Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Academic self-concept and school performance are closely related

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In school, as in life, a positive self-image can be helpful. Believing in one's abilities often leads to achieving positive results. This is common opinion, but has now been confirmed by a research study that involved 1,674 middle school students from different regions of Northern Italy. The study, using a statistical model, described the link between the perception of one's ability in Italian and mathematics and school performance measured by Invalsi tests, and the changes that occur among students from the first year of middle school to the third.

The project (entitled Scuolinsieme) lasted three years and was conducted by Fondazione della Scuola, Compagnia di San Paolo (Torino). The University of Trento participated with the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science. The results were published in Contemporary Educational Psychology and were also presented last Saturday at Educa.

The analysis of the data focused on mathematics and Italian and showed how, in both disciplines, the opinion that students have of themselves (academic self-concept) declines on average during the three-year period of middle school. The study also noted that this trend tends to be different from person to person. Self-concept in fact decreases more significantly in certain students, while some do not change and others instead increase their perception of their abilities in a given subject. Finally, the study found that students who manage to counter this decline test better in Invalsi tests at the end of the third year.

Based on the study's conclusions, it is important that schools monitor the students' self-perception in different disciplines. This will make it possible to adopt measures (in terms of education and psychology) to help students maintain a good self-perception which can help them be successful at school.

Franco Fraccaroli, professor of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science of the University of Trento, observes: "The academic success of students is often summed up by grades or school performance but, in recent years, research in educational psychology has shown that other types of "psychological resources" can also be equally important for students' success. One of these resources is "academic self-concept", that is, the way in which students see themselves in relation to different disciplines: "I am good in Italian"; "I am passionate about literature"; "I find it easy to understand mathematics".

The project has been completed, but the studies have continued. Enrico Perinelli, a researcher at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science of the University of Trento, says: "Given the promising results we have found, in 2020 and 2021 we conducted another project ("Sentirsi Forti") in collaboration with the Office for the evaluation of school policies of the Autonomous Province of Trento (Francesco Pisanu) and with funding from Fondazione Caritro (Ricerca per la ripartenza). In this project students, teachers and school executives of seven middle schools in Trentino participated in seminars, workshops and activities and data collection exercises focused on the importance of psychological resources.

The project conducted in Trentino focused on academic self-concept, paying particular attention to how this resource can be managed as part of teachers' activities: to strengthen the self-representation of students or avoid its decrease, and to help students improve their self-confidence, even in the face of difficulties. The fact that the research work was conducted during and after the pandemic called for extra care.


About the article

The results of the research work were published in Contemporary Educational Psychology in an article entitled "Academic self-concept change in junior high school students and relationships with academic achievement". The authors are: Enrico Perinelli and Franco Fraccaroli (University of Trento), Francesco Pisanu (Autonomous Province of Trento), Daniele Checchi (University of Milan) and Laura Francesca Scalas (University of Cagliari).

The article is available at