Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Big Fish Down Under: Examining Moderators of the 'Big-Fish-Little-Pond' Effect for Australia's High Achievers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Big Fish Down Under: Examining Moderators of the 'Big-Fish-Little-Pond' Effect for Australia's High Achievers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Worldwide, educational policy statements (for example, Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008) emphasise the importance of developing and maintaining a positive academic self-concept but big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE) research has demonstrated that when high- ability students are segregated on the basis of their ability their academic self- concepts suffer. Consequently, researchers (for example, Marsh, Chessor, Craven & Roche, 1995) have called for the identification of individual differences among students that moderate the BFLPE, as this would aid in developing policies that could maximise the benefits of attending academically selective schools. BFLPE moderators are thus the focus of the present investigation.

Seaton, Marsh and Craven (2010) examined the moderating effect of 16 constructs on the BFLPE for mathematics self-concepts. Although results indicated that the BFLPE was more pronounced for students who used surface learning as a method of self-regulation, who were more anxious and who preferred to work cooperatively, the BFLPE was reasonably consistent across the remaining constructs. As this study examined differences across 41 countries, the question remains as to whether the findings are relevant for Australia. The current investigation hence examined moderators of the BFLPE as they applied to Australian students only. In addition, this study also extended the Seaton, Marsh and Craven (20l0) study in other important ways. Firstly, the current study was not limited to mathematics self-concepts but also examined BFLPE moderation for mathematics, verbal and science self-concepts using three databases, making this a quasi-longitudinal study. Secondly, the current study compared BFLPE moderation across Australian states and territories. As Australian states and territories differ in their provision of education for high-ability students, any differences found between states could offer insights for BFLPE theory and inform future policy for high-ability education.

BFLPE and academic self-concept

The BFLPE posits that students who are educated in high-ability classes and schools will have lower academic self-concepts (that is, knowledge and perceptions regarding academic ability--Bong & Skaalvik, 2003) than their equally able counterparts in average- and low-ability environments. The BFLPE model predicts that, whereas individual ability is positively related to academic self-concept, class-and school-average ability are negatively related to academic self-concept. The BFLPE is characterised by this latter negative association.

In Australian BFLPE research, Marsh and colleagues (1995, Study 2) found that students in gifted and talented classes showed declines in the reading, mathematics and school components of academic self-concept over time compared to matched students from mixed-ability classes. There were no significant differences between the two groups in non-academic self-concepts. Using the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) 2000 database, Marsh (2004) found that attending a high-ability school had a negative effect on academic self-concept for Australian high-school students and that this effect was consistent across all Australian states and territories.

Research has demonstrated that a positive self-concept is a significant factor in many different spheres (for example, Marsh & Perry, 2005), is considered to be an important objective of education (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008), and is an important factor in producing optimal educational outcomes (Guay, Larose & Boivin, 2004; Marsh & Yeung, 1997b). Furthermore, academic self-concept and achievement appear to be reciprocally related: a higher academic self-concept is associated with higher academic achievement, and higher achievement is associated with higher academic self- concept (Marsh & Yeung, 1997a; Valentine & Dubois, 2005). …

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