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Academic resilience
At-risk learners
Teacher support
Socio-emotional strengths
Self-determination theory
Issue Date: 
Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education, Singapore
Caleon, I. S., Nie, Y., Tan, J., Tan, C. S., King, R. B., Kalthom Ahmad, Lim, M. L., & Nur Qamarina Ilham. (2020). Turning achievement around: Predictors of academic resilience of academically at-risk students in Singapore. National Institute of Education (Singapore), Office of Education Research.
This three-wave longitudinal study underscores the importance of identifying elements in school settings that can help academically at-risk students--those who are likely to follow a trajectory of low achievement or academic failure-- to develop academic resilience. The study utilised both quantitative (i.e., survey questionnaires and standardised achievement tests) and qualitative (i.e., open-ended questions and semi-structured interviews) approaches, and focused on two subject domains--English Language (EL) and Mathematics (Maths). The participants of the study were 1305 students from 22 schools in Singapore. These students were considered as potentially at-risk academically as their aggregate scores in the Primary School Leaving Examination were lower than the cohort’s mean score. From this pool of students, students facing different levels of academic risk (i.e., low, moderate and high) in EL or Maths were identified on the basis of their school grades and scores in standardised achievement tests at the end Secondary One (S1). Low language or numeracy proficiency on entry to secondary school, which is a critical transition phase in students’ life, was considered as a significant risk factor that can directly predispose students towards continued poor academic performance in later years.

The profiles of the students in the three risk groups were compared in relation to their background characteristics and the focal variables of this study: socio-emotional strengths (i.e., emotional awareness, empathy, goal setting, social competence, and emotional regulation), academic motivation (i.e., amotivation, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation), perceived relatedness with teachers (i.e., student-to-teacher communication, teacher trust and teacher alienation), and perceived teacher autonomy and competence support. The results of the study suggest that, compared to students facing low academic risk, students facing high academic risk tended to report lower emotional awareness, goal setting and perceived teacher support; and higher amotivation, teacher alienation, and student-to-teacher communication. These variables can be considered as potential foci of interventions that can be implemented before or at the beginning of secondary school in order to preclude students from facing high levels of academic risk or to mitigate the effects of academic risk factors.

This study applied a dual approach in defining academic resilience. Using a trait-based approach, subjective academic resilience was defined as the students’ capacity to effectively handle challenges, adversities, pressures and setbacks in school setting; it was measured using students’ self-ratings on items acting as indicators of trait-based or dispositional form of academic resilience. Using a process- based approach, objective academic resilience was defined as the achievement of positive academic outcomes despite the presence of challenging situations or risk factors (i.e., low achievement on entry to S1). In this study, a positive academic outcome is assessed in Secondary Three (S3): It corresponds to at least a passing grade in EL (or Maths) and/or a score in standardized achievement tests in Reading (or Maths) above the 23rd percentile of the norming population.

Focusing on objective academic resilience, high-risk students who achieved positive academic outcomes in S3 were considered as resilient, and those who remained at a high-risk status were considered as less resilient. Compared to the less resilient students, the resilient students tended to report a greater improvement in goal setting, emotional awareness, and student-to-teacher communication and had a more stable perceived teacher trust over three years. The resilient students tended to have lower amotivation and teacher alienation than their less resilient peers. There were also indications that the resilient students were more competent in setting goals and in working towards their goals; they also tended to frame failure and deal with failure more positively, and to report receiving more competence and relatedness support than their less resilient peers. The key sources of support that helped students deal with academic challenges were mainly peers, followed by family members and teachers.

The results of the study also indicate that student-to-teacher communication and students’ goal-setting ability (particularly, a positive change), perceived teacher competence support, and students’ emotional regulation were the most consistent positive predictors of academic resilience in both objective and subjective forms. The aforementioned factors were found as significant predictors of academic resilience more consistently and strongly in relation to EL than Maths.
Note: Restricted to NIE staff only. Contact author for access to report.
Project number: 
OER 42/12 ISC
Grant ID: 
Education Research Funding Programme (ERFP)
Funding Agency: 
Ministry of Education, Singapore
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File Availability: 
With file
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