Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Educational Psychology

Advisor

Anastasiya A. Lipnevich

Committee Members

David Rindskopf

Bruce Homer

Howard Everson

Stefan Krumm

Subject Categories

Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Psychology | Personality and Social Contexts | Quantitative Psychology | Science and Mathematics Education | Social Psychology

Keywords

attitudes, self-efficacy, mathematics achievement, situational judgement tests, attitude-achievement paradox, PISA

Abstract

Academic performance is predicted by a multitude of demographic, contextual, cognitive, and noncognitive constructs. The noncognitive factors of achievement in mathematics that have previously been explored in depth are study skills, collaborative problem-solving, confidence, self-efficacy, and personality traits (Kyllonen, 2012). Limited applied research has explored the predictive value of noncognitive factors such as attitudes and beliefs in mathematics achievement – even though attitudes towards mathematics are a promising avenue for understanding the variability in mathematics achievement. The current research uses the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to explain high school students’ performance in mathematics in a series of three studies. Two pressing needs in the field are addressed through this work: first, to obtain a valid and comprehensive measure of mathematics attitudes, and second, to use a framework that highlights the relations among students’ attitudinal beliefs (behavioral, normative, control), intentions, learning behaviors, and mathematics performance using nationally representative assessment data.

Study 1 was a psychometrics study aimed at the construction and validation of a measure of students’ attitudes towards mathematics using situational judgement tests (SJTs). Results indicated that the SJT-based measure of attitudes incrementally predicted variability in mathematics report card grades over and above the self-report measure of attitudes and important student demographic characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, current participation in mathematics extra-curricular activities and clubs, and the intention to pursue a STEM major in higher education.

Study 2A used the TPB framework to examine links between student attitudes and mathematics performance using the United States sample of the PISA 2012 large-scale assessment. Results indicated that between 20% to almost 60% of the variability in academic outcomes (i.e., intentions to pursue mathematics, work ethic in mathematics, and mathematics performance) were explained by the attitude determinants (i.e., attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control) and important student demographic characteristics. Additionally, results showed that there were positive relations among attitudes towards mathematics and control beliefs on academic outcomes of interest (e.g., intentions to pursue mathematics, math-related behaviors, mathematics performance) and negative relations between social pressures and the academic outcomes examined.

Further, Study 2B explored differences in the mathematics attitude-mathematics achievement relation moderated by the intersectionality of student gender and race/ethnicity. Results indicated measurement invariance of attitudinal constructs across groups but no support for structural invariance for the relations between attitude-behavior-performance. With a few exceptions, whereas predominantly ethnic/racial minority groups had a more positive attitude towards mathematics and indicated higher mathematics work ethic than White males, their mathematics achievement lagged behind the national average. Results further indicated that a negative relation between perceived social pressures and intentions to pursue mathematics for Black/African American males and Hispanic females, whereas that same relation was positive for Asian males. Several of these discrepancies by student demographic characteristics were found across mean differences in latent attitudinal constructs and structural relations of the TPB framework, which implies that the strength of the attitude-achievement relation cannot be generalized and may have been misunderstood by prior research. This generally suggests that there is support for the attitude-achievement paradox in the domain of mathematics such that for historically disadvantaged racial/ethnic minority groups (i.e., Black/African American and Hispanic students), having a positive attitude does not directly translate into higher mathematics achievement. Explanations for the varying attitude-achievement relations across groups are explained through a social-cognitive and sociocultural lens.

Overall, implications of these research studies include: (1) the applicability of an attitude-behavior framework in educational research for understanding academic performance; (2) the importance of control beliefs and self-efficacy beliefs on predicting mathematics work ethic (e.g., paying attention in class, completing homework, studying for math exams) and subsequent mathematics performance; (3) the use of low-fidelity simulations for educational measurement; (4) the emphasis that student background and demographic characteristics should be accounted for when examining the strength of the attitude-achievement relation in future research; (5) that applied interventions, such as embedding applied occupational examples in instruction by delivering career-relevant instruction, may be utilized to promote students’ attitudes, which may have positive indirect effects on their mathematics achievement; (6) providing positive, practical experiences to alter students’ attitudes towards mathematics through noticing how mathematics is worthwhile for career chances and future study, especially for racial minority groups; and (7) adapting classroom sociomathematical norms to alleviate social pressures and provide instructional support, especially for minority adolescents who are at risk for having low-self efficacy beliefs for mathematics at onset, and particularly for Black/African-American males and Hispanic females.

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