The purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine the causes of underachievement in secondary students from high socio-economic status (SES) communities attending high-performing high schools in Los Angeles County. This study is a consideration of three variables through which this phenomenon was examined: (a) parenting, (b) peer influence, and (c) social-emotional well-being. McCall, Evahn, & Kratzer (1992) defined underachievement as " school performance, usually measured by grades that is substantially below what would be predicted on the basis of student's mental ability" (p. 54). As Luthar and Sexton (2005) indicated, few studies have highlighted high SES students since the 1950s. Much of what is known about underachievement has been examined in students from urban, low-SES backgrounds and has largely ignored the high SES population and the problems they face in today's schools. While the number of students failing in high-performing, high income schools is significantly lower than those in urban schools, these students continue to face similar issues, absent parents, psychological disorders, and substance abuse. In some cases, students from high SES backgrounds experience these phenomena more than students from lower SES backgrounds do (Luthar, 2003; Luthar & Latendresse, 2005). Even though socio-economic status is one of the leading factors in educational attainment in children, it does not exist in isolation (Willie, 2001). A number of factors contribute to academic achievement (e.g., parenting, motivation, and peer influences). Many of the factors affecting academic and personal success can assuage the effects of socio-economics (Marzano, 2003; McLoyd, 1998). Recently, Luthar conducted several studies with high SES students as the focus. However, additional research is needed to explore the reasons high SES students are underachieving.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Educational leadership; Underachievers -- Education (Secondary); Academic achievement; Achievement motivation in adolescence

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Purrington, Linda;