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Monday, March 26, 2007

School achievement, perceptions of ability and interest change as children age

School achievement, perceptions of ability and interest change as
children age

Children in early grades may like a subject in which they don t feel
very competent, or they may feel competent in a subject in spite of poor
grades. But by the end of high school, children generally feel most
interested in subjects in which they feel they are the strongest.

Those are the findings of a new study published in the March-April 2007
issue of the journal Child Development. The study also found that boys
are more likely than girls to have their interest and abilities match.
For example, boys are more likely to get the best grades in the school
subjects in which they are most interested, whereas girls may get good
grades regardless of their interest level.

The researchers, from Humboldt University and the University of
Michigan, examined the ties between achievement, ability perceptions,
and interest by looking at a group of almost 1,000 children from first
grade until they left high school. Each year, they asked how much the
children were interested in doing math, English, music, sports, and
science, and how well they thought they were doing in those subjects. In
addition, they recorded the students grades in those subjects and, for
each child, computed the closeness of the match among the three school

The findings of the current study are interesting because they show how
children become increasingly specialized in terms of their academic
profiles, showing high levels of achievement, perceptions of ability,
and interest in some subjects and low levels in others, said the study's
lead author Jaap J.A. Denissen, formerly of Humboldt University, now a
postdoctoral fellow at Utrecht University. This specialization could be
a good thing, as it allows children to focus their energy and become
experts in a certain field. On the other hand, when the labor market
requires flexibility, a more generalist approach may be more helpful.
Our finding that boys are more likely to be specialists whereas females
are more likely to be generalists may explain some of the sex
differences in academic and vocational careers.


The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development.

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 78, Issue 2, I like to do it, I
m able and I know I am: Longitudinal Couplings between Domain-Specific
Achievement, Self-Concept, and Interest by Denissen, JJA (Humboldt
University), and Zarrett, NR, and Eccles, JS (University of Michigan).
Copyright 2007 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All
rights reserved.

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