By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My high school student (son) scores really high on standardized test, but fails many
classes? For example on the Terra Nova he scored above average in every subject
area, 98% in reading .... total score 95%. What direction would you recommend for a
bright 17 year old who may not graduate from high school? How much weight should I
give to these test results?
Your son's case is typical of that of a gifted
underachiever, one that scores high on standardized tests, yet
fails school tests. There are many factors that contribute to
underachievement, but I will discuss three main factors:
Firstly, these students do not find value in their school
experience. School is not seen as meaningful to them. They do
not believe that what they are doing will produce beneficial
outcomes in the future. Next, they do not believe that they
have the skills to be successful or achievers. Finally, they do
not trust their environment and expect to fail. When students
have negative attitudes in each of these three areas, they are
more likely to produce non self-regulated behavior
(self-regulated behavior has been researched to be essential
for school success). These type of learners often set
unrealistic expectations and implement inappropriate strategies
for academic success, only to find themselves failing and being
disappointed over and over again.
At 17, time seem a little short for immediate results (i.e.,
high school graduation), nevertheless, it's never too late.
For now, you may want to do a few of the suggested modification
that may increase his interest at school.
Try to encourage him in his areas of
Help him see beyond the immediate results to
something more long-term (how certain subjects can help him
See to it that he has a set of realistic and
Constantly compliment him on his strengths
and encourage him to overcome his weaknesses. Help him
believe that he has the skills to do well.
Help him assume responsibility of his
underachievement and not to assume (usually an unconscious
belief) that it is the doings of events or individuals in
Help him with self-management strategies of
time management and study skills. You may want to get an
older cousin/friend of his to help him with that. (someone
that he is fond of and achieving)
Help him to pursue excellence, not
Help him with his career planning. You may
also want to see his career counselor for this purpose.
Once he has a career that interests him in mind, he may
strive to reach his goals.
Assist him in setting realistic
expectations. This involves setting goals that are difficult
enough to be challenging, yet not so difficult as to be
unachievable and discouraging. Studies have indicated that
learning occurs best when new material cannot be mastered
without assistance, but can be mastered with minor direction
from someone more knowledgeable (e.g., teacher).
Unfortunately, high school graduation is rather
essential to pursue most courses at college level. Unless he
has an exceptional skill in a certain area, graduation will be
very helpful for him to pursue his journey in further
education. But, it is still not a dead end. You need to find
out from him on what he wants to do and if it needs him to
graduate. Help him to see beyond the immediate
feelings/interests for school and use graduation as a stepping
stone for his future.
For now, I suggest you get him to see a career
guidance officer at school to help him plan out a more
realistic educational future for himself. You may also want to
read the following book:
Bright Minds, Poor Grades: Understanding and Motivating Your
Underachieving Child" - by Dr. Michael D. Whitley