students were assessed with scales on feeling of belong-
ing to the host society and the society of origin (“How much do you yourself identify with
the people from Germany/this country overall?”) and the feeling of connectedness (e.g.,
“I feel closely connected to the people from Germany/this country”) [
], cultural habits,
addressing e.g., listening to music, cooking, public holidays, and language use within
the family. Based on these affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of acculturation,
patterns of acculturation orientations were empirically identiﬁed conducting Latent Proﬁle
Analysis revealing four distinct proﬁles of acculturation. Following Berry’s [
model, proﬁles were interpreted as assimilated, integrated, separated, and indifferent (for a
detailed description of the method and the resulting proﬁles please refer to Lilla et al., [
Thürer et al. ).
3.2.2. Academic Self-Concepts
Different instruments were implemented measuring students’ academic self- con-
]. Employing three short scales with three items each, the general dimension of
academic self-concept along with subject-speciﬁc dimensions, i.e., verbal self-concept and
mathematical self-concept, were administered (sample item general academic self-concept:
“I learn quickly in most school subjects.”; sample item domain speciﬁc self-concept: “I
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 7 of 16
get good grades in German [/mathematics].”) [
]. For all items, answer options read
1 = ‘does not apply at all
’, 2 = ‘does rather not apply’, 3 = ‘does rather apply’, and 4 = ‘does
3.2.3. Grades in German and Mathematics
Students’ self-reported grades in German and mathematics from the most recent stu-
dent report card ranging from 1 (very good) to 6 (insufﬁcient) were administered. For our anal-
ysis, grades were recoded so that higher values indicate more favorable school outcomes.
3.2.4. School Track
The German secondary school system provides different school tracks to which stu-
dents are assigned to on the basis of prior achievement in primary school. Five school tracks
distinguished in the NEPS were considered: Vocational school track (Hauptschule) offering
the lowest school leaving certiﬁcate; intermediate school track (Realschule); academic track
(Gymnasium) offering the highest school leaving certiﬁcate (Abitur) allowing students to
attend university; as well as a comprehensive school track (Gesamtschule); and schools
offering several tracks (Schulen mit mehreren Bildungsgängen).
3.2.5. Control Variables
Students’ gender and the highest value of parents’ International Socio-Economic Index
of Occupational Status (HISEI, [
]) as an indicator of students’ socio-economic background
were accounted for as relevant background characteristics.
3.3. Statistical Analysis
Prior to conducting the main analysis, latent proﬁle analyses (LPA) were conducted
using Mplus Version 8.2 [
]. All subsequent statistical analysis conducted to asses our
research questions were performed using IBM SPSS 25. Following descriptive and correla-
tional analysis, we performed a series of multiple regression analysis using three different
scales measuring academic self-concept as dependent variables, i.e., general academic
self-concept, verbal self-concept, and mathematical self-concept. Controlling for grades
in German and mathematics (ﬁrst step), immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁles were
included in a second step in the form of dummy-coded predictors with non-immigrant
students as the reference group. Finally, students’ gender, socio-economic background,
and attended school track (as dummy-coded variables with the vocational track being the
reference group) were included in a third step.
If immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁles relate to their academic self-concepts,
this would be indicated by signiﬁcant coefﬁcients for the corresponding acculturation
proﬁle. A positive coefﬁcient would indicate that the self-concepts of immigrant students
with the speciﬁc acculturation proﬁle are more positive than non-immigrant students’
self-concepts. Negative coefﬁcients would indicate that that the self-concepts of immi-
grant students with the speciﬁc acculturation proﬁle are less positive than non-immigrant
Missing values were imputed multiple times considering all variables contained in
the analysis model. Coefﬁcients presented below refer to the pooled dataset.
4.1. Characteristics of Non-Immigrant Students and Immigrant Students Depending on Their
Table 1gives an overview of the group characteristics of the non-immigrant students
and immigrant students depending on their acculturation proﬁle. ANOVAs conducted
on general academic self-concept, verbal self-concept, mathematical self-concept, grades
in German, and grades in mathematics yielded substantial differences between groups.
To follow up on that, simple contrasts were conducted to obtain comparisons between
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 8 of 16
non-immigrant students and immigrant students with an assimilated, an integrated, a
separated, and an indifferent acculturation proﬁle, respectively.
There were no substantial differences in simple contrasts between assimilated im-
migrant students and non-immigrant students regarding general academic self-concept
(p= 0.79), verbal self-concept (p= 0.91), and mathematical self-concept (p= 0.06). The same
applied regarding grade in German (p= 0.69) and grade in mathematics (p= 0.17).
Contrasting the group of immigrant students with an integrated acculturation pro-
ﬁle against non-immigrant students showed signiﬁcant differences in general academic
self-concept and verbal self-concept, which both were substantially lower for integrated
students (ps < 0.001). Regarding mathematical self-concept, there was no signiﬁcant differ-
ence (p= 0.87). Grades in German (p< 0.001) and in mathematics (p= 0.035) showed to be
less favorable for the group of integrated students.
Contrasting the group of separated immigrant students to non-immigrant students
revealed no substantial differences regarding general academic self-concept (p= 0.70) and
verbal self-concept (p= 0.47), while mathematical self-concept was substantially lower
(p= 0.015). At the same time, however, the separated immigrant students’ grades in
German and mathematics were signiﬁcantly less favorable (p= 0.004 and p< 0.001) than
for non-immigrant students.
Finally, direct comparisons of the group of indifferent immigrant students to non-
immigrant students showed no substantial difference in general academic self-concept
(p= 0.12), while both verbal and mathematical self-concept showed to be signiﬁcantly
lower (p= 0.008 and p= 0.001), and grades in German and mathematics were substantially
less favorable (ps < 0.001).
Regarding control variables, chi-square analysis showed that male and female students
were unequally distributed across groups,
((4, N= 15,545) = 13.72, p= 0.003). An ANOVA
conducted on students’ socio-economic background yielded signiﬁcant differences and the
same simple contrasts showed signiﬁcantly lower levels of HISEI for immigrant students
with integrated, separated, and indifferent acculturation proﬁles in comparison to non-
immigrant students (ps
0.001). Between the group of immigrant students with an
assimilated acculturation proﬁle and non-immigrant students, no signiﬁcant difference
existed (p= 0.84). Regarding school track, chi-square analysis showed unequal distribution
across groups, except for the intermediate track (vocational track:
(4, N= 16,323) = 545.06,
p< 0.001; intermediate track
(4, N= 16,323) = 9.25, p= 0.055; comprehensive schools:
(4, N= 16,323) = 214.93, p< 0.001; academic track: χ2(4, N= 16,323) = 312.01, p< 0.001).
Table 2shows intercorrelations of all continuous variables. This shows a similar
pattern for immigrant students and non-immigrant students. To follow up on that, the
intercorrelations of self-concept scales and grades in German and mathematics were looked
at depending on immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁle. Figure 1shows intercorrelations
of self-concept measures depending on immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁle without
controlling for any background characteristics, possibly affecting the associations between
academic self-concept facets and grades.
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 9 of 16
Table 1. Descriptives for the Variables of Interest for Non-Immigrant Students and Immigrant Students as a Function of Acculturation Proﬁle.
Scale n M SD n M SD n M SD n M SD n M SD
academic self-concept 11,096 2.88 0.57 515 2.88 0.64 356 2.74 0.57 1550 2.87 0.59 1954 2.89 0.58
self-concept 11,114 2.95 0.62 515 2.96 0.62 355 2.72 0.67 1549 2.92 0.63 1953 2.88 0.64
self-concept 11,097 2.54 0.92 516 2.42 0.98 356 2.55 0.93 1548 2.44 0.93 1955 2.48 0.93
Grade in German
(recoded) 10,640 4.19 0.81 495 4.19 0.78 333 3.83 0.83 1463 4.08 0.82 1827 3.92 0.81
Grade in mathematics
(recoded) 10,581 4.08 1.01 495 4.02 1.05 330 3.94 1.03 1462 3.90 1.04 1827 3.82 1.03
(female) 11,923 49.0% 517 53.8% 359 43.9% 1559 51.9% 1958 50.4%
HISEI 7268 53.84 19.82 310 53.55 20.81 170 46.53 21.30 896 51.28 21.40 899 42.67 20.33
Vocational track 11,923 19.1% 517 21.7% 359 44.0% 1559 26.4% 1965 40.7%
Intermediate track 11,923 20.3% 517 20.3% 359 18.4% 1559 18.7% 1965 17.7%
Comprehensive schools 11,923 8.3% 517 14.5% 359 14.5% 1559 17.4% 1965 15.9%
Academic track 11,923 35.4% 517 37.3% 359 17.0% 1559 31.2% 1965 16.8%
Note. For grades, higher scores represent outcomes that are more favorable.
Table 2. Intercorrelations of the Variables of Interest for Non-Immigrant Students and Immigrant Students.
1. General academic self-concept - 0.41 *** 0.26 *** 0.35 *** 0.29 *** 0.06 **
2. Verbal self-concept 0.41 *** - −0.10 *** 0.54 *** 0.01 0.08 ***
3. Mathematical self-concept 0.32 *** −0.06 *** - 0.00 0.64 *** 0.02
4. Grade in German 0.42 *** 0.55 *** 0.05 *** - 0.31 *** 0.21 ***
5. Grade in mathematics 0.37 *** 0.07 *** 0.64 *** 0.39 *** - 0.11 ***
6. HISEI 0.09 *** 0.08 *** 0.04 *** 0.15 *** 0.11 *** -
Note. Intercorrelations for immigrant students are presented above the diagonal, and intercorrelations for non-immigrant students are presented below the diagonal. ** p< 0.01, *** p< 0.001.
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 10 of 16
Educ. Sci. 2021, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 16
Figure 1. General Intercorrelations of Academic Self-Concept Measures and Grades depending on Immigrant Students’
Acculturation Profile. Note. Numbers represent general intercorrelations for immigrant students with assimilated profile,
integrated profile, separated profile, and indifferent profile; Bold numbers stand for significant intercorrelations (p < 0.01).
There is a strong positive correlation between grade in German and verbal self-con-
cept for all acculturation profiles (rs ≥ 0.50), i.e., more favorable grades in German are
associated with a more positive verbal self-concept and vice versa.
Grades in mathematics show to be even more strongly positively correlated with
mathematical self-concept for all acculturation profiles (rs ≥ 0.62), i.e., more favorable
grades in mathematics are associated with a more positive mathematical self-concept and
Verbal self-concept and mathematical self-concept show to be differentially corre-
lated depending on acculturation profile. While for the group of immigrant students’ with
an assimilated profile, there is no significant correlation, there are significant, however,
weak, negative correlations between verbal and mathematical self-concept within the
group of integrated, separated, and indifferent immigrants.
General academic self-concept shows to correlate moderately with both grade in Ger-
man (rs ≥ 0.32) and grade in mathematics (rs ≥ 0.25), hence the correlations are less strong
than the intercorrelations between grades and domain-specific self-concepts. Differences
between immigrant students depend on their acculturation profile. Regarding the link
between verbal self-concept and grade in German, intercorrelation was comparatively
weaker for the group of indifferent immigrant students. Regarding the link between math-
ematical self-concept and grade in mathematics, intercorrelations were comparatively
weaker for the group of separated and indifferent immigrant students.
General academic self-concept also showed to be correlated to both verbal and math-
ematical self-concept. General academic self-concept and verbal self-concept in general
showed to be positive moderately related. Students with an integrated acculturation pro-
file (r = 0.29, p < 0.01) were lower than for all other profiles (r ≥ 0.40, p < 0.01). Regarding
the link between general academic self-concept and mathematical self-concept, intercor-
relations were comparatively lower, especially for immigrant students with separated (r
= 0.27, p < 0.01) or indifferent profile (r = 0.23, p < 0.01).
General Intercorrelations of Academic Self-Concept Measures and Grades depending on Immigrant Students’
Acculturation Proﬁle. Note. Numbers represent general intercorrelations for immigrant students with assimilated proﬁle,
integrated proﬁle, separated proﬁle, and indifferent proﬁle; Bold numbers stand for signiﬁcant intercorrelations (p< 0.01).
There is a strong positive correlation between grade in German and verbal self-concept
for all acculturation proﬁles (rs
0.50), i.e., more favorable grades in German are associated
with a more positive verbal self-concept and vice versa.
Grades in mathematics show to be even more strongly positively correlated with
mathematical self-concept for all acculturation proﬁles (rs
0.62), i.e., more favorable
grades in mathematics are associated with a more positive mathematical self-concept and
Verbal self-concept and mathematical self-concept show to be differentially correlated
depending on acculturation proﬁle. While for the group of immigrant students’ with an
assimilated proﬁle, there is no signiﬁcant correlation, there are signiﬁcant, however, weak,
negative correlations between verbal and mathematical self-concept within the group of
integrated, separated, and indifferent immigrants.
General academic self-concept shows to correlate moderately with both grade in Ger-
0.32) and grade in mathematics (rs
0.25), hence the correlations are less strong
than the intercorrelations between grades and domain-speciﬁc self-concepts. Differences
between immigrant students depend on their acculturation proﬁle. Regarding the link be-
tween verbal self-concept and grade in German, intercorrelation was comparatively weaker
for the group of indifferent immigrant students. Regarding the link between mathematical
self-concept and grade in mathematics, intercorrelations were comparatively weaker for
the group of separated and indifferent immigrant students.
General academic self-concept also showed to be correlated to both verbal and math-
ematical self-concept. General academic self-concept and verbal self-concept in general
showed to be positive moderately related. Students with an integrated acculturation proﬁle
(r= 0.29, p< 0.01) were lower than for all other proﬁles (r
0.40, p< 0.01). Regarding the
link between general academic self-concept and mathematical self-concept, intercorrela-
tions were comparatively lower, especially for immigrant students with separated (r= 0.27,
p< 0.01) or indifferent proﬁle (r= 0.23, p< 0.01).
4.2. Academic Self-Concepts of Immigrant Students as a Function of Their Acculturation Proﬁle
Table 3shows the results of the multiple regression analysis predicting the different
facets of academic self-concept depending on immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁle
controlling for grades in German and mathematics, and additionally taking gender, HISEI,
and school track into account.
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 11 of 16
Table 3. Hierarchical Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Immigrant Students’ Academic Self-Concepts Depending on Acculturation Proﬁle.
Model 1a Model 1b Model 1c Model 2a Model 2b Model 2c Model 3a Model 3b Model 3c
(dv: Verbal Self-Concept) (dv: Mathematical Self-Concept) (dv: General Academic Self-Concept)
B (SE) B (SE) B (SE) B (SE) B (SE) B (SE) B (SE) B (SE) B (SE)
Constant 4.16 *** (0.02) 4.15 *** (0.02) 4.12 *** (0.03) 4.26 *** (0.02) 4.26 *** (0.02) 4.52 *** (0.04) 3.92 *** (0.02) 3.92 *** (0.02) 4.01 *** (0.03)
Grade German 0.43 *** (0.01) 43 *** (0.01) 0.42 *** (0.01) 0.22 *** (0.01) 0.23 *** (0.01) 0.24 *** (0.01)
Grade mathematics 0.59 *** (0.01) 0.59 *** (0.01) 0.58 *** (0.01) 0.14 *** (0.01) 0.14 *** (0.01) 0.13 *** (0.01)
Assimilated Proﬁle 0.01 (0.02) 0.01 (0.02) −0.09 ** (0.03) −0.07 * (0.03) 0.01 (0.02) 0.02 (0.02)
Integrated Proﬁle −0.07 * (0.03) −0.08 ** (0.03) 0.09 * (0.04) 0.06 (0.04) −0.04 (0.03) −0.05 (0.03)
Separated Proﬁle 0.02 (0.02) 0.02 (0.02) −0.00 (0.02) 0.01 (0.02) 0.04 ** (0.02) 0.05 ** (0.02)
Indifferent Proﬁle 0.05 *** (0.01) 0.04 ** (0.01) 0.09 *** (0.02) 0.07 *** (0.02) 0.11 *** (0.01) 0.11 *** (0.01)
Gender (1 = female) 0.09 *** (0.01) −0.39 *** (0.01) −0.08 *** (0.01)
HISEI 0.00 (0.00) −0.00 * (0.00) 0.00 (0.00)
Intermediate track −0.03 * (0.01) −0.01 +(0.02) −0.02 (0.01)
Comprehensive schools −0.06 *** (0.02) −0.09 *** (0.02) −0.07 *** (0.02)
Academic track −0.04 *** (0.01) −0.05 *** (0.02) −0.06 *** (0.01)
R20.31 0.31 0.32 0.43 0.43 0.47 0.23 0.23 0.24
Note. N= 15,239 +p< 0.10, * p< 0.05, ** p< 0.01, *** p< 0.001.
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 12 of 16
For all dependent variables, the ﬁrst step of the regression models shows strong
positive effects of grade on the speciﬁc subject on domain-speciﬁc self-concept or grade in
German and mathematics for the prediction of general academic self-concept.
In Model 1, predicting verbal self-concept, including acculturation proﬁles in the
second step (Model 1b), shows a signiﬁcant negative coefﬁcient for integrated immigrant
students and a signiﬁcant positive coefﬁcient for immigrant students with indifferent
acculturation proﬁles. For assimilated and separated acculturation proﬁle, no signiﬁcant
coefﬁcient emerged. This pattern of ﬁndings remains stable also after including gender,
HISEI, and school track in the third step (Model 1c).
In Model 2, predicting mathematical self-concept, including acculturation proﬁle in
the second step (Model 2b) shows a signiﬁcant negative coefﬁcient for the assimilated
proﬁle and signiﬁcant positive proﬁles for integrated and indifferent proﬁle. For separated
acculturation proﬁle, no signiﬁcant coefﬁcient emerged. Including gender, HISEI, and
school track in the third step (Model 2c), the coefﬁcient for the integrated acculturation
proﬁle no longer reached statistical signiﬁcance.
In Model 3, predicting general academic self-concept, including acculturation proﬁle
in the second step (Model 3b), showed signiﬁcant positive coefﬁcients for separated and
indifferent acculturation proﬁles. For assimilated and integrated acculturation proﬁles,
coefﬁcients were not statistically signiﬁcant. Including gender, HISEI, and school track in
the third step (Model 3c), the pattern of ﬁndings remained stable.
Academic self-concept has proven to be a relevant factor for or against academic
]. Given that immigrant students perform more poorly, it is important
to understand the factors that inﬂuence the academic self-concepts of immigrant students
if their academic achievement is to be improved.
The German state of research on immigrant students’ academic self-concept, however,
is limited. Findings from singular studies revealed either more positive self-concepts for
secondary immigrant students in comparison to non-immigrant students, e.g., more posi-
tive general academic self-concepts in Turkish immigrant students [
], or no differences
in self-concept, e.g., regarding immigrant students’ verbal self-concept [
], though immi-
grant students achieved signiﬁcantly lower across studies. Only the study from Shajek and
] showed more negative verbal self-concepts for students with non-German
ﬁrst languages, while their mathematical self-concepts were more positive in comparison
to students speaking German in the family.
With the odds for academic performance not in favor for immigrant students and
regarding the fact that academic self-concept is reciprocally related to academic achieve-
ment, this study aimed to contribute to this area of research by investigating academic
self-aspects of ninth grade immigrant students. Furthermore, this study aimed to enhance
the state of existing research as it investigated academic self-concept of immigrant students
depending on their acculturation proﬁle. To do so, relationships between both general and
domain-speciﬁc facets were investigated.
Acculturation proﬁles were empirically identiﬁed in a prior study [
] following a
latent proﬁle approach in order to capture distinct proﬁles of acculturation without prior
anticipation of acculturation patterns .
Descriptive ﬁndings revealed differences in grades for immigrant students with an
integrated, separated, and indifferent acculturation proﬁle, indicating that in comparison to
non-immigrant students, they receive less positive performance feedback. However, for as-
similated immigrant students, direct comparisons did not reveal any signiﬁcant differences
in grades. Though this applies to only 12% of students with an immigrant background in
the sample, it questions the validity of generalized statements about immigrant students’
academic underachievement. Furthermore, this ﬁnding is in line with ﬁndings from studies
conducted in Germany on the relationships between immigrant students’ acculturation and
their academic achievement operationalized with standardized performance tests [
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 13 of 16
Following the notion of a reciprocal relation between academic achievement and
academic self-concept, lower self-concepts could be expected for integrated, separated,
and indifferent immigrant students. In direct comparison to non-immigrant students, in
fact, integrated immigrant students were found to show lower levels of general academic
self-concept and verbal self-concept, separated immigrant students showed lower levels
in mathematical-self-concept, and indifferent immigrant students were found to exhibit
lower levels in both domain-speciﬁc self-concept facets. No discrepancies were found for
assimilated immigrant students’ academic self-concept facets.
Intercorrelations between self-concept scales and grades showed the expected strong
positive relationships between grades and self-concept scales with only slight variation in
strengths depending on acculturation proﬁle.
Though not in the focus of this study, the intercorrelations between verbal self-concept
and mathematical self-concept showed an unexpected ﬁnding. For integrated, separated,
and indifferent immigrant students, negative relationships emerged, though according to
the internal/external frame of reference-model, domain-speciﬁc self-concepts are supposed
to be uncorrelated [
], which was true for non-immigrant students and immigrant students
with an assimilated proﬁle in the sample. Future research on acculturation and self-concept
should follow up on that interesting ﬁnding.
As it is hard to draw conclusions from studies on the relationships between accultura-
tion and academic self-concept, which have not considered relevant background character-
], we further investigated possible associations of academic self-concept with
immigrant students’ acculturation proﬁle in a multivariate procedure. Doing so, our analy-
sis at ﬁrst sight showed a rather scattered pattern of ﬁndings depending on the predicted
facets of academic self-concept. Taking a second look, however, reveals interesting patterns
across self-concept facets: For assimilated immigrant students, the analysis conducted ﬁnds
no signiﬁcant difference in verbal self-concept in comparison to non-immigrant students,
while mathematical self-concept is signiﬁcantly lower. For integrated immigrant students,
the opposite pattern, i.e., lower verbal-self-concept and even slightly more positive math-
ematical self-concept, can be found. These ﬁndings resemble the pattern of results from
the study by Shajek and colleagues [
], testing the internal/external frame of reference
in a sample of immigrant students, indicating the effect of dimensional comparisons. In-
terestingly, assimilated students seem to devaluate their mathematical self-concept while
integrated students devaluate their verbal self-concept. Admittedly, though signiﬁcant, the
coefﬁcients were rather small and need to be followed up by future research conducting
path analysis to substantiate these ﬁndings. Neither assimilated nor integrated immigrant
students differed regarding their level of general academic self-concept.
On the contrary, for separated immigrant students, no signiﬁcant differences emerged
regarding the domain-speciﬁc self-concept facets, but regarding general academic self-
concept, which showed to be more positive. Interestingly, indifferent immigrant students
showed more positive verbal, mathematical, and general academic self-concepts than
non-immigrant students, also when grades were controlled for and possible confounders
considered. Trying to put some meaning into this ﬁnding, it is conceivable that these results
indicate that indifferent students and maybe to some extent also separated immigrant
students use other frames of reference and set comparison standards different from those
applied by assimilated and integrated students. Whereas the latter two groups possible
orient more toward native peers for social comparison, the former two groups possibly
rather check their academic performance against signiﬁcant others outside of the school
context, maybe from the same ethnic group. All of these interpretations remain only
tentative as long as there are no further studies to substantiate the empirical ﬁndings.
Discussing the results of our study, it must be borne in mind that the analysis is
based on data that was collected in 2010/2011. Since that time, the immigrant situation
in Germany has certainly changed, for instance due to immigration of refugees in the last
decade. To what extent the acculturation proﬁles and their associations with different facets
of academic self-concept differ today remains an open question at this point.
Educ. Sci. 2021,11, 432 14 of 16
A positive self-concept is widely valued as a desirable outcome [
]. Hence, our
ﬁndings raise the question whether the more positive academic self-concepts shown for
indifferent students are a consequence of their acculturation proﬁle, acting as a protective
factor against negative feedback and making these immigrant students more resilient. On
the other hand, our ﬁndings might as well be understood as a sign of disidentiﬁcation with
As already mentioned, ﬁndings and their interpretations need to be treated with some
respect, as coefﬁcients were only small. Further research would be needed to follow up
on the topic, for instance by applying path analytic approaches or structural equation
modeling techniques. Incorporating longitudinal analysis would also help to investigate
the reciprocal relationship within acculturation patterns more thoroughly. To gain more
knowledge on possible comparison partners, future surveys may collect more data on the
students’ social environment or directly ask students for their social comparison partners,
which could be compared between acculturation patterns. If further investigations show
support for differential academic self-concepts depending on immigrant students’ accultur-
ation proﬁle, teachers and other school personnel need to be informed about possibilities to
promote the academic achievement of immigrant students, e.g., by interventions facilitating
both the orientation toward the host culture and a positive academic self-concept.
Conceptualization, N.L.; methodology, N.L., W.N. and M.S.; formal analysis,
N.L. and S.T.; writing—original draft, N.L.; writing—review & editing, N.L., S.T., W.N. and M.S.;
project administration, N.L.; supervision, M.S.; funding acquisition, N.L. All authors have read and
agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
This research was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Re-
search Foundation)—grant number: LI 3067-1/1. The publication of this article was funded by Freie
Data Availability Statement:
Restrictions apply to the availability of these data. Access to the NEPS
data requires the conclusion of a Data Use Agreement with the Leibniz Institute for Educational
This paper uses data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS): Starting
Cohort Grade 9, doi:10.5157/NEPS:SC4:11.0.0. From 2008 to 2013, NEPS data was collected as part of
the Framework Program for the Promotion of Empirical Educational Research funded by the German
Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). As of 2014, NEPS has been carried out by the
Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi) at the University of Bamberg in cooperation with
a nationwide network.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
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