Causes of Failing Grades

Those adolescents who fail to acquire sufficient academic skills may find themselves severely restrained in an increasingly competitive job market. Upon graduation, adolescents may expect to spend approximately 48 years as an active participant in the work force and this workforce increasingly requires both males and females to be literate, technologically sophisticated, in possession of specialized skills, as well as possessing a strong work ethic (Oakland, 1992). Those who do not obtain such prerequisite skills are likely to have access only to those jobs that re lower in Status, part-time, and that offer little opportunity for advancement.

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Thus, there is considerable emphasis on finding ways to reduce the academic risk factors immediately relevant to adolescents. Historically, the educational and social psychological literature has dealt with those individuals at risk for academic failure by targeting deficiencies within the adolescent as the leading reason for failure in school. Academic failure is used here as a generic term that encompasses academic risk factors such as suspension, school absences, dropping out, school transitions, expulsion, alienation, and overall grade failure.

Structural factors, the social environment, and the school environment all play an important role in academic failure. Academic failure in the form of dropping out of school has fallen principally under two categorical influences known as the “push and pull effects” (McNealy, 1997: Jordan, Lira, & McFarland, 1996). Push effects are those factors located within the school environment itself that negatively impact the adolescent and result in their rejecting schooling. Pull effects recognizes that school is only one segment Of the adolescent’s social arena.

Other factors, such as cultural expectations, parental influences, employment, and intimate relationships may impress upon and capture the emphasis that should be directed toward schooling. The result may be a conflict between educational and social forces and a decrease in student success. Cultural forces also can play an important role in whether adolescents succeed or fail academically. Documented gaps do exist in the academic failure rates between White and minority students and affluent and poor students. A portion of the gap is due to family and societal expectations.

For example, Hispanic females may not be expected to complete an education due to an emphasis on their life role as a mother and wife (Validness & Nicolai, 1994), while African-American youths may view unemployment as their fate regardless of the educational attainment achieved (Gobo, 1990). Poor and minority adolescents may find it necessary to contribute to the family income either by working or caring for younger siblings and this may in turn impede school performance and distract them from completing or succeeding in their education (Storm, Gorger, Pollack, & Rock, 1987).