James Martinez
By James A. Martinez, Lecturer, Field Supervisor and Thesis Advisor for CI’s School of Education

With the support of both CSU Channel Islands and California Lutheran University, I recently completed a quantitative research study relating psychosocial learning attitudes to academic achievement in mathematics for U.S. high school students.

The study served as an extension of my doctoral dissertation and provided the basis for an article to be published in the November 2016 edition of the Academy of Educational Studies’ Critical Questions in Education Journal. In addition, results of this study were presented last spring at the 2016 California Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Symposium and this fall at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference.

The purpose of this study was to examine the degree that psychosocial attitudes affect academic achievement in mathematics for students of different races during their secondary school years.

Data was gathered from a nationally distributed longitudinal survey involving more than 16,000 student participants under the auspices of the National Center for Education Statistics. The students identified their racial backgrounds by selecting from a list of races, which included: White, Hispanic/Latino, African American, Asian, Native American/Alaskan, and Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. Transcript information was incorporated into the analysis, so student math attitudes and racial profiles could be correlated to courses taken and grades.

Significant differences were found when comparing Hispanic to non-Hispanic students regarding student self-evaluations of mathematics affinity, appreciation and capacity. In addition, there were statistically significant differences in the levels of mathematics courses taken by students of differing races, which led to the conclusion that high school students in the United States are differentially prepared in mathematics based on race.

Some very surprising results also were discovered when comparing student grades obtained by sophomores who were enrolled in geometry, a course considered “on track” for that grade level. In this nationally representative sample, Hispanic students had the highest grades in geometry as compared to those earned by whites, African Americans and those of Asian ancestry.

After a detailed case-by-case analysis, it was determined that Hispanic students taking geometry as sophomores were some of the highest achieving students of their race at their schools, and the traditionally higher achieving students from other races (i.e. whites and students of Asian ancestry) were enrolled in higher level mathematics classes, such as Algebra II and Pre-Calculus in their sophomore years.

Additionally, Hispanic students in the study, significantly more than their non-Hispanic peers, felt that “(you) had to be born with math ability,” which represents limitations to these students’ self-confidence and motivation toward achieving mathematics as high school students.

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© Fall 2016 / Volume 20 / Number 02 / Bi-annual

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