Klassen, R., 2002, A question of calibration: A review of the self-efficacy beliefs of students with learning disabilities, Learning Disability Quarterly, 25(2) pp. 88-102.


Commentary Part 2 – on self-efficacy:

Klassen provides an overview of the underpinning ideas on self-efficacy beliefs but is particularly reminding us that according to Bandura (1995), these are context specific evaluations of capability and comprise 4 core experiential components: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, communicative persuasion (specifically in social and verbal contexts) and interpretations of affective states.  So in terms of this my enquiry, the ‘context’ is academic output which includes the element of ‘achievement’ rather than is equivalent to it because we might include a range of academic activities and functions as contributory factors to OUTPUT.  In particular, these might be more formative assessments that seek to appraise and advise on learning processes rather than assess learning outcomes, but which might also include other more general functions in academic contexts such as expedience in the research and sourcing of knowledge support resources, or embracing more diverse or individualized ways of communicating knowledge and expressing ideas, for example that we might expect to come across in less writing-based study courses, arts-related perhaps, or in computing and information sciences, or in engineering to name a few.

So in the light of this introductory preamble, might we view making judgments about COMPETENCE in Bandura’s stated 4 experiential compenents as a collective measure of academic confidence? Perhaps so, despite Klassen referring us to a further paper from Zimmerman (1995) in Bandura’s (1995) edited collection, which suggests that self-efficacy beliefs are different from competence beliefs because the former are task-specific however my view is that there may be a need to be clearer about what constitutes ‘a task’ (Zimmerman) as equal to or different from ‘a context’ (Bandura) which adds another layer to the teasing-out process for locating academic confidence into the contexts of my project.

Klassen’s methodology:

Recalling the focus of Klassen’s paper, essentially a summary of self-efficacy research 1997-2000, it is of note that the my approach for this project is to gain an overview about published research on academic confidence, academic self-confidence and  academic behavioural confidence, as reported in an earlier post, which is similar to the procedure adopted by Klassen to search for prior research relating self-efficacy theory specifically to learning disabilities – much as any academic meta-analysis might be, setting aside the quantitative aspect of this.

The key criteria Klassen subsequently applied to analyse the collection of research studies  were enshrined in 5 questions:

I am struck by Klassen’s tacit assumption that students with LD are unlikely to be anything other than, at best, ‘normally achieving’ and it remains one of the main foci of this research project to establish that students with a learning profile that identifies with specific learning difficulties (dyslexia) can be, and in many cases are ‘high-achievers’ along the spectrum of summative academic output.

Summary table of research reviewed by Klassen (2002, p43) – commentary continues beneath it. Highlighted in the table are the studies that focused on college/university-aged students, these being just 3 of the 22 research studies reviewed – I will be digesting these three studies in due course – and it is also notable that the scope of most of the studies was to explore the effectiveness of learning interventions using self-efficacy as an assessment parameter.

Author (date) # of stds Age/grade Performance task or domain Self-efficacy measure Intervention or research question Outcomes
Alvarez & Adelman (1986) 19 stds (some LD) aged 9.6 to 15.2 Arithmetic 20-item 11-point scale (0 to 10) Why do students with learning problems (including LD) overstate their capabilities? “students’ positive self-evaluations represent a selective tendency and are due to an inability to make accurate self-evaluative judgments.”
Baum & Owen (1988) 112Grade 4, 5, and 6 General academic functioning (no performance task given) SEAT – 34 items measuring general academic self-efficacy What are self-efficacy differences between high and avg. ability LD students? High ability LD students displayed lower efficacy beliefs than did high ability non-LD, or avg. ability LD
Bryan & Bryan (1991) 18Junior high and high school (Math) 50 addition and subtraction questions Estimated number (/50) of accurately completed arithmetic items in 5 minutes Positive mood induction: thinking of happiest day of their lives Positive affect increased and performance. However, was not changed with a control group of younger, non-LD risk”) stds.
Butler, 1995 6 college students with LD Student-chosen task—writing, reading, math—depending on need 16-item SE questionnaire; also 1 item asking stds. to rate their ability on task SCL: Std-generated strategies guided by instructor The stated components of SE measure—perceptions competence, task preference, rating of on-task ability—showed significant increase
Butler, 1998b 30 (over 3 studies) college and university stds. with LD Student-chosen task—writing, reading, math—depending on need 1 item rating task ability; measure judging task competence, task preference, and general SE; 8-item ‘across-tasks’ SE SCL: Std-generated strategies guided by instructor Task-specific SE increased all studies; global SE not changed in post-test; SE for ‘non-instructed’ tasks increased in one study, but in other
Graham & Harris (1989a) 22 LD and 11 NAa (control); grades 5-6 Writing 10 items measuring stds’ confidence to write stories Self-instructional strategy training; added self-reg. training SE increased in both treatment groups (strategy training with/without self-reg. training. No difference between treatment groups
Graham & Harris (1989b) 3 sixth-grade stds Writing 5 items assessing perceived ability to write a good essay Strategy instruction for planning and writing essays Two of three stds showed increases with intervention
Graham, MacArthur, Schwartz, & Page-Voth (1992) 4 5th-grade LD stds Writing 10 item 5-pt. scale measuring SE for writing tasks and cognitive strats Planning and writing strategies Confidence for writing dropped for 3 stds (all male) and rose slightly for 1 std (female) after treatment
Graham, Schwartz, & MacArthur (1993) 39 LD and 29 control in grades 4,5,7 & 8 Domain is writing – no performance task 10 items measuring efficacy for composing process and writing tasks (Study measured stds’ knowledge and attitudes – no intervention) No difference found in SE either composing process writing tasks between LD NA groups or between older and younger students
Gresham, Evans & Elliott (1988) 336 stds. incl. mildly handicapped (incl. LD), gifted, and NA in grds. 3-5 Social and academic functioning (no performance task) Group-administered 28 item, 5-point scale assessing academic and social efficacy (ASSESS) Purpose: to explore SE beliefs in MH (incl. LD) gifted, and NA students MH stds. (LD, MR, and BD) reported lower academic social SE than NA and gifted stds. Also, MH stds. were reported by teachers as lower in academic and social SE
Hampton (1998) 109 high school and vocational rehab stds. with LD; 87 people without LD Academic functioning Sources of Academic Self-Efficacy Scale (SASES) – 46 items To devise an instrument to explore the sources of SE beliefs and to explore differences between LD and NA students LD stds. rated each of four sources lower than NA stds. Also, Social Persuasion and Physical Arousal did not significantly contribute to regression equation for LD students; that is, only Past Performance and Vicarious Learning were significant.
Omizo, Cubberly, & Cubberly (1985) 60 6-8 year old LD stds – 20 in each of 3 groups Arithmetic achievement 20-item scale modelled after Bandura & Schunk (1981) Three groups: control, teacher- and participant- modelling Both conditions resulted increased SE beliefs; participant modelling sig. raised SE beliefs over teacher modelling
Page-Voth & Graham (1999) 30 grade 7 and 8 stds Writing (essays) 6-item scale measuring efficacy to write essays Goal-setting; goal-setting and strategy instruction; control group No changes in self-efficacy beliefs in any of three groups
Panagos & DuBois (1999) 96 high school stds Career interest: A career interest inventory (14 areas) was administered 14 item (1 for each career area) Career Self-Efficacy Scale; Four item, 5-point Sources of Efficacy Information Scale How are career SE beliefs linked with vocational interests? Also, what is the role of the 4 sources of SE beliefs? Ratings of SE beliefs were significant predictor of careinterest. Also, Bandura’s sources of efficacy beliefs contribute to the development of career SE beliefs.
Pintrich, Anderman, & Klobucar (1994) 19 LD, 20 NA grade 5 students Reading: two reading comprehension tasks were given 10-item, 7-point scale measuring reading efficacy beliefs How does SE for reading comp. differ between groups? LD stds did not show sig. different SE beliefs than the NA stds, in spite of lower performance levels
Saracoglu, Minden & Wilchesky (1989) 34 LD and 31 NA university students General and social self-efficacy 23-item Self-Efficacy Scale Do SE beliefs differ for LD and NA univ. stds? LD and NA stds showed diff. in social and generalSE correlated positively with adjustment to university
Sawyer, Graham, & Harris (1992) 33 5th and 6th grade LD stds; 10 LD control 10-item scale measuring SE for writing a “made-up story” Writing a story Three types of Self-Regulated Strategy Development plus control group SE levels increased in all groups: post-test SE levelnot differ among the four intervention groups
Schunk (1985) 30 6th-grade LD stds. Stds were briefly shown 25 pairs of subtraction q’s and asked to rate on 10-point scale Mathematics: subtraction Goal-setting: self-set goals, assigned goals, and no goals Participation in goal-setting resulted in sig. higher SE judgments than other 2 groups
Schunk & Cox (1986) 90 grade 6-8 LD stds Stds were briefly shown 25 pairs of subtraction q’s and asked to rate on 10-point scale Mathematics: subtraction Verbalization and effort feedback Verbalization of the steps problem enhances SE. Also, effort-attributional feedback enhanced SE
Slemon & Shafrir (1997) 92 LD and 40 NA college stds Students estimated their score (1-19) on the WAIS-R (9 subtests) and the WRAT-R (3 subtests) Verbal and nonverbal cognitive functioning on WAIS-R and 3 achievement areas on the WRAT-R What are the SE beliefs (predicted scores) for LD and NA post-secondary students? (No intervention) The LD group “tend to lack optimistic beliefs about ability of the NA stds.”
Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis (1996) 38 LD and low-achiev. gr. 8 & 9 Questionnaire on attitudes towards writing and SE Writing: opinion essays Planning, drafting, and revising strategies Posttest SE measure showed significant increase
Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis (1997) 21 LD and LA stds in gr. 9 & 10 10-item, 5-point scale Writing: compare and contrast essays Writing strategies Self-efficacy beliefs did not change from pretest to posttest



One interesting result that Klassen reports here refers to the research by Baum and Owen (1988) which was interested in ‘Why [do] bright, learning disabled children have such a poor sense of self-efficacy when they possess greater intellectual and creative potential?’ (p325; p14 in Klassen (2002)) suggesting that this may be related to their actual academic achievements persistently falling short of their own, high internal standards.  Now although their research was with children with an age equivalence to UK upper primary, it may be of note that even though not identified as such by Baum and Owen, a corollary to their explanation may be that this is an indication of how the stigmatization of ‘difference’ may impact on learners so that their academic output is at a standard below the level one might expect in relation to their intellectual capability.  Given that Baum and Owen’s research takes place a good decade ahead of the idea of academic confidence being more objectively formulated by Sander et al it is of no surprise that their research conclusions made no mention of this possibility. My conceptualization of academic confidence is becoming clearer by considering this as another explanation for the results of studies such as theirs by thinking about this as the impacting factor to explain discrepancies between expected and actual academic achievement in students with learning differences.  Taking this one stage further, we might expect ‘bright children’ to make it to university and that it is not unreasonable to suppose that they bring with them this ‘baggage’ of learning related emotions connected to their negatively impacting perceptions of their ‘learning differences’ to their academic output – aka ‘academic confidence’?

The General Self-Efficacy Scale, widely used (eg: Schwarzer R., Jerusalem, M., (1995)) following an original construction and validation by Sherer, M., et al, (1982)

1 I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough
2 If someone opposes me, I can find the means and ways to get what I want
3 It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals
4 I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events
5 Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations
6 I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort
7 I can remain calm when facing difficulties because I can rely on my coping abilities
8 When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions
9 If I am in trouble, I can usually think of a solution
10 I can usually handle whatever comes my way

It is interesting to note and will be pertinent to the construction of the data gathering tool for this current PhD project, that since the initial construction of the GSE scale, other researchers have sought to re-develop it, largely on the grounds of increasing its construct validity, this being a limitation of the scale identified in some researchers’ studies. Chen et al (2001) developed a shorter, 7-point scale which their research claims has higher reliability and predicted specific self-efficacy in various contexts. The Researcher will be examining this in detail in due course with a view to possibly integrating their findings into the construction and development of the data-gathering tool for this project.

However, Klassen reports a further study conducted by Saracoglu et al (1989) with university students where the results suggested that there is no difference in ‘Global [= General] Self-Efficacy’ between the group with learning differences (disabilities) and the non-LD group. Additionally, and to confound matters further, a much later study by Slemon and Shafir (1997) exploring the calibration of efficacy and [academic?] performance between LD and ‘normally-achieving’ students found that there were not so much overall differences between the two groups but different patterns of mis-calibration, the most interesting feature of which was the better accuracy in estimating achievement potentials for the LD group although these students also showed lower levels of [academic?] optimism than their normally-achieving peers.  GoogleScholar reveals related research that has been conducted after Klassen’s paper which will be the subject of analysis and review, to be reported in a subsequent post.

All the research studies mentioned by Klassen relate to the construct of self-efficacy in its psycho-educational context of course, and the majority relate it to specific criteria. This is in line with Bandura’s original thinking that the construct is at the very least domain, if not task specific. It is clear to see that gaining an understanding of self-efficacy is fundamental to gaining an equally clear comprehension of the meaning of ‘academic confidence’ in the domain of university learning.

But the way I see academic confidence in the context of this project, (at the moment at least!) is more about it being an assessment of the feelings that an individual learner has to their perceived levels of competency in tackling ‘academic tasks‘. Now the point here is that from a professional viewpoint at least as Learning Developers in university contexts, we speak of striving to enable and empower the students we meet through professional interactions to find ways to increase and enhance their levels of competency in ‘academic skills’. This raises an interesting point: are ‘academic skills‘ an indicator of ‘academic competency‘ in a similar way that ‘mathematical skills‘ might be / are  an indicator of ‘mathematical competency’? Or is this analogy at fault because assessments of mathematical competency will invariably include assessments of mathematical knowledge since without possession of mathematical facts would it be possible to demonstrate mathematical competency? How could we assess a learner’s mathematical competency in, say, manipulating calculations in decimals without them having knowledge about the system of counting numbers and ‘place value’?

I am taking this thinking further by suggesting therefore that by considering the phrase ‘academic knowledge‘ we can shift the discussion into the same domain as ‘mathematical knowledge‘ provided a sensible understanding of what is meant by ‘academic knowledge‘ can be established in a such a way that is relatable to discipline-specific knowledge.  Academic knowledge, in the context of this discussion at least, perhaps may be aligned with the concept of ‘scholarship‘? I am  reminded of a very interesting and relatively recent paper by Kinchin et al (2008) where a discussion of the nature of ‘scholarship‘ is presented, albeit in the context of the scholarship of teaching in university learning environments. To discuss the paper further digresses from the thread in this  BlogPost so a more comprehensive discussion of the nature of scholarship may appear later in a subsequent post should this be deemed useful and relevant.

To return to the point and to tidy up with some summarizing of Klassen’s discussion points:

I am encouraged by closing remarks in Klassen’s paper that suggest directions for future research:

all of which are consistent with my scoping and planning of this project.


Bandura, A., 1995, Exercise of personal and collective efficacy in changing societies. In: Bandura, A. (Ed)., Self-efficacy in changing societies, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press.

Baum, S., Owen, S.V., 1988, High ability/learning disabled students: How are they different? Gifted Child Quarterly, 32, pp. 321-326.

Butler, D.L., 1999, Identifying and remediating students’ inefficient approaches to tasks, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal.

Chen, G., Gully, S.M., Eden, D., 2001, Validation of a New General Self-Efficacy Scale, Organizational Research Methods, 4(1), pp. 62-83.

Kinchin, A.M., Lygo-Baker, S., Hay, D.B., 2008, Universities as centres of non-learning, Studies in Higher Education, 33(1), pp .89-103.

Klassen, R., 2002, A question of calibration: A review of the self-efficacy beliefs of students with learning disabilities, Learning Disability Quarterly, 25(2) pp. 88-102.

Pajares, F., 1997, Current directions in self-efficacy research, In: Maehr, M., Pintrich, P.R., (Eds), Advances in motivation and achievement, Volume 10 (pp. 1-49), Greenwich CT, JAI Press.

Saracoglu, B., Minden, H., Wilchesky, M., 1989, The adjustment of students with learning disabilities to university and its relationships to self-esteem and self-efficacy. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 22, pp. 590-592.

Sherer, M., Maddux, J.E., Mercandante, B., Prentice-Dunn, S., Jacobs, B., Rogers, R.W., 1982, The Self-Efficacy Scale: Construction and validation, Psychological Reports, 51, pp. 663-671.

Slemon, J.C., and Shafrir, U., 1997, Academic self-efficacy of post-secondary students with and without learning disabilities. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Eduational research Association, Chicago.

Zimmerman, B.J., 1995, Self-efficacy and educational development. In: Bandura, A., (Ed)., Self-efficacy in changing societies, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press.

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