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Working paper

Basking in the glory of schools: school characteristics and the self-concept of students in mathematics

Our study contributes to the debate on the interaction between academic context, individual achievement, and mathematics self-concept in schools. It is known that high-achieving peers positively influence the individual achievements of all group members. At the same time, it has been shown that the self-concept of students tends to decrease in the presence of high-achieving peers, as individuals make relative judgments of their abilities vis-à-vis their peer group. Stu-dents with mediocre performance feel more confident about their abilities in a group of poor achievers (the Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect – BFLPE – introduced by H.Marsh). On the other hand, perceived prestige of a school enhances the self-confidence of students as people tend to “bask in the glory” of others (the “reflected glory” effect). We test the two effects mentioned above – BFLPE and the “reflected glory” effect. We hypothesize that both effects are stronger in highly stratified education systems where there is a stronger explicit difference between high- and poor-achieving students, and schools are ranked by their prestige. We compare the interac-tion of academic context, achievement, and mathematics self-concept in stratified (Russia and Czech Republic) and non-stratified (Norway and Sweden) educational systems on the TIMSS’07 database using HLM7. Our study shows: 1) an absence of BFLPE for all four countries, i.e. the achievement of others is positively related to an individual’s math self-concept; 2) strong support for the “reflected glory” effect is found only in stratified educational systems; and 3) greater pos-itive effect on self-concept for students with poor achievement who study in the best schools.