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Personal best goals may help close achievement gaps for at-risk students

Personal-best (PB) goals for at-risk children such as those with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) may be one way of closing the achievement gap in schools, according to new research by Professor Andrew Martin from the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney.

The study, involving more than 3400 Australian high school students, showed the positive role of PB goals in ADHD students' achievement, homework completion, planning, and persistence. It also found PB goals were associated with lower levels of academic disengagement.

"In fact, not only did PB goals benefit ADHD students in achievement and engagement, but in many cases the benefits of PB goals were greater for them than for non-ADHD students," Professor Martin said.

"This is a significant finding because if the benefits of PB goals is greater for at-risk students, then PB goals may be one way to help close achievement gaps."

PB goal-setting involves focusing on your own progress and your own achievements more than focusing on the progress and achievement of other students. It also involves trying to do a bit more or a bit better than your previous efforts each time you tackle important schoolwork.

Professor Martin's paper, published in the recent issue of the international journal Contemporary Educational Psychology, is the first empirical study on PB goal setting to include children with ADHD. Whereas previous research had demonstrated its benefits for general student populations, this study showed that its benefits powerfully extended to at-risk students such as those with ADHD.

In the competitive context of today's classroom, students who struggle academically may be at particular risk of giving up due to difficulties competing as effectively as other students. This can be very demoralising. On the other hand, when students compete against their own prior efforts, success becomes personally defined - and accessible.

According to Professor Martin, "In early days, it may not be realistic for kids with ADHD and other academically at-risk groups to focus too much on outperforming others. However, if they pursue PB goals, and aim to beat their prior performance, this is a solid footing for academic growth."

"In fact, the many cases where PB goals had stronger positive effects for the students with ADHD, suggest PB goals be used as part of a broad intervention approach to help ADHD students catch up and potentially move ahead," Professor Martin said.

More generally for all students, the study further confirmed the importance of recognising individual academic growth alongside the comparative feedback that students usually receive.

PB Student Worksheets and PB Teacher Score Sheets can be downloaded from LifelongAchievement.com

Media enquiries: Jocelyn Prasad, 9114 1382, jocelyn.prasad@sydney.edu.au

Jacqueline Chowns, 02 9036 5404, 0434 605 018, jacqueline.chowns@sydney.edu.au

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