Securing appropriate challenge or preventing boredom is one of the reasons frequently used to justify ability grouping of gifted students, which has been shown to have beneficial effects for achievement. On the other hand, critics stress psychosocial costs, such as detrimental effects on academic self-concept (contrast or big-fish-little-pond effect).
The effects of full-time ability grouping in special classrooms for the gifted on students' academic self-concept and their experience of boredom in mathematics classes were investigated.
The sample comprised 186 ninth-grade students (106 male) from eight classes at one Austrian high school. Four of these classes were part of a gifted track beginning from school year 9 on (N=93).
Students were assessed repeatedly within the first half of the school year, three times via self-report questionnaires and once by applying a standardized IQ-test.
Students in gifted classes reported a decrease in maths academic self-concept which was most pronounced early in the academic year. Interventions to counterbalance the negative effect of exposure to a high-ability reference group should therefore be implemented when ability grouping begins. No evidence for the boredom hypothesis was found (higher levels of boredom among gifted students in regular classes). However, students clearly differed in the reasons they stated for experiencing boredom. Boredom attributions changed over time and supported the assumption that gifted classes provide more appropriate levels of challenge.