Self Esteem and Academic Achievement

Self Esteem and Academic Achievement
Vialle, Heaven and Ciarrochi (2005) explore through a study the relationship, if any, that exists between self esteem and academic achievement. In particular, the researchers investigated the nature of the relationship in 65 high ability secondary students recruited through a longitudinal study. The authors begin by reviewing literature on a topic that they argue most people have come to accept as a well established fact. The main intention of the research is to refute this commonly held belief. The review of literature also serves to raise some interesting questions, such as the failure of most studies to focus on self esteem and instead focusing on the appropriate educational environment. Further, the studies according to Vialle, Heaven and Ciarrochi (2005), raised the question of whether or not there exists a difference between self concept and self esteem, before proceeding to include both aspects in their research. The main intention of the research, according to the authors, was therefore, to establish the combination of factors that usually predict the emotional wellbeing of the adolescents and their academic outcomes, particularly, the relationship that exists between self esteem and academic achievement.
Due to the fact that establishing giftedness posed a challenge, 65 students from the top 10% in ELLA and SNAP scores of an existing study (Wollongong Youth Study) were selected in order to explore the relationship. The second group of non gifted students made up of the remaining 90% was also included in order to act as a control group. Initial test scores were collected while the students were in year 7 through ELLA (English Language and Literacy Assessment) and SNAP tests (Secondary Numeracy Assessment Program). The students’ self esteem was measured using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale both in the middle of years 7 and 8. Further academic outcomes were obtained through various ends of year learning outcomes. The results displayed no correlation between self esteem and academic achievement amongst the gifted students, while displaying a slight correlation for the non gifted group, a correlation the authors attributed to the large sample size. Further, the findings on self esteem, both for the gifted and non gifted students were found not to be different. In the discussion, the authors argued that their findings essentially refuted the claim that self esteem affects academic performance, hence, the need for students to be grouped according to their abilities is evident.
Vialle, Heaven and Ciarrochi (2005) through their longitudinal study focus on an area that has indeed invoked significant debate, more so when used as an argument for or against grouping students according to abilities. Within the educational sector, the argument that self esteem does affect academic performance, has been used to discourage ability-based grouping within the school environment. On the other hand, those arguing for academic groupings, posit that grouping according to ability would no doubt assist in significant improvements in academic performance, especially amongst gifted students. These points, therefore, make the investigation of the relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement important. More so when one considers the findings of Vialle, Heaven and Ciarrochi (2005) that the correlation is weak at best, similar to findings by Tong and Yewchuck (1996) or those of Hoge and McSheffrey (1991) as cited by the researchers. These findings by the researchers in essence provide proof that homogenous groupings according to ability cannot harm academic achievement through lowering self esteem, as the two are not really connected. However, the fact that the study is carried out the way it is, raises a number of critical questions, considering that the authors actually set out to prove a particular hypothesis, rather than carry out an exploratory study that is not biased. Right from the literature review, the researchers display bias in the type of studies selected, in that most of literature selected for review is either sitting on the fence, or taking the position of the authors. Further, it is also possible to fault the sample selection, as the authors use a sample selection method that does not provide a clear distinction in terms of giftedness, instead it simply makes a selection on the basis of certain test findings which cannot be accepted as absolute. The ELLA and SNAP test scores are the only criteria used to establish giftedness, with no IQ scores being included in the process of selecting the gifted group. The self esteem score utilized by the authors is also not sufficiently capable, as other augmentative esteem tests are not carried out to confirm the esteem findings.
Another weakness that is discernible within the study methodology, is the fact that the researchers fail to take into account intervening and interfering variables that may serve to compromise the findings of the study. The failure separate the groups into either gifted or non gifted further weakens the study, as doing so would no doubt have led to a clear differentiation and determination of what effect such separation can have on self esteem and created an experimental design. Any effect the separation had on the self esteem would then have been used to establish whether or not self esteem normally affects academic achievement by establishing the existence of any fluctuations or improvements. Ideally, such separation would have a negative effect on the self esteem of the non gifted students, which would then be expected to lead to poorer academic achievement and vice versa for the gifted students. The findings of Abadzi (1985) raise interesting questions when it comes to exploring the effects that ability groupings usually have on self esteem and academic acvhievement. Further the methodology failed to exhaustively examine the relationship between esteem and academic achievement as the tools used for testing were not held constant; instead of using one standard test over the period of two years, end of year learning outcomes were used to gauge fluctuations in performance, despite the possibility that the tests would perhaps have been of differing strengths.
The study fails to put up a convincing argument against the belief that there exists a relationship between self esteem and academic performance, as most of the points raised are not backed up by the results. The authors fail in their attempt to put the debate to rest with convincing findings, with the findings in the case of the non gifted students actually backing up the hypothesis that self esteem does affect performance, albeit slightly. Further, suggestions that self esteem programs should be challenged, are made with minimal evidence that they are not effective, as the study does not include efforts to improve self esteem before measuring whether or not self esteem affects academic achievement, be it positively or negatively. Regardless of the fact that the article is helpful, it does not fulfill the minimum parameters of a scientific study.
Abadzi, H. (1985). Ability Grouping Effects on Academic Achievement and Self Esteem: Who Performs in the Long Run as Expected. Journal iof Educational Research 79(1), 36-40. Retrieved from
Vialle, W., Heaven, P., Ciarrochi, J. (2005). The relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement in high ability students: Evidence from the Wollongong Youth Study. The