Why do students perform poorly in mathematics and science? : a study of the attributions made by high school teachers, university instructors, and university students

Mills, Dolores (1990) Why do students perform poorly in mathematics and science? : a study of the attributions made by high school teachers, university instructors, and university students. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

This study was based on the premise that it is important to identify and clarify the attributions that students and teachers make about their performance in school. These attributions underlie the expectations that students and teachers hold for each other and may influence how students perform academically. -- The investigation focused on the attributions for poor performance by students in mathematics and science made by the participants in the transitional stage between secondary and tertiary levels of the educational system. High school teachers, university instructors, and first year university students were administered surveys containing a set of statements attributing poor performance by students to a variety of causes. Measures of student performance were the marks students obtained from local high school evaluation, provincial public exams, and university exams in mathematics and science courses. -- Factor analysis of the attribution statements from the surveys provided an indication of how each group of respondents distinguished between various types of attributions. This analysis also allowed the attributions to be grouped into categories. Mean response scores on the attribution statements were used to determine the relative emphasis given to different attributions. Finally, the relationships between attributions and achievement were examined in light of the results of a regression analysis of and correlations between scores on the attributional measures and students' marks on the achievement measures. -- University instructors and high school teachers identified lack of student effort, lack of student ability, teacher/instructor characteristics, and situational characteristics as distinct categories of attributions. Both groups emphasized lack of student effort as the major cause of poor performance by students at the secondary and post-secondary levels. However, instructors gave equal emphasis to inadequacies of the high schools and the high school teachers in preparing students for university. Students did not distinguish between lack of ability and lack of effort attributions. They identified effort and ability of students in general, personal effort and ability, teacher/instructor characteristics, and situational characteristics as categories of attributions. At the beginning of their first semester at university, students echoed their high school teachers in emphasizing lack of effort by students in general as a major cause of poor performance. At the end of the semester, students echoed their instructors when they emphasized lack of preparation in high school. -- Relationships between teachers’ attributions and the marks they assigned students from high school evaluation were mostly negligible. This may have been due to the restricted range of response scores from the attribution survey. Negative correlations were obtained between students' attribution scores and their marks on all achievement measures. Particularly significant were those relationships between attributions pertaining to personal lack of ability and effort and achievement. -- Several observations from this study may be made. -- 1. The attributions that students emphasize are influenced by those made by their high school teachers and university instructors. -- 2. Students seem to confuse the concepts of ability and effort. This suggests that they cannot decide whether lack of ability or lack of effort causes their poor performance. -- 3. Attributions to personal lack of ability and personal lack of effort are significantly related to students' achievement. These statements may be used to predict students' performance in university and their intentions to persist in mathematics and science at the post-secondary level.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/742
Item ID: 742
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 102-110
Department(s): Education, Faculty of
Date: 1990
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Mathematics--Study and teaching (Higher)--Newfoundland and Labrador; Mathematics--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Newfoundland and Labrador; Science--Study and teaching (Higher)--Newfoundland and Labrador; Attribution (Social psychology); Academic achievement; Teacher-student relationships; Science--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Newfoundland and Labrador

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