Thursday, March 3, 2016

Poor peformance: mixed-ability group students blame teachers and bad luck; tracked students blame themselves

Country rankings based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) invite politicians and specialists to speculate about the reasons their countries did well or failed to do well. Rarely, however, do we hear from the students on whose performance these rankings are based. This omission is unfortunate for two reasons. First, research suggests that how students explain their academic performance has important consequences for their future achievements. Second, prior studies show that students’ attributions of success and failure in education can develop into explanations for social inequalities in adulthood.

This article draws on PISA 2012 data on 128,110 secondary school students in 24 countries to explore how educational stratification shapes students’ explanations of their academic performance. The author finds that students in mixed-ability groups tend to attribute their mathematics performance to their teachers and to (bad) luck, whereas vocational- and academic-track students are more likely to blame themselves for not doing well. These differences between mixed-ability group students and tracked students are more pronounced in school systems where tracking is more extensive.

The author concludes by discussing how these findings speak to the broader impact of educational stratification on students’ psychology and cognition and the legitimation of inequalities.

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