Underachievement describes a discrepancy between a student’s performance and his/her actual ability, with no underlying learning disability to account for the discrepancy. Gifted underachievers typically earn high scores on ability measurements, but their classroom achievement falls far short of expectations. These students may be overlooked for gifted services because they have poor grades. 

To help prevent underachievement, it is important that school staff recognize gifted learners early and provide appropriate services. It is also important to recognize underachievement when it does occur, and take steps to help gifted learners achieve their full potential. There are many complex reasons why students become underachievers, and an individual approach is necessary to identify and overcome those patterns of underachievement. Parents, classroom teachers, school data teams, and the District GATES Coordinator will review information with this in mind, and include underachievement as a reason for SIT referral.

Characteristics of Underachievement 
  • Disorganized
  • School work is often missing or incomplete
  • Appears disinterested in school or unmotivated
  • Behavioral Problems 
  • Makes excuses or blames others for his/her problems
  • Negative Peer Pressure
  • Too much socializing or by contrast, student is a loner
  • Displays emotional frustration and exhibits low self-esteem
  • Fear of Failure
  • Perfectionism
  • Difficulty concentrating on task at hand
  • Parents do not see education as a priority or by contrast, place too much pressure on student
  • Another exceptionality or disability has been identified and s/he is lacking skills in at least one subject area
  • May come from a lower socioeconomic background
  • Lack of respect for teachers and education
  • May choose to underachieve rather than try and fail
  • Does not respond well to external motivators (grades or rewards)

“A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.” 

-John Stuart Mill 
Counseling Suggestions
  • Establish Priorities
  • Have the student help set goals and initiate follow through
  • Encourage positive changes by focusing on strengths or remediating weaknesses, one at a time.
  • Compare the child with his/her own progress & capabilities, not others
  • Use counseling interventions where appropriate to become familiar with the child's background and home life
  • Use Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory to assess students' learning styles and personality types
  • Conduct individual or small-group sessions to build confidence and give the student opportunity to communicate any fears or disillusionment
  • Provide resources and/or experiences for the student in an area of potential career
  • Help the focus be on process over product 
  • Give support and suggestions to parents for communicating with school personnel, joining a parent support group, setting up a study environment at home, and encouraging the child's interests 

“It must be as socially acceptable to support genius that is intellectual as it is to support genius that is athletic.” 

 - Michael Clay Thompson
Motivational Suggestions for Teachers & Parents
  • Encourage more reading and less electronics
  • Hold the student accountable for actions, behaviors, materials and work: Say what you mean and follow through
  • Help them identify their areas of strength
  • Use various forms of assessment
  • Collaborate with other professionals on strategies you could use
  • Make sure your lessons give students opportunities to use higher level thinking
  • Provide hands-on experiences
  • Keep communication open between home and school
  • Be intentional about teaching study skills
  • Support out of school interests
  • Give student choices and/or creative activities
  • Incorporate the use of technology into independent research, projects and instruction
  • Provide attention and positive feedback; praise efforts
  • Help the student learn time management

“Excellence in education is when we do everything that we can to make sure they become everything that they can”

- Carol Tomlinson