A critical question in self-concept research is the causal ordering of academic self-concept and achievement. Self-concept researchers (e.g., Byrne, 1996; Marsh, 1990c, 1993a; Marsh, Byrne, & Yeung, 1999) have attempted to resolve the theoretical "chicken-egg" debate about whether academic self-concept "causes" academic achievement or achievement "causes" academic self-concept. Byrne (1996) noted that much of the interest in the self-concept-achievement relation stemmed from the belief that academic self-concept has motivational properties that affect subsequent academic achievement. Calsyn and Kenny (1977) contrasted self-enhancement (self-concept causes-achievement) and skill development (achievement causes self-concept) models of the self-concept-achievement relation. Largely because of limitations in statistical techniques used prior to the 1980s to test causal models, researchers typically argued for "either-or" conclusions. In critiques of this research, Marsh (1990a, 1990c, 1993a; also see Marsh et al., 1999) argued that much of this research was methodologically unsound and inconsistent with the academic self-concept theory. He emphasized that it was widely accepted that prior academic achievement was one determinant of academic self-concept so that the critical question was whether there also existed a causal link from prior academic self-concept to subsequent achievement. The statistical significance and size of this path was of critical importance whether or not it was larger than the path from prior academic achievement to subsequent academic self-concept. Marsh further argued that a more realistic compromise between the self-enhancement and skill-development models was a "reciprocal effects model" in which prior self-concept affects subsequent achievement and prior achievement affects subsequent self-concept.
Marsh (1990a) tested the causal ordering of academic self-concept and academic achievement with four waves of data (last 3 years of high school and 1 year after high school graduation) based on standardized test scores, school grades, and academic self-concept. He found support for reciprocal effects in which the largest paths were from prior academic self-concept to subsequent school grades. In a recent review of research in this area, Marsh et al. (1999) summarized clear support for a reciprocal effects model from a range of different studies.
Recent research demonstrated that this support for the reciprocal effects model generalized to different cultural-national settings in a large nationally representative sample of Hong Kong students (Marsh, Hau, & Kong, 2002) and large samples of East and West German students at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall (Marsh, Roller, & Baumert, 2001).
Marsh et al. (1999) concluded that there was insufficient research evaluating developmental trends in causal modeling research. To address this issue, Guay, Marsh, and Boivin (2003) extended this research to evaluate developmental trends in a multicohort-multioccasion design for responses by students in Grades 2, 3, and 4 (i.e., three age cohorts, each with three measurement occasions— see discussion of multicohort-multioccasion designs). The structural equation model for the total sample supported a reciprocal effects model for the first two waves of data (paths leading from prior self-concept to subsequent achievement and from prior achievement to subsequent self-concept) and a self-enhancement effect (paths leading from prior self-concept to subsequent achievement) between the second and the third waves. This pattern was replicated in tests of the invariance of the structural equation model across the three age cohorts, demonstrating support for the generaliz-ability of the reciprocal effects models across these preadolescent ages. In addition to critical substantive implications, this research demonstrated the strength of a multimethod approach in disentangling the reciprocal effects of different constructs.
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