Failure of High-Ability High Schools to Deliver Academic Benefits Commensurate With Their Students' Ability Levels
AbstractEmphasizing a psychological perspective of social comparison processes, the author (Marsh, 1987; Marsh & Parker, 1984) found school-average ability to be negatively associated with academic self-concepts. Emphasizing a sociological perspective of school context effects, Alwin and Otto (1977) reported school-average ability to be negatively associated with educational and occupational aspirations. The present investigation brings together these two related areas of research, extends the diversity of outcomes considered, and expands the theoretical frameworks considered. In a longitudinal analysis of the ' 'High School and Beyond" data, the effect of school-average ability on a comprehensive set of academic outcomes (e.g., standardized test scores, self-concept, coursework selection, academic effort, school grades, educational and occupational aspirations, and college attendance) was measured in the sophomore and senior years of high school, and two years after high school graduation. The influence of school-average ability was not positive for any of the outcomes at any point in time and was modestly negative for some. The academic outcomes associated with attending higher-ability schools were not commensurate with the ability levels of students attending these schools, and no academic advantages of such schools were observed for any outcomes. The negative effects of school-average ability were primarily mediated by academic self-concept and educational aspirations.