The research article entitled “Impact of a career intervention on at-risk middle school students’ career maturity levels, academic achievement, and self-esteem” by Harry Legum and Carol Hoare (2004) reported the findings of an experimental study wherein they sought to determine the impact of career intervention on at-risk middle school students in terms of their maturity level, self-esteem and academic achievement. The authors argued that high school drop-outs are significantly disadvantaged in terms of employment and earning potential.
Previous research has found that career interventions given during middle school is more beneficial and practical to students, however few researches have tried to examine the effects of career intervention during middle school. This study attempted to determine whether career interventions significantly improved student’s maturity level, self-esteem and academic performance. This was made possible by using a basic experimental design, wherein a control and experimental group was identified and the experimental group was subjected to the career interventions while the control group did not receive any intervention.
The career intervention procedure followed the Career Targets- a career counseling program that allowed students to know, learn and experience specific jobs and careers as well as having them experience job interviewing, resume writing and were also asked to attend a career talk given by a university professor. The researchers employed a number of methodological approaches to answer their research problem.
First, they identified at-risk middle school students based on criteria widely accepted by the educational system as students who are in danger of failing several subjects in that particular grade level. Then the researchers sought the permission of the parents, teachers and administrators to conduct the study in their school and information regarding the purpose of the study was made known to the concerned parties. With the approval of the research proposal and the substantial number of participants had been identified, the researchers now proceeded to the data gathering procedures.
In order to measure the variables of career maturity and self-esteem, all of the participants were given the Crites Career Maturity Inventory and the Coopersmith Self-esteem Inventory before and after the experimental conditions while the participant’s academic grades before and after the study was collated to measure academic achievement. Additionally, semi-structured interviews of the middle school teachers was also carried out to measure whether academic performance and self-esteem improved during the conduct of the study procedures for the experimental group.
The career interventions was conducted once a week for a period of nine weeks to the experimental group while the control group did not receive any intervention and was asked to attend their classes and subjects in the usual manner. The data gathered in the study was then analyzed using several statistical tools. To test the effects of career interventions on at-risk students career maturity level, self-esteem and academic achievement the researchers compared the pre and post test scores of the experimental and control group and subjected this to t-test and analysis of covariance.
A statistically significant result would indicate that the career interventions increased at-risk students career maturity, self-esteem and academic achievement. The results of the study found that there were no significant difference between the pre-test of career maturity attitude (t=-. 938), career maturity competency (t=-1. 009), self-esteem (t=. 468) and academic achievement (t=. 669) for the experimental and control groups. Thus, it was generalized that the experimental and control groups had similar characteristics based on their pretest scores.
Further analysis of the pretest and post test scores of the experimental and control group revealed that post test scores were higher than pretest scores for the experimental group after the career interventions on career maturity attitude (15. 37; 14. 52) and career maturity competency (15. 26; 14. 22), while the control group’s scores was lower in the posttest than the pretest on career maturity attitude (14. 83; 15. 33) and career maturity competency (14. 27; 14. 93). On the other hand, both experimental (69. 63; 69. 26) and control (70. 87; 67.
33) groups was found to have higher self-esteem scores at posttest than at pretest. In terms of academic achievement, it was found that the grades of the experimental group after the career interventions increased (1. 83; 1. 72), while the control group’s grades decreased after the experiment period (1. 58; 1. 62). In order to test for treatment effects, data from each variable was subjected to a paired t-test and results indicate that there were no significant difference between the experimental and control group in career maturity attitude (-1. 031; . 974), career maturity competency (-1.
579; 1. 081) and academic achievement (-1. 224; . 385). It was also found that there were no significant differences in self-esteem scores of the experimental group (-. 144), however the control group was found to have a significant gain in self-esteem (-2. 351). Moreover, independent t-test was used to analyze the scores of the experimental and control group after the career interventions was conducted. Results indicate that there were no significant differences in the posttest scores of the experimental and control group in career maturity attitude (.
600), career maturity competency (1. 202), self-esteem (-. 291) and academic achievement (1. 432). Likewise, the analysis of covariance yielded no significant differences in any of the measured variables for both the experimental and control groups in terms of career maturity attitude (1. 15), career maturity competency (2. 48), self-esteem (. 961) and academic achievement (1. 78). This study followed a true experimental design wherein a control and experimental group was used to measure the effects of career interventions.
The use of such research design has usually been evident in controlled laboratory settings hence the appropriateness of the research design comes into question. Further, variables used in experimental designs have involved some form of performance measure which is not evident in this study since the purpose of the study was to test the effect of career interventions. Career interventions are actually long term programs and one would likely ask whether a program evaluation design could have been more suited to this study.
The variables were adequately defined and measured and they had used valid instruments for data gathering such as the Crites Career Maturity Inventory and the Coopersmith Self-esteem Inventory. On the other hand, academic grades was used to measure academic performance when it is basically known that grades do not always reflect the true performance of the student, and since this group of participants are defined as at-risk, then other measures of academic performance could have been used like performance in quizzes, attendance etc.
The study should be commended on its clear procedures which lend itself to replication; however one gets the feeling that the experimental part of the study is not manifested in the study. The data gathered was appropriate for the objectives of the study as well as the statistical tools used to analyze the data. The researcher however failed to control for extraneous variables in the sense that even if the control group was not given any intervention they might have indirectly learned of the career interventions from their peers.
Moreover, the interview of the teachers did not yield any additional data but rather conflicted with the statistical results of the study, thus the interview seemed to be unnecessary. Comparing the pre and post test results of the control and experimental group was somewhat redundant since it was possible to answer the research question by using only the experimental group.
The study basically wanted to measure the impact of career interventions and it would have made sense that the performance of students before and after the intervention be compared, but comparing the difference between the pre and post test results of the 3 variables of the control and experimental groups is not substantiated. Finally, the failure to find any significant result for the different variables by comparing the pretest and posttest scores of the experimental and control group indicate that the career interventions did not affect the maturity level, self-esteem and academic achievement of the participants.
Although one tends to reiterate that mean difference in each of the variables support an increase of post test scores for the experimental group as compared to the control group. However, it was the control group’s self-esteem scores that showed significant difference which in no way could be accounted for in the study because they were not subjected to the interventions.
This again points out an inherent flaw in the design of the study because this would mean that self-esteem could increase over time and that career interventions did not affect self-esteem. One explanation is that the career interventions used in the study are not effective for at-risk students or that some personal characteristics of at-risk students confounded the results of this study which the researchers failed to identify such as the student’s personal attitude towards schooling and work.
Even with the researcher’s recommendation to use a bigger group and to increase the duration of the career intervention, the same results would have still been generated since self-esteem is not strongly related to career interventions.
Legum, H. , & Hoare, C. (2004). Impact of a career intervention on at-risk middle school students’ career maturity levels, academic achievement, and self-esteem. Professional School Counseling, 8(2), 148-155.