The underachieving gifted student: an evaluation of the relationship of learning style and academic self-concept to academic achievement and a case study of one gifted high school student

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Virginia Tech


The lack of academic achievement at the high school level among some gifted students has long been a concern of educators. This research had two purposes: First, to determine if there was a relationship among learning style, academic self-concept and academic achievement with gifted high school students; and second, to understand an individual who was representative of these characteristics identified in part one and determine what life experiences have affected this student’s underachievement.

A quasi-experimental design was selected for the quantitative portion of this study to accomplish the first purpose. The design began with the hypothesis that there was a relationship among these variables and employed the use of two self-report instruments, the Learning Style Inventory by Dunn, Dunn, and Price (1989) and the Student Attitude Measure by Wick (1991).

Participants for this portion of the study were taken from a population of 93 gifted students at one suburban high school. A parent meeting was held to explain the purpose of the testing; then permission letters were sent to the parents. Seventy-four parents responded, establishing the sample size.

The results were compiled using the SYSTAT statistical program. Academic achievement was high for gifted students who showed a preference for studying in a quiet, warm place, were persistent and parent/teacher motivated, and who preferred to learn in several ways but did not prefer to learn through auditory methods or to move around while studying. This finding was the same regardless of the academic self-concept.

The selection of the qualitative portion of the study was based on the relationship among learning style, academic self-concept, and low academic achievement. The selected student had a low academic self-concept score, a learning style different from the one stated above, and low academic achievement based on the grades during the year in which the testing took place.

This study identified a number of factors which had an impact upon this individual and highlighted the importance of professionals’ awareness of each individual’s unique perceptions and life situations that affect underachievement rather than looking for a panacea.