Changes in high-school students' competence beliefs, utility value and achievement goals in mathematics

Roch Chouinard, Normand Roy
British Journal of Educational Psychology 2008, 78 (Pt 1): 31-50

BACKGROUND: Many studies have revealed that there is a significant decrease over time in high-school students' attitudes towards mathematics learning. Some authors conclude that motivation in mathematics stabilizes or improves around grade 9; others propose that the decline is continuous. It is unclear if girls or boys are more affected by this phenomenon.

AIMS: The present study aims to further examine changes in competence beliefs, utility value and achievement goals in mathematics during high school, taking gender and period of the academic year into account.

SAMPLE: 1,130 participants from 18 secondary schools, distributed in two cohorts (grades 7 and 9).

METHOD: Attitudinal scales designed to measure competence beliefs, utility value and achievement goals in mathematics were administered at the beginning and end of three academic years in a longitudinal cohort-sequential research design using two sequential cohorts. Hierarchical linear modelling was used to analyse the data.

RESULTS: Results showed an ongoing reduction of most of the variables measured. This was the case for both cohorts and genders. However, boys were more affected than girls. Furthermore, for all variables, motivation tended to be lower at the end of the academic year than at the beginning.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results support the hypothesis of a regular decline of motivation in mathematics during high school, accentuated between grades 9 and 11. Moreover, our results illustrate gender convergence in mathematics rather than gender differentiation. Finally, the gradual drop in motivation in mathematics appears to be a two-step phenomenon: a decrease between and within grade levels.

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