GUEST OPINION: Challenges of underachievers

An underlying factor that affects the validity of school test scores is the impact of the scores of underachieving students.

Underachieving students present an entirely different problem for teachers and parents, presenting performance scores that do not often reflect a teacher's ability to teach or a parent's ability to parent. In short, the underachiever's behavior is so deeply ingrained and difficult to change that unless corrected, his learning style can become a life-long debilitating disorder.

Studies have defined four underachieving types that teachers and parents deal with on an everyday basis. There is the distant underachiever, who is afflicted with abandonment issues caused by adoption, multiple moves, death of a loved one, traumatic illnesses, divorce, etc. Their fear of abandonment is punctuated by a fear of failure, which undermines achievement.

The second type is the passive underachiever. Such students are often so well liked that their teachers and parents will go to great extremes to rescue them. The end result is that these students are perpetually stuck in a fear of losing the support of teachers and caregivers — so they underachieve in order to receive the nurturing energy of concern and coaching.

The third type, the independent underachiever, is someone who distances himself from help by insisting that he can achieve on his own. However, the independent underachiever starts and stops and makes up excuses for his failures. Unfortunately, in his need to be independent, he fails to develop the necessary skills or tools to be independent, which is why he constantly underachieves.

Lastly, there is the defiant underachiever, who avoids an extreme fear of failure by using defiance to blame others for his underachievement. This group often resorts to truancy as well as extreme behavior problems.

One simple but effective strategy for parents and teachers to help underachieving students deal with failure is to define the underachiever's multiple intelligences.

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