The following annotated bibliography is organized in sections according to varying topics associated with gifted underachievement. There are several sources that could fit in multiple categories and these have been placed in the most appropriate category.


Frey, C. (2002). Dealing with the needs of underachieving gifted students in a suburban school district: What works! The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Spring 2002. Retrieved from

This article examines the Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pennsylvania and the work it does to assist underachieving gifted students. The Lower Merion School District has targeted gifted underachievers in its programming since the program’s inception. Lower Merion determines gifted underachievers to be students that have trouble actualizing their gifts without the differentiation of instruction. Underachievers can fall into a variety of categories, some of which include female adolescent students, students from non-dominant cultural groups or lower socioeconomic classes, and students with disabilities. Lower Merion supports underachieving students by helping them develop “school survival skills and tactics” like self-regulation strategies. Additionally, underachieving students are taught about what it means to be gifted, both on a personal level and to people surrounding them.

The article also discusses characteristics of the gifted support program in Lower Merion and how these differ from traditional programs. The article promotes that these differences contribute to the district’s overall success in supporting gifted underachievers. First, students in the gifted support program do not receive grades or credit for their involvement in gifted programming. Teachers want to create classroom environments where risk-taking is valued; grades seem to limit intellectual risk-taking for students. Availability of full-time gifted teachers also contributes to the program’s success. Each school in the district employs at least one full-time gifted teacher. These teachers act as resources for classroom teachers and can help general education teachers understand their gifted students better. Students are also well served in this district. Multiple criteria are used to identify gifted students and each student identified as intellectually gifted has one IEP meeting per year in order to insure his or her needs are being met. Finally, both parents and teachers support the model of the program. All of these factors contribute to the success of gifted high achievers and underachievers.
Hoover-Schultz, B. (2005). Gifted underachievement: Oxymoron or educational enigma? Gifted Child Today, 28(2), 46-49.

This article seeks to explore underachievement by focusing on definitions, characteristics, causes, and current interventions for underachievement. The article begins by recognizing the difficulties associated with determining a definition for underachievement, ultimately deciding that their “working definition” for gifted underachievement is Rimm’s idea that there “is a discrepancy between a child’s school performance and some index of the child’s ability. If children are not working to their ability in school, they are underachieving” (p. 47). After determining a definition, Hoover-Schultz moves on to identifying causes of underachievement and separates causes into two groups of factors: environmental (school) factors and personal/family factors. The school and a student’s peer groups have a large impact on underachievement; factors like emphasis on athletics and social status over academics or inflexible school structure can impact student achievement. Personal factors like low self-concepts, lack of goals, or feelings of inferiority can determine underachievement, while poor family relationships and inconsistent standards at home also can lead to gifted underachievement.

Hoover-Schultz then recognizes issues identifying underachievement in students from minority groups. Minority groups are often underrepresented in gifted programming, making it more difficult to identify underachievement with these students. Latino, African American, and female students all have unique barriers that limit their achievement. Hoover-Schultz asserts that more research must be undertaken before underachievement can be accurately examined in minority groups. The author concludes by examining different types of interventions, emphasizing that no one intervention will work with all students. While research regarding interventions that reverse underachievement have been inconclusive, Hoover-Schultz describes counseling and instructional interventions that have been somewhat successful in helping underachievers. Counseling interventions try to address personal and family dynamics that limit underachievement, while instructional interventions focus on creating classroom environments more suitable to the needs of gifted underachievers. With these strategies, students are not in charge of interventions, but are given more control as improvement is shown. Hoover-Schultz concludes by emphasizing the need for further research in the realm of gifted underachievement.
Hunter-Braden, P. (1998). Underachieving gifted students: A mother’s perspective. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, 1998 Spring Newsletter. Retrieved from

This article in written by a preschool teacher and mother of four. Three of her four children are identified as gifted and two of these children, both boys, are considered underachievers. As an introduction, Hunter-Braden gives some background information on her own children and on underachievement in general. For the author, the most telling characteristics for underachievement are largely personal and involve self-perception, goal orientation, peer relations, authority relationships, locus of control, and emotional expression. Hunter-Braden also explains what groups of students are likely to features underachievers; these include disruptive students, those who display problem behaviors, high-energy students, or non-conformists.

After examining underachievement, Hunter-Braden works to describe solutions for underachievers, often using her own children as examples. She recommends trying to overcome “the cycle of blame” often present in schools. Hunter-Braden argues that teachers, administrators, parents, and students should work together, rather than continuing to blame another party. Next, Hunter-Braden also recommends working to improve underachievers’ self-esteem, study skills, and any potential academic weaknesses. Additionally, Hunter-Braden recommends keeping underachieving students with their achieving peers. Underachievers benefit from the content and teaching present in gifted education courses. Hunter-Braden concludes by expressing the need for schools to be more flexible with their provision of services for different students. Schools need to be willing and able to differentiate for students of all achievement levels. Schools need to care about the potential being lost when gifted students underachieve.

Kanevsky, L. & Keighley, T. (2003). To produce or not to produce? Understanding boredom and the honor in underachievement. Roeper Review, 26(1), 20-28.

This study investigates the boredom of gifted high school students who chose to not produce, or underachieve, in the classroom. The authors begin by explaining boredom first as an emotion, and then relate boredom to gifted students. The main cause of boredom among gifted students, Kanevsky and Keighley note, is lack of a challenge, which can lead to underachievement. The authors share previous research about giftedness and boredom before discussing their own research. For their study, Keighley interviewed ten students, three of whom are featured in case studies throughout the article. Students were interviewed multiple times and were asked questions that were designed to expose student perceptions of boredom; for example, students were asked, “When are you bored?” Additionally, students were asked questions regarding times when they were not bored.

Results of the study indicated that there were common themes between students. These themes were also consistent with previous research on boredom. Kanevsky and Keighley consolidated these themes into what they called the 5 C’s: control, choice, challenge, complexity, and caring. The extent to which each C was present in a lesson determined whether students learned or were bored. The 5 C’s are explained using the students’ descriptions. As a conclusion, the authors examine the honor in these students’ underachievement, discovering that these students were not “lazy learners.” These students felt that they had a right and desire to learn, yet their needs were not being met in the classroom. While their schooling experiences were boring, their learning experiences outside the classroom were enriching and invigorating. As a result of their research, Kanevsky and Keighley recommend that educators need to ask students about their boredom, listen and question until their understanding of student boredom is accurate, and then act on what students say. The students featured in this study had a great deal to say, but no one ever asked for their thoughts. Incorporating student ideas and input, in addition to utilizing the 5 C’s, can help reduce boredom and underachievement for gifted students.
Reis, S.M. & McCoach, D.B. (2000). The underachievement of gifted students: What do we know and where do we go? Gifted Child Quarterly, 44(3), 152-170.

This article, quite simply, examines what is known about gifted underachievement and what can be done, or what more could be done, with what is known. Reis and McCoach begin by acknowledging the ambiguity present in defining underachievement. Analyzing three decades worth of research, the authors note that there are presently three main definitions of gifted underachievement, all of which are different. Errors in measurements, heterogeneity of criterion in defining achievement, the limited scope of predictors (like GPA or IQ), and the impact of varying experiences on individuals are all included as factors that contribute to the difficulty associated with defining underachievement. While the authors recognize that determining a definition for underachievement is a hard intellectual, philosophical, and ethical decision (“Who should make the decision as to what is considered achievement and, by extension, what is worth achieving?”), they emphasize that one definition needs to be determined in order to examine the phenomenon of underachievement more effectively.

The authors next examine issues with identifying underachievers and explain common characteristics of gifted underachievers. Reis and McCoach focus on family dynamics, including parenting styles and home environments, and peer influence as the major determinants of underachievement. Additionally, the authors highlight different groups of underachievers by discussing underachievement and culturally diverse or twice-exceptional students. The authors provide many forms of interventions, noting that interventions that focus on student interests or overall classroom environment tend to be more successful. Reis and McCoach conclude by pressing for further research into gifted underachievement. More research needs to be done on why students underachieve and how teachers can help student success. They also push for more clearly defined and well-researched interventions for underachieving students.

Balduf, M. (2009). Underachievement among college students. Journal of Advanced Academics, 20(2), 274-294.

This article examines underachievement qualitatively through a study that focused on interviews with underachievers in their freshman year at Queen Mary College. In her introduction, Balduf asserts that underachievement has both political and personal ramifications. Politically, all children under NCLB are expected to perform at certain levels; underachievement may limit the realization of this legislation. Personally, underachieving students are not reaching their potential, an indication that school is not working for all students. With these viewpoints in mind, Balduf begins to examine underachievement with a focus on students at the college level. At the college level, underachievement is typically the result of students being unprepared for college or students not performing to anticipated standards. For college students, motivation and goal valuation are the two big determinants for underachievement.

Using Neumeister andHébert’s idea that student underachievement needs to be examined from the attitudes that drive underachieving behaviors, Balduf’s study focuses on interviewing students at Queen Mary College who were on academic probation or who had received academic warnings within the first semester of their freshman year. Her study focused on the following question: “To what factors did first-year college students attribute their underachievement, and what interventions or remediation did they feel might reverse that underachievement?” 83 students were interviewed either in person or over the Internet. Three common factors that impacted underachievement emerged as a result of the study. These include lack of preparation for college, issues with time management, and problems with self-discipline and motivation. When interviewing students on potential interventions, Balduf notes that students considered interventions that addressed improving underachieving attitudes and behaviors to be the most helpful. These interventions could help students improve study skills or help foster student self-confidence. Balduf concludes by emphasizing the role secondary schools have both in identifying underachievers and preparing students for college. She also stresses that more research needs to be undertaken in order to truly understand collegiate gifted underachievement.

Carroll, K. L. (2008). Helping artistically gifted and talented students succeed academically. Gifted Child Today, 31(4), 37-43.

This article addresses assisting artistically talented, yet underachieving, students. For artistically gifted students, academic underachievement has been proven to not be the result of lack of ability. Instead, underachievement is often the result of enrollment in fewer college-prep courses, less motivation, lower expectations regarding receiving a college education, and lower parental expectations, to name a few factors. Artistically gifted students additionally have different hobbies from their academically achieving peers and often have different reasons for not attending college; for example, a college education may not be necessary for these students to reach their goals. Additionally, the article examines twice-exceptionality, specifically the relationship between learning disabilities like dyslexia and artistic/spatial gifts. While additional research is needed, there is some data that supports a link between spatial talent and dyslexia.

In the article, Carroll sought to examine teaching and learning strategies that foster academic achievement among students of different intellectual strengths and learning style preferences, including visual, spatial, and kinesthetic, and did so by interviewing graduate students studying art education at a competitive arts college. 29 subjects were selected for the study, all of who are considered highly artistically gifted; several of the subjects also had issues with dyslexia or academic difficulties with writing or testing. Subjects filled out a questionnaire regarding their artistic profiles and answered questions about their learning style preferences and how teachers could have helped them personally as a learner. Results indicated that there are a variety of artistic profiles for these gifted students; students may excel in a multitude of mediums. In terms of learning style preferences, the study found that these artistically gifted students preferred to learn visually, kinesthetically, or through tactile methods. The study found that teachers can help prevent underachievement for the artistically gifted by using handouts and visuals more frequently, providing structure in the classroom, avoiding assumptions regarding students’ giftedness, allowing additional time for assignments or tests, implementing hands-on activities in the classroom, leading students to real-world application of material, and, finally, acting as a caring, nurturing, and approachable support for students.


Ford, D.Y. (1993). An investigation of the paradox of underachievement among gifted black students. Roeper Review, 16(2), 78-84.

This study investigates the underachievement of gifted and non-gifted Black fifth- and sixth-grade students in an urban school district. This study was undertaken due to the lack of information about underachievement among Black students. This study was done in two phases. In the first phase, researchers sought to study the social, psychological, and cultural determinants of underachievement by having students complete Likert-type responses. This phase of the study found that 80% of the subjects could be considered underachievers. The data showed that psychological variables, including stress, fears, and test anxiety, proved to contribute most to Black underachievement. Peer pressures also significantly contribute to underachievement. Phase II of the study involved having students elaborate on their responses from the Likert-type evaluation via interviews with researchers. This phase of the study divided students into five different groups, four of which were composed of underachievers (determined by varying indices like grade point average, teacher feedback of effort, and self-report of effort) and the other composed of achievers. Comparing the groups of underachieving and achieving students, researchers found striking differences between the groups. Loci of control differed between achieving and underachieving students, while underachieving students tended to struggle with test anxiety, an issue their achieving peers do not have.

Ford found that beliefs among underachieving Black students were often paradoxical. While many purported to believe in the American dream and the value of a hard work ethic, these beliefs were often not reflected in grade point averages. Underachieving students put little effort into school, yet believed that hard work was necessary for achievement. Factors like peer pressure or fears of social isolation, contributors to underachievement, seemed to prove more powerful to students than beliefs about work ethic. This study also noted unique concerns that gifted Black students may encounter. Underachieving students mentioned concerns about racism and discrimination acting as barriers to their success. They also shared concerns about white teachers not understanding their culture, something that makes school both boring and irrelevant for black students. Finally, Ford concludes by providing several recommendations found in the students’ comments. These include providing mentors/role models, counseling programs, in-service training for teachers, and gifted education programs that focus on Black culture.

Ford, D.Y. & Thomas, A. (1997). Underachievement among gifted minority students: Problems and promises. Eric Digest, E544, 1-13.

This digest is an accumulation of research regarding underachievement among minority students with a particular emphasis on Black students. The digest begins by addressing the issue of defining underachievement. There is no concise definition of underachievement; the definition of underachievement depends on one’s conception of giftedness, an ambiguous term, and how one measures achievement in general. Since underachievement is difficult to define, it is, in turn, difficult to determine how many gifted students are underachieving. Estimates, however, range from 20% to 50%.

Among minority students, three main factors contribute to underachievement. First, sociopsychologial factors, like self-esteem, academic self-concepts, racial identity, needs for affiliation, and loci of control, contribute to underachievement. Family-related factors also impact underachievement. Students with assertive, involved parents who set high and realistic expectations were more likely to achieve than students without supportive families. Finally, school-related factors can contribute to underachievement; examples include negative teacher-student relationships, too little time to grasp material, less supportive classroom environments, and disinterest in school. The digest concludes by providing ways to reverse underachievement. For optimal effect, schools need to tailor interventions to meet students’ individual needs. These interventions must address sociopsychological, family-, and school-related factors that contribute to underachievement among minority students. Suggested ways to reverse underachievement include finding ways to improve self-perception, academic and social self-concepts, and racial identities. Schools should involve family members in the educational process and address school-related factors like teacher-student relationships and classroom environments.
Gohm, C.L., Humphreys, L.G., & Yao, G. (1998). Underachievement among spatially gifted students. American Educational Research Association, 35(3), 515-531.

Gohm, Humphreys, and Yao’s study utilized data from the Project Talent Data Bank, a data bank featuring information from a sample of 400,000 high school students initially assessed in 1960. The study compared high school students that were spatially and mathematically gifted. Students selected were in the top 1% of their gender for spatial and mathematical abilities. These students were compared in terms of cognitive ability, interests, motivation, performance and aspirations, parental/family situations, and educational and occupational outcomes. As a result of the study, the authors found that while spatially gifted students demonstrated high abilities, their talents were often not reflected academically. The spatially gifted students the authors studied did not fully utilize their capabilities in high school or college, leading them to lower paying jobs than their mathematically gifted peers. The study found that spatially gifted students consistently underachieved. The authors conclude by noting that causes for underachievement among spatially gifted students need to be determined. Additional support also needs to be given to spatially gifted students in order to prevent underachievement.
Reis, S.M. & McCoach, D.B. (2002). Underachievement in gifted and talented students with special needs. Exceptionality, 10(2), 113-125.

The article begins by defining underachievement, determining causes of underachievement, and providing a case study for an underachieving student. The article then shifts its focus to underachievers with special needs or exceptionalities. According to Reis and McCoach, the current literature on underachievement addresses groupings of special populations of twice-exceptional gifted students and underachievers as “separate and unrelated,” something the authors consider inappropriate and inaccurate. They note that research has indicated that many twice-exceptional students struggle with underachievement; additionally, some twice-exceptional students underachieve as a result of emotional problems or disabilities. Reis and McCoach emphasize that interventions for underachievers with disabilities need to address individual students’ special needs or else these could do more harm than good. The article continues by focusing on individual groups of gifted students with special needs; these groups include gifted students with hearing disabilities, cerebral palsy, learning disorders, ADHD, behavioral problems, psychological disorders, and overexcitabilities.

The article details interventions for underachievers with and without special needs. Research into interventions for underachievers has been inconsistent and inconclusive thus far and interventions fall into two general categories, counseling and instructional interventions. Reis and McCoach include a list of researched interventions, yet emphasize that these need to be considered in view of the populations included in studies. Some interventions may not be appropriate for students with special needs. For twice-exceptional students, interventions may need to involve a wider range of strategies that aim to improve self-regulatory skills and to develop improved self-concepts. Reis and McCoach conclude by recommending further study on underachievement with twice-exceptional students. Interventions need to be developed to meet the needs of students with special needs.

Schober, B., Riemann, R., & Wagner, P. (2004). Is research on gender-specific underachievement in gifted girls an obsolete topic? New findings on an often discussed issue. High Ability Studies, 15(1), 43-62.

This article was written because the authors noted a decrease in gender-specific underachievement among gifted girls. Research was tackled in order to discover if this trend will continue or if certain types of underachievement still exist. The researchers aimed to determine if differences between genders had leveled out. Schober, Riemann, and Wagner undertook a study comparing achievement and other factors among gifted tenth grade boys and girls in two separate German schools, a regular secondary school and an accelerated/advanced Gymnasium school. Gender differences were found at both schools. Girls demonstrated lower self-concepts in math and also demonstrated higher levels of helplessness than their male peers. Male students achieved at higher levels and did so by studying less than their female counterparts. Girls also had lower career expectations and sought careers outside of math and science fields. While the study demonstrates that the situation German girls face in schools is largely positive, findings also indicate that gender-specific underachievement in gifted girls is not an obsolete topic. Much more focus needs to be given to the “complex processes induced by the variable ‘gender.’” Research needs to be done on gender roles and expectations and their affect on female achievement.
Wolfle, J.A. (1991). Underachieving gifted males: Are we missing the boat? Roeper Review, 13(4), 181-183.

In this article, Wolfle focuses on male underachievers that do well, but not at the academic or social level of which they are capable. These underachievers do good enough work, yet are capable of superior work. These students do enough to get by, a behavior that Wolfle and others begins early in school. Wolfle notes that underachieving boys can start school as quiet, non-disruptive kindergartens. In early elementary school, these gifted students develop coping strategies to help them stay interested in school; students may read while the class covers material they already know. Wolfle concludes that coping strategies can lead to social isolation, leaving gifted students, particularly boys, behind their peers socially. This can prove problematic when these students reach adolescence and high school and have difficulty interacting with peers. Peer groups are exceedingly helpful with the adjustment to the vast changes that take place during adolescence. Wolfle notes a gifted child’s academic abilities may mask their delay in terms of social development.

Wolfle examines the reasons why there are more underachieving boys than girls in schools, noting that boys are less likely to know the coping strategies necessary to manage the stresses of their lives. Wolfle asserts that the development of social skills and coping strategies is essential for preventing and reducing underachievement in gifted boys. Gifted underachievers may have positive feelings about their academic experience, yet feel negatively towards social aspects of schooling. Increased peer support and interaction, in addition to collaborative learning, can help prevent underachievement. Activities involving cooperative learning allow potential underachievers to see how peers interact. Wolfle concludes by noting that underachievement can be prevented for gifted boys if interventions strive to enhance and develop both cognitive and social skills. While boys may be cognitively gifted, their social skills often need additional care and development.


Emerick, L.J. (1992). Academic underachievement among the gifted: Students’ perceptions of factors that reverse the pattern. Gifted Child Quarterly, 36(3), 140-146.

Gifted underachievement has been studied for over 35 years, yet success in developing strategies to reverse underachievement has been limited. Emerick supports that in order to understand the reversal of underachievement, researchers must be aware of the meaning individuals attach to “achievement-oriented behaviors.” This study aimed to examine what personal factors former underachieving students identified as contributing to the reversal of their underachievement. This study examines the reversal of underachievement for 10 gifted students aged 14 to 20. Methods of data collection included questionnaires, completed by students and parents, and multiple interviews with individual subjects.

Results indicated that six factors were common in the reversal of underachievement for these students; these are labeled as out-of-school interests/activities, parents, the class, goals associated with grades, the teacher, and self. Some of these factors are more straightforward than others. For example, the factor of goals associated with grades relates to the fact that underachieving students are often not motivated by grades. Students that were successful in reversing underachievement did so by identifying alternate personal goals. With the factor labeled self, students found that a shift in self-concept was necessary for the reversal of underachievement. This involves improving self-esteem, overcoming perfectionism, and gaining the ability to self-reflect. While the process of reversing underachievement can be lengthy and contain several “steps backward,” these factors have proven to be helpful for gifted underachievers. The reversal of underachievement requires patience and hard work, yet the subjects featured in this study demonstrate that reversing underachievement is possible.
Morisano, D. & Shore, B.M. (2010). Underachievement and goal setting: Can personal goal setting tap the potential of the gifted underachiever? Roeper Review, 32, 249-258.

In their article, Morisano and Shore begin by discussing gifted underachievement and the recent increased interest in treating underachievement. The main focus of the article, however, examines goal setting as a potential intervention for gifted underachievers. Although goal setting is generally a task for young adults, the authors believe that gifted children could also benefit from this sort of focus at an earlier age. Morisano and Shore examine the many benefits of goal setting, providing examples from research that demonstrated gains in performance, increases in the ability to self-regulate, physical and mental health benefits, and cognitive benefits. The authors note that the benefits of goal setting may be similar to those observed in studies of expressive writing; writing goals and creating plans seems to similarly “minimize intrusive and avoidant thinking.” The authors elaborate on goal setting by providing conditions and components necessary for success. These involve goal structure, implementation, motivation, personalization, and neurological functioning, which involves the physical functioning of parts of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex.

When discussing goal setting and gifted underachievers, Morisano and Shore note that no empirical research has been undertaken. There is little empirical research indicating that goal setting benefits the gifted, with the exception of a study involving gifted adults. Although research is limited in this area, Morisano and Shore assert that goal setting could be an appropriate and beneficial intervention. Goal setting could aid in teaching self-regulation and improving self-efficacy. They think goal setting could specifically help students address multipotentiality and anxiety. Teaching students how to set reasonable and specific personal goals, while also maintaining high expectations, can benefit students cognitively while also potentially reversing underachievement. Further research is needed to explore the benefit of goal setting, its impact on the brain, and its impact on gifted children, particularly underachievers.

Ross, K.L. (1998). Treating underachievement in gifted students: Identifying and removing obstacles to higher achievement. California School Psychologist, 3, 55-59.

This article examines what within a school environment discourages and encourages achievement. Ross notes that in order for students to attain higher levels of achievement, the sources of underachievement need to be removed. Ross lists the following circumstances as ones that greatly impact achievement: incorrect gender or cultural expectations, homogeneous versus heterogeneous grouping, incompatible learning and teaching styles, and exposure to inappropriate curriculum and/or inappropriate delivery of curriculum. Ross discusses each circumstance and the influence it has on underachievement among gifted students, while also highlighting interventions to remedy each circumstance. Ross concludes by explaining what to do after interventions begin to start working. After interventions initially start, Ross recommends addressing a student’s affective domain through counseling. She provides a 4-step process for school counselors to utilize for teaching students stress management. The combination of interventions and counseling, Ross asserts, should lead students toward higher achievement.


Fielder, E.D. (2007). Helping kids get organized: Some suggestions for parents. Retrieved from

Organization can be a big issue for underachieving gifted students. Many of these students need assistance with organizational skills since these can help overall school success. Fielder’s article highlights ways parents can help their gifted students get organized. Her suggestions include color-coding for different categories of things, timers, alarm watches, appointment books/agendas/calendars, technology like PDA’s or computers, mind-mapping, role models/mentors, and creative problem solving. Throughout the article Fielder mentions ways to keep these organization strategies child-focused. Children should be highly involved in the process of setting up organizational strategies and should be the decision makers as to which strategy to use. Field concludes by noting that kids have their own agendas; they know what they want to learn and how/when/if to do it. It’s helpful for parents to keep this in mind because parents may have less influence over their student’s organization than they wish. The role of parent appears to be that of a guide or facilitator. They lead their child to a particular organizational strategy and let the student adjust the strategy to meet their preferences
Siegle, D. Parenting strategies to motivate underachieving gifted students. Retrieved from

This article focuses on productive ways to potentially motivate underachieving gifted students. Siegle notes that students are more motivated when a task has meaning to them, when they possess the skills to complete a task, and when people around them support their efforts. Yet, these points may not work with underachievers, who may not find school meaningful. Students may have already learned the content and are bored or their areas of interest may not match those of the school. Students may also be disinterested in school topics because early school experiences did not support their natural curiosities. Siegle then provides ways parents can help make school meaningful for their children. Parents can model their own curiosity of the world around them or can support their children’s curiosities by providing opportunities outside of school to develop their areas of interests.

Siegle then addresses the fact that motivated students believe they have the skills necessary to do well in school. Motivated students also understand that these skills are not innate, but rather the result of hard work. Students like underachievers who consider skills to be innate are less likely to take on potentially challenging tasks. Parents can help motivate underachievers by discussing giftedness with their children. Parents can discuss how children have an influence on their own growth and accomplishments. Parents can also monitor a child’s progress by saving schoolwork or documenting performances. When students reflect on past work, they can realize how far they have progressed. Finally, Siegle notes that underachieving students are more motivated when their efforts are supported by those around them. This starts with parents. Parents can give students opportunities to interact with role models, allowing for student expectations to rise as a result of interactions with role models and parents. Also, parents can teach students how to change an environment to suit their needs or how to adjust to unfavorable environments. Guidance in these matters can help students receive the support they need.

Delisle, J. (1994). Dealing with the stereotype of underachievement. Prufrock Press. Retrieved from

This article differs greatly from typical sources regarding student underachievement. Delisle argues that underachievement is an “overused,” “misapplied,” and offensive term in the field of gifted education. He argues that attempts at remediating underachieving students often aim to take away valuable aspects of students’ personalities – their nonconformity and refusal to “accept mediocrity in their education.” Delisle is against the label of underachiever because it does not value student opinions, it leaves the responsibility of education up to the student (rather than allowing education to be a shared partnership between students, teachers, and parents), and it is a long-lasting, hard to revoke identifier for students.

Delisle then relates new, student-centered ways to approach underachievement. First, teachers should ask students what is bringing about their disinterest or distrust in school. There could be something going on within the child that is causing negative reactions towards schooling. Next, Delisle promotes identifying students passions. These passions should be nurtured by schools, rather than be used as something to be taken away with punishments. Finally, Delisle recommends examining the negative effect the label of “underachiever” has on students. This label is a heavy burden for students since it assigns blame to the victim – the student.

Grobman, J. (2006). Underachievement in exceptionally gifted adolescents and young adults: A psychiatrist’s view. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education,17(4), 199-210.

Grobman’s article is a clinical report based on his experiences counseling exceptionally gifted students that underachieved and displayed self-destructive behaviors. The study centers on fifteen students, ages 14 to 26, that were exceptionally gifted, yet underachieving and exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, and isolation. These students came from middle-class homes with supportive families and were generally accepted or admired by peers; these students thus did not fit the typical mold for gifted underachievement. These students, however, shared many traits that demonstrated the nature of their giftedness. These include the powerful drive to explore, master, and express themselves; special sensitivities; an early strongly developed sense of self; early, idiosyncratic aesthetic sensibilities; early concerns with ethics, fairness, and morality; oppositionalism; perfectionism; and poor frustration tolerance and self-discipline. Grobman then explains how gifted traits developed and evolved while also examining the causes of both underachievement and self-destructive behaviors. The students treated by Grobman lacked the frustration tolerance to use their full potential. While these students were intellectually gifted, they were not emotionally precocious, which led them to resort to withdrawal to avoid emotional pain. Students also resorted to self-destructive tendencies as a way to avoid emotional pain or punish themselves or alleviate guilt for their exceptional giftedness. Grobman concludes by describing the treatment utilized with these students. Grobman’s multi-step approach leads students on a road towards acceptance of their giftedness, while also addressing their self-destructive behaviors and underachievement. With psychotherapy, students can address confusing feelings. Instead of avoiding these feelings, students can use them to enhance intellectual and creative discovery.
Mahoney, A.S. (1999). Giftedness and academic underachievement: What lies beneath. Advanced Development Journal, 8. Retrieved from

This article features a transcript from a clinical counseling session with an exceptionally gifted underachiever. The client, a 19-year-old male with academic capabilities in the 99.9th percentile, started therapy with Mahoney as a way to understand his academic decline and the impact it has had on him emotionally and academically. Throughout the session, Mahoney attempts to lead the client to recognize and confront his “defenses,” his reasons for underachieving. Mahoney then examines the relationship between the client’s emotional domain and academic performance. These two concepts are mismatched, in that there were expectations for the client academically but not emotionally; as a result, the client, while academically brilliant, is not completely emotionally developed. Mahoney believes the lack of focus on emotional development to be a factor in this client’s underachievement. Concluding, Mahoney notes of the necessity for therapists to examine client defenses in order to understand the emotional roots or challenges that underlie gifted underachievement.
Harris III, J.J. & Ford, D.Y. (1995). Underachievement among gifted African American students: Implications for school counselors. School Counselor, 42(3), 196-203.

With this article, Harris and Ford aim to investigate the issues that can negatively affect gifted students, specifically gifted African American students, and provide recommendations for counselors working with underachieving students. While gifted students as a whole share many of the same concerns (for example, peer pressure or perfectionism), there are concerns that can prove to be barriers to achievement for African American gifted students. Studies have shown that African American students are more influenced by “person-environment transactions and sociocultural influences” than by academic factors, meaning students can be more susceptible to peer pressures. Limits to achievement for these students include fear of “acting white,” experiences of discrimination, ambivalent feelings, and teacher/counselor relationships. Harris and Ford also examine issues related to racial identity and feature Cross’ theory, the Negro-to-Black Conversion. Cross’ theory is a way to explain the “essence” of racial identity for black students.

Harris and Ford conclude by providing recommendations for school counselors. Counselors need to be aware of the concerns specific to certain groups of gifted students, like females or African Americans. For these students, counseling needs to go beyond occupational or career concerns; counselors need to know the potential psychological or social issues for groups of students. The authors also mention that African American students are less likely to seek out counseling and are more likely to continue counseling if their counselor is of the same race. This fact is something often not considered by schools. Additional recommendations include substantive multi-cultural or cross-cultural training, continuing educations courses for counselors, increased information gathered by counselors, and increased contact between counselors at all levels of schooling.

Neihart, M. (2006). Dimensions of underachievement, difficult contexts, and perceptions of self. Roeper Review, 28(4), 196-202.

The article analyzes achievement and affiliation conflicts that arise for gifted students when they associate attitudes or behaviors of achievement with a betrayal of the social, gender, ethnic, or racial culture. Research has shown that students begin struggling with these conflicting attitudes and behaviors during early adolescence and that these struggles contribute to underachievement and decreased motivation. Keeping conflicted students motivated does not involve removing or avoiding conflicts between achievement and culture. Teachers should rather help students develop the attitudes and skills needed to manage these conflicts. Neihart examines gifted underachievement among certain student populations, including women and minorities, and focuses on effective interventions for these groups.

Many of the interventions Neihart shares involve discussing class, race, gender, and ethnicity with students. Discussions allow students to get a framework for discovering the relationship between these factors and achievement. She also recommends introducing students to racism, classism, and sexism, noting that students that are not introduced to these subjects often internalize negative experiences. Shifting the focus of discussion from innate ability to the importance of hard work may also help with underachievement. Finally, Neihart recommends direct instruction in coping strategies. The strategies Neihart recommends can be utilized in the classroom or in counseling.


Grobman, J. (2009). Gifted underachievement – Jerald Grobman, M.D. Retrieved from

This video is an excerpt from a presentation by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) titled “Understanding and Treating Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Underachievement in Gifted Children, Adolescents and Young Adults” that was presented by Jerald Grobman, M.D. In this presentation, Grobman notes that underachievement is not considered a psychological disorder, yet underachieving students often exhibit coexisting symptoms of disorders like depression, anxiety, or bi-polar disorder. Although Grobman notes that underachievement is common among students of all abilities, the presentation focuses on gifted underachievement by examining the cognitive, social, and emotional issues that lead to underachievement.

Melrose, R. (2009). …Help for your underachieving child. Retrieved from

The video is an interview with Dr. Regalena Melrose, who wrote a book that discusses why students underachieve, and what parents and educators can do about underachievement. Melrose explains that educators look to environmental factors either at school or home, or innate factors, factors within the child such as underlying disorders or disabilities, to begin determining the causes of underachievement. If educators believe underachievement to be the result of innate factors, there can be some issues with this determination. Teachers often want students to fit into boxes of underachievers, which can lead to misdiagnosing or inappropriately labeling students. Melrose asserts that underachieving students don’t often fit into neat boxes. She notes, though, that underachievers share a common trait: they have difficulty self-regulating their own learning, an essential skill for successful learning. She points out that students need to be able to modulate their arousal levels to a level that is optimal for learning. Teachers can help by providing rich resources that help students self-regulate. Teachers additionally need to keep students’ feelings of safety/security, competency, and belonging in mind. Classrooms need to be environments where all students belong and feel safe, secure, comfortable, and competent.