Why does student's performance decline?

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Studies from 1991 until 2016 have shown that student's motivation and performance levels decline during the early stages of secondary education. This phenomenon occurs in several countries and isn't restricted in a particular education system.

There are three main factors that contribute to the decrease of both motivation and performance in lower secondary education. The first factor that explains why this low motivation and performance occurs, is the idea between peers that it is not cool to put effort into schoolwork. The lack of will to do

schoolwork in students is increased as they grow up, which directly reduces the performance and motivation.

The second reason is the mismatch between what schools offer and teach, and what students are interested in or need. The difference between what students expect to learn and what they actually experience seems to be connected with low motivation. According to this explanation, the mechanism of education systems failed to meet the students' needs.

Thirdly, education professionals in several countries have recognized that the education system does not encourage students to reach their academic potential. This means that students do what is required instead of reaching their full potential. This tendency has been referred to as a culture of C’s. In several countries, the education system and school policy have attempted innovations to tackle this culture of C’s and stimulate a more ambitious learning culture.

In the Netherlands, the culture of C's has been well-known. While Dutch students generally perform well in international comparisons, the proportion of top performers is not as high as in Asian countries. The OECD wrote that “some of the most promising students in the Netherlands are not reaching their full


The reason for this culture of C’s in The Netherlands is the way in which students progress through secondary education. To progress from one grade to the next, students need to meet a set of specific criteria. Overall, students need to obtain at least a 6 for their subjects to progress to the next grade. At the same time, performances higher than this minimum standard does not have consequences for students’ progress in school. This creates focus on the lowest possible grade rather than aiming for higher grades, thus allowing students to lower their efforts and create more free time for their hobbies and friends.

Indeed, a recent study in the Dutch context shows that the average report card grades (GPA) are being gradually decreased during lower secondary education. Students in seventh grade who achieve a GPA above 7, in the following two grades, have these GPA levels to an average of 6.

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