Project ATLAS: Empowering Academically Underachieving High Potential Students

Date of Completion

January 2011


Education, Gifted|Education, Middle School|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Secondary




The underachievement of high potential students is a complex phenomenon. Not only do consequences of underachievement have societal effects, but underachievement may also hamper the individual's life pursuit of self-actualization. Although many important studies have been conducted to classify and understand gifted underachievement, few investigators have attempted to design interventions that reverse the pattern of underachievement. In this study, students learned how to analyze standards and curriculum goals to propose meaningful alternative assignments that have value for the student and fulfill the educator's purpose. Teachers and principal identified 4 eighth grade students, 2 males and 2 female, to participate in this study because they believed these students were gifted underachievers. This study employed a triangulation mixed methods design that combined a multiple baseline single-subject design with a basic interpretive qualitative design. The results of this intervention were mixed. One student left the study before the intervention began. While the first student who participated in the intervention did not complete the entire intervention, the extra attention from a caring adult encouraged him to put effort into his literature class, but when the intervention was removed, both his grades and effort levels dropped. No observable effects were noted for the second student. The third student's future plans changed because of the intervention. During the intervention, she planned and completed an alternative assignment that allowed her to teach non-fiction reading strategies to sixth graders. In addition, her class engagement and attitude improved as result of her participation in this study. There were several themes that emerged throughout this study. The participants in this study demonstrated the Hawthorne Effect. When they decided to participate in the study, their grades increased immediately. While this intervention was effective with one student, it was not effective with all of them, illustrating that interventions should be matched to specific students. Each of the 3 students had some degree of familial turmoil and needed to connect with someone. Having caring individuals in their lives helped motivate these students to put more effort into their schoolwork. Future studies should examine these relationships further. ^