Math Self-efficacy 1 Running head: SELF-EFFICACY AND STANDARDIZED TEST PERFORMANCE Accepted for publication in the Journal of Educational Psychology. This version may slightly differ from the published version. Does Math Self-efficacy Mediate the Effect of the Perceived Classroom Environment on Standardized Math Test Performance? Lisa A. Fast University of California, Riverside James Lewis University of California, Riverside Michael J. Bryant California Institute of the Arts Kathleen A. Bocian University of California, Riverside Richard A.
Cardullo University of California, Riverside Michael Rettig University of California, Riverside Kimberly A. Hammond University of California, Riverside Math Self-efficacy 2 Abstract We examined the effect of the perceived classroom environment on math self-efficacy and the effect of math self-efficacy on standardized math test performance. Upper elementary school students (n = 1163) provided self-reports of their perceived math selfefficacy and the degree to which their math classroom environment was masteryoriented, challenging, and caring. Individual student scores on the California Standards Test for Mathematics were also collected.
A series of two-level models revealed that students who perceived their classroom environments as more caring, challenging, and mastery-oriented had significantly higher levels of math efficacy, and higher levels of math efficacy positively predicted math performance. Analysis of the indirect effects of classroom variables on math performance indicated a small significant mediating effect of self-efficacy. Implications for research on self-efficacy and the perceived classroom environment are discussed. Math Self-efficacy 3 Does Math Self-efficacy Mediate the Effect of the Perceived Classroom Environment on Standardized Math Test Performance?
In the current high-stakes testing environment, any attribute of a student that positively influences achievement is of interest. The degree to which a student believes that he/she is capable of performing specific tasks, referred to as self-efficacy, is particularly relevant given that self-efficacy has been argued to have powerful effects on achievement behavior (Bandura, 1986). Those with higher self-efficacy are proposed to have higher aspirations, stronger commitments to their goals, and recover more quickly from setbacks than those lower in self-efficacy. Beliefs in one’s efficacy can vary across academic subjects (e. . reading vs. writing) and self-efficacy for mathematics has received close attention. Students with higher math self-efficacy persist longer on difficult math problems and are more accurate in math computations than those lower in math self-efficacy (Collins, 1982; Hoffman & Schraw, 2009). Math self-efficacy is also a stronger predictor of math performance than either math anxiety or previous math experience (Pajares & Miller, 1994; Pajares & Miller, 1995, respectively) and influences math performance as strongly as overall mental ability (Pajares & Kranzler, 1995).
The demonstrated importance of self-efficacy in academic achievement has provoked widespread interest in specific factors that affect a student’s self-efficacy beliefs. Bandura’s (1997) social-cognitive theory proposed that self-efficacy is most strongly affected by one’s previous performance and research largely supports this (Chen & Zimmerman, 2007). His theory also suggests that self-efficacy is affected by observing others (e. g. watching peers succeed at a task), verbal persuasion (e. g. encouragement from parents and teachers), and interpretation of physiological states (e. g.
Math Self-efficacy 4 lack of anxiety may be a signal that one possesses skills). Although several studies indicate that manipulating features of learning environments along these theoretical premises has immediate and detectable effects on self-efficacy (Schunk, 1982, 1983, 1984; Schunk & Hanson, 1985), it seems possible that students’ perceptions of their learning environments also affect their efficacy beliefs. Ames (1992) argued that learning environments may not provide a common experience for all students and that students’ subjective interpretations of their environment determine how they respond to it.
For example, a teacher might be described by an objective observer as helpful, but if a student perceives him/her as unhelpful, then the perception of unhelpfulness will guide the students’ behavior more than the teachers’ actual helpfulness. Focusing on perceptions of the classroom environment is consistent with Bandura’s (1997) theory, which suggests that self-efficacy is influenced by how an individual interprets relevant information. For example, a student might interpret a perceived unhelpful teacher as evidence that he/she lacks ability.
In the current study, we focus on three aspects of the perceived classroom environment that affect self-efficacy: Mastery-orientation, Challenge, and Caring. The degree to which students perceive their classroom environment as one that encourages mastery versus performance goals has been prominently studied (Ames, 1992; Dweck, 1986; Maehr & Nicholls, 1980, respectively). Classrooms structured around mastery goals emphasize effort and the intrinsic value of learning; students who adopt mastery goals are more likely to believe that effort leads to success (Weiner, 1979) and display positive attitudes towards learning (Ames & Archer, 1988).
In contrast, classrooms structured around performance goals emphasize ability and competition Math Self-efficacy 5 between peers; students who adopt performance goals are more likely to use shallow learning strategies (Meece et al. , 1988) and avoid challenging tasks (Dweck, 1986). Although both of these classroom goal structures theoretically influence the achievement goals that students adopt, only mastery goal structures are consistently related to selfefficacy.
Several studies have found that students who perceive their classroom environment as more mastery oriented have higher academic self-efficacy (Dorman, 2001; Friedel et al. , 2007; Middleton & Midgley, 1997), whereas performance oriented classrooms have been found to be unrelated, positively related, and negatively related to self-efficacy (Friedel et al. , 2007; Wolters et al. , 1996; Schunk, 1996, respectively). Studies using path analysis have also found that self-efficacy mediates the influence of mastery-oriented classrooms on performance (Bong, 2008; Greene, Miller, Crowson, Duke, & Akey, 2004).
In particular, Wolters (2004) found that mastery goal structure had a significant positive effect on students’ math grades, but when math self-efficacy was included in the model, the effect of mastery structure on course grades became nonsignificant. The degree to which a classroom environment is perceived as challenging also influences self-efficacy. A challenging environment is one in which students are provided with progressively difficult tasks as their proficiency increases. Vygotsky (1978) argued that challenge is essential for intellectual development and Grolnick et al. 2002) proposed that individuals are born with a need to test their abilities and master their environment. Accordingly, evidence indicates that students enjoy learning when tasks are challenging (Zahorik, 1996). Although challenge has been most prominently discussed as an important facilitator of intrinsic motivation (e. g. Malone & Lepper, Math Self-efficacy 6 1987), some researchers suggest that it also leads to stronger beliefs in one’s academic abilities (Meyer, Turner, & Spencer, 1997; Stipek, 2001).
Participating in challenging activities allows students to notice their incremental improvement in a subject, which increases feelings of self-competence. In support of this, Gentry and Owen (2004) reported that middle and high school students who perceived their classroom as challenging were more likely to have higher academic self-efficacy. Similarly, Meyer, Turner, & Spencer (1997) found that fifth and sixth-grade students who were characterized as “challenge-seekers” had higher math self-efficacy, while students who were characterized as “challenge-avoiders’ had lower math self-efficacy.
Finally, the degree to which students perceive their classroom as a caring environment also has an important influence on self-efficacy. In a caring classroom (also referred to as Teacher Involvement: Newman, 2002; Personalization: Frasier & Fisher, 1982), the teacher expresses personal interest in students, provides emotional support, and generally creates a comfortable atmosphere. Murdock and Miller (2003) suggest that students who perceive their teachers as caring are more likely to view themselves as academically capable and set higher educational goals for themselves.
Positive relationships between students and teachers provide a critical developmental resource for children; students are more likely to seek help when they need it and develop a wide range of competencies when they feel emotionally supported by their teachers (Crosnoe, Johnson, & Elder, 2004; Pianta, Hamre, & Stuhlman, 2003). Accordingly, evidence suggests that students who perceive their teachers as more caring have significantly higher academic self-efficacy (Murdock & Miller, 200; Patrick et al. , 2007). Pianta et al. (2008) also found that fifth-grade students had higher performance on math tests when
Math Self-efficacy 7 their classrooms were rated higher in emotional support. In addition, the effect of emotional support on math achievement was larger than the effect of quantity of math instruction. The authors noted that, “this is especially interesting because math is perhaps not a subject where teacher-student relations are as much a focus,” (Pianta et al. , 2008, p. 389). In summary, math self-efficacy appears to play an important role in math achievement and mediates the influence of mastery-oriented classroom environments on math achievement.
Global academic self-efficacy also seems to be positively affected by caring and challenging classroom environments. However, several issues remain unclear. Little is known either about the influence of caring and challenging classroom environments specifically on math self-efficacy or whether math self-efficacy mediates the influence of challenging and caring classroom environments on math achievement. Further, virtually nothing is known about the relationships between math self-efficacy, perceived classroom environment, and achievement in the context of standardized math test performance.
These are important gaps in the literature in light of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 that requires all students to take standardized math tests annually in grades 3 through 8 and once during high school. Scores on these tests are increasingly being used for “high-stakes” purposes that affect both students and teachers. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (2007), standardized test scores of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders can be used for the following purposes in California: to place students into instructional groups (e. . remedial or special education programs), determine school eligibility for federal funding, make decisions about whether principals, Math Self-efficacy 8 teachers, and staff are offered continued employment, and determine whether or not teachers get bonuses. Several researchers have argued that the implementation of NCLB has led to a focus on testing and evaluation that permeates the school environment (Meece, Anderman, & Anderman, 2006; Ryan et al. , 2007). It is important to examine how student motivation (e. g. elf-efficacy) and classroom environments are related to one another in this legislated performance-oriented environment. In the current study, we predicted that math self-efficacy mediates the influence the perceived of classroom environment on standardized math test performance (Figure 1). Specifically, we predict that students’ perceptions of the degree to which their classroom environment is mastery-oriented, challenging, and caring has a direct and positive influence on math self-efficacy, and math self-efficacy has a direct and positive effect on student performance on standardized math tests.
Each of these three aspects of the classroom environment will positively affect self-efficacy for the following reasons. Mastery-orientation will have a positive influence on math self-efficacy because environments that encourage students to take pride in their effort and value learning for its own sake, rather than simply emphasize the importance of good grades, will allow students to feel more confident in their ability.
Challenge will also be associated with higher math self-efficacy because being afforded the opportunity to progressively master tasks that are slightly beyond one’s current capacity allows a student to observe his/her own progress and gradually increase beliefs in his/her ability. Finally, caring will have a positive influence on math self-efficacy because Bandura (1993) argued that affective processes affect self-efficacy. In particular, environments that arouse anxiety and other negative emotions have a negative affect on efficacy beliefs (Usher, 2009).
We Math Self-efficacy 9 hypothesize that environments in which teachers take a personal interest in and emotionally support students are less likely to arouse negative emotions than environments in which teachers are impersonal and emotionally disconnected, and therefore caring environments will positively affect self-efficacy. Methods Participants The 1,163 participants in our study were fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who attended elementary school in an inland southern California suburban school district during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 academic years.
The schools were located in low to middle income neighborhoods, with 59% (n = 682) of our participants receiving free and/or reduced lunch. Participants came from 88 separate classrooms. The mean cluster size was 13. 22 (SD = 5. 95) and ranged from 2 to 25 students per classroom. The majority of our sample consisted of Latino/a (62%) and Caucasian (31%) students and other ethnic groups included African American (4%), Asian (1%), Pacific Islander (
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