Underachievement Among Gifted Minority Students
The majority of articles and studies on gifted minority students have focused on issues of identification, primarily because some minority groups of gifted learners, particularly Black, Hispanic American, and Native American, have been underrepresented in gifted programs. These students may be underrepresented by as much as 30 to 70%, with an average of 50% (Ross et al., 1993). While there is a clear need to increase the participation of minority students in gifted education programs, there is an equally important need to focus on issues of achievement and underachievement. This digest discusses factors affecting the achievement of gifted minority students, with particular attention to Black students. Problems associated with underachievement definitions and the influence of social, cultural, and psychological factors on student achievement are discussed. Suggestions and recommendations for reversing underachievement among gifted minority students are presented.
There is little consensus on how best to define underachievement, particularly among gifted students. One problem rests in the definition of giftedness; another problem rests in measurement. For example, each district has its own definition of giftedness, although most rely almost exclusively on teacher recommendation, and an intelligence or achievement test score (Coleman, Gallagher, & Foster, 1994). A related issue concerns one's definition of underachievement. In general, underachievement is defined as a discrepancy between ability and performance. Yet, few studies have used the same definition of underachievement. After reviewing more than 100 publications on underachievement, Ford (1996) noted that this can be measured using any number of criteria and instruments. School A may use an intelligence and an achievement test, school B may use an achievement test and grade point average, and school C may use an aptitude test and GPA. In these examples, the schools have adopted a psychometric definition of underachievement, which is problematic because minority students tend not to score well on standardized tests.
Qualitative or subjective factors can also be used to identify underachievement. School D may rely on teacher expectations to determine who is underachieving. Thus, if a teacher believes that Marcus is not performing to his potential and that he can do better, Marcus would be considered an underachiever. Teachers must consider several questions regarding the nature and extent of students' underachievement:
* Is underachievement chronic, situational, or temporary?
* Is underachievement subject specific or general?
* What factors are contributing to underachievement (e.g., poor intrinsic motivation, poor academic self-esteem, negative peer pressures, lack of family involvement, poor student-teacher relationships, low teacher expectations)?
The lack of consensus on how best to define and measure underachievement -- qualitative or quantitative, amount of discrepancy, nature and extent -- all make it difficult to estimate the number of gifted students who are underachieving. Whitmore (1980) estimated that at least 20% of gifted students underachieve, while the U.S. Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) estimated 50%. Ford (1995) found that 46% of the gifted Black students surveyed were underachieving.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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