Research corner

`If one goes up the other must come down: examining ipsative relationships between math and English self-concept trajectories across high school' by Parker, D, Marsh, H, Morin, A et al

British Journal of Educational Psychology, August 2014 (Wiley)

If a student believes themselves to be particularly good in one area, does this have a negative impact on how they believe they perform in other subjects? This is the question that a group of academics in Australia set out to answer, using two core subjects as their guide.

The researchers looked at the attitudes of 2,781 high-school students from eight Australian institutions over two years, tracking students' views of their abilities in maths and English. In particular, the scholars wished to follow the students who thought they were good in one subject and see whether this had a negative impact on their perceived ability in the other.

They also analysed whether there was an overall decline in how students felt they were performing in both subjects.

Data on students' achievement was collected simultaneously using age-appropriate spelling and maths computational tests.

The research discovered that, contrary to expectations, students who believed they were good at English did not necessarily imagine their abilities in maths to be lower as a result, and vice versa.

However, the results did reveal what the authors describe as a "disconcerting.drastic decline" in how students viewed their ability in both maths and science as they progressed through high school.

The paper notes it as a worrying trend, given the effect that self-belief can have on academic achievement, as well as career choices later in life.

Sarah Cunnane

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