Gender and achievement level differences in attributions for success and failure situations across subject areas

Steven Merriam Lee, Fordham University


This study investigated the gender and achievement level differences across subject areas in achievement-related attributions of pre-adolescent children. Two hundred sixty-nine fourth-grade students from 14 classrooms in four schools and three districts responded to the School Achievement Responsibility Survey. The SARS is an attributional instrument based on Weiner's theoretical formulations of achievement attributions in the classroom. Children responded to hypothetical success and failure situations in both math and language according to the Weiner attributional schema of ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck. Achievement test data in math and language were used to assign high, middle, and low achieving status relativistically within each classroom. The study attempted to clarify the role of gender effects found in the literature, suggesting girls' learned helplessness or nonmastery-oriented attributional patterns in math by the inclusion of the achievement level variable. Although there was substantial support for the significance of achievement level across all subject areas in both outcome situations, gender effects were found only in attributions to successful outcomes in math. No gender effects were in failure outcomes of either subject area of either outcome. Thus, there was only partial support for the learned helpless model of attributional profiles based on gender. A success model of achievement-related attributions suggested that both relatively highly achieving fourth-grade students in math and language tended to make higher stability and ability attributions to successful outcomes than relatively low achieving students. Conversely, relatively low achieving students tended to make stronger instability attributions to successful outcomes in math and language. Effort, although an unstable attribution, was not discriminant between relatively high and low achievers. Predictions for the failure model gained partial support. A hierarchical relationship between math and language was not supported. Students of relatively high achievement levels in language differed in their attributions from relatively low achieving students in much the same way as math. Relatively low achieving students presented nonmastery attributions in both subject areas similar to the learned helplessness model. The notion of achievement-related behaviors being related to relativistic standing within a classroom gained support.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Lee, Steven Merriam, "Gender and achievement level differences in attributions for success and failure situations across subject areas" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9923433.