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Profiles of Competence Development in Secondary School


Based on previous research findings and using the longitudinal design of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), two goals were pursued within the framework of the project: First, to identify developmental profiles of students' competencies over the secondary school years, thereby making visible any specialization of individuals in one domain of competency relative to another. The underlying assumption was that groups of individuals characterized by different skill developments in reading and mathematics could be found. Second, the goal of the project was to identify the determinants of these profiles. For this purpose, various affective-motivational, social-cognitive, and socio-demographic variables were to be analyzed in a theory-based manner, which allow the prediction of group membership in specific competence development profiles.



In order to be able to identify latent groups of individuals characterized by different skill developments in the domains of reading and mathematics, latent mixed distribution growth curve models were used. For the analyses, competency and questionnaire data from secondary school in the NEPS start cohort 3 "grade 5" and the NEPS start cohort 4 "grade 9" were used.



Overall, the analyses could not confirm the assumptions about different competence development profiles. For example, the longitudinal analyses of competence development in two domains do not seem to reveal groups of individuals characterized by different developments in the competence domains of reading and mathematics. However, a development toward mathematics competencies, especially from the 9th grade onward, could be demonstrated for the population as a whole.

In order to answer the question about predictors of a possible specialization, it was additionally examined to what extent different predictors have different effects on the development of reading and mathematics competencies. This showed that specialization in vocational training and in interest also lead to higher increases in competencies in the area of specialization (mathematics or reading).

The results offer clues for further interesting follow-up research: For example, the results raise questions about the point at which cross-sectional inter- and intraindividual differences emerge among students in secondary school and which conditioning factors are relevant for these differences. In addition, the question arises as to the predictiveness of cross-sectional competence profiles for life decisions (such as career choice or educational decisions), professional success, or later satisfaction.


Project profile



Freund, M.-J., Wolter, I., Lockl, K., & Gnambs, T. (2021). Profiles of competence development in upper secondary education and their predictors. PLOS ONE 16(1): e0245884.

Freund, M.-J., Wolter, I., Lockl, K., & Gnambs, T. (2021). Determinants of profiles of competence development in mathematics and reading in upper secondary education in Germany. PLOS ONE 16(10), e0258152.

Freund, M.-J., Gnambs, T., Lockl, K. & Wolter, I. (2021) Profiles of competence development in mathematics and reading in early secondary education. European Journal of Psychology of Education. Advance online publication.