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Let's YAP About the Future: A Youth Attribution Program for African American 6th Graders

  • Author(s): Cue, Erin Necole
  • Advisor(s): Graham, Sandra
  • et al.

Ongoing reports of the achievement gap suggest the need for understanding African American students' perceptions of their own academic failure and the need for more effective interventions that can increase motivation and academic outcomes for African American youth. The current study examined whether harmful attributional beliefs associated with academic failure among African American 6th grade low achievers could be altered through a brief attribution retraining intervention. This 3 week evidence-based intervention was guided by principles of an attributional theory of achievement-related behavior. The lessons in the intervention were aimed at helping students understand that positive academic outcomes can be obtained through increased preparation and effort. Throughout the intervention students were encouraged to associate academic failure with lack of effort instead of stable maladaptive attributions, such as lack of ability and discrimination. Participants included a total of 64 African American 6th graders who exhibited maladaptive attributions about their academic failure and were identified as low achieving students. These students were randomly assigned to the attribution treatment group or to a wait-list control group. Data on attributions, expectancy-related affect, and academic achievement were gathered before the intervention, one week post intervention, and at a 6-week follow-up. Results showed significant increases in adaptive attributions and decreases in maladaptive attributions for males in the treatment group compared with control group males. However, there were no significant changes in expectancy related affect or academic achievement among intervention boys or girls. Additional exploratory analyses provided further support for positive changes in causal attributions for the experimental group in comparison to the control group. For example, by the 6-week follow-up treatment group students were more likely than control group participants to select lack of effort as a cause for failure in an open-ended assessment of the most important cause for achievement failure and less likely to endorse low ability or external attributions. In general, results of the current study suggest that brief attributional retraining interventions can be useful in changing harmful attributions associated with academic failure and addressing achievement challenges faced by African American youth. Implications for future research, policy and practice are discussed.

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