Underachievement in Gifted Students

Underachievement is a common characteristic among gifted students. Besnoy, Jolly, and Manning used Schultz’s example (2002), “Underachievement is a complex issue involving social interactions, perceptions, and expectations that remain unexplored and would be best thought of in a multidimensional way” (p. 402). A lot of factors relate to underachievement, and it contains a lot of characteristics. The authors point out that “Donmoyer and Kos (1993) identified the following characteristics of children most susceptible to underachievement: (a) low-socioeconomic status, (b) minority group connection, (c) parental education level, (d) single parent family, and (e) feelings of alienation and low self-esteem” (p. 403). Although these characteristics might be more likely to show underachievement, children with these characteristics are not the only ones who struggle with underachievement and are not definitely going to show underachievement. No one can pinpoint the exact cause of underachievement, but research does help educators better understand it.

Strategies are not exact answers for every student, but they are useful in helping students. “Whitmore (1980) identified three types of effective strategies [which are] (a) support strategies, (b) intrinsic strategies, and (c) remedial strategies” (p. 404). Underachievement must be addressed from an early age. Educators cannot wait until middle school or high school to try and reverse underachievement. It must be addressed as soon as it begins to show in elementary school. A sense of pride in a student’s work can help them to feel like their work matters and can help remove underachievement tendencies. Students can also feel engaged when they are learning about their interests. Educators have a lot of influence on students, especially in the early years of school, so they should not take these opportunities for granted. Inventories are great in a gifted classroom because the educator can learn students’ interests and design a curriculum that engages students. Another important area in the gifted classroom is counseling. Meeting students’ affective needs, such as underachievement, is crucial in the gifted classroom. Areas work differently for different students, so it is important to get to know your students so that you can find the way to best reach their needs.

Educators and administrators must learn about the struggle that many gifted students have with underachievement. If a gifted specialist works in a school that has a lot of students who are susceptible to underachievement, then a serious action plan should be put in place to help reach the needs’ of the students. A school wide plan can help all students dealing with underachievement in the elementary grades before reaching middle school and high school. Gifted education teachers can also encourage their students, especially those who struggle with underachievement. Giving students activities that peak their interests will help them to stay interested and on task. This could be a catalyst in which they begin to excel in the classroom. Every student is different, so it is critical for educators to get to know their students and how to reach their needs. Overall, underachievement must be targeted early and techniques need to be in place that will help students who struggle with underachievement.



Besnoy, K., Jolly, J., & Manning, S. (2011). Academic underachievement of gifted students. In J. A. Castellano, & A. D. Frazier (Eds), Special populations in gifted education: Understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds (pp. 401-415). Waco, TX.: Prufrock Press.


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