Examining the Relationships between Aspects of Academic Motivation, Stereotype Threat, and Attributions for Perceived Performance in a Middle School English Course



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Background: Despite decades of national attention, standardized tests and grade point averages continue to portray race and gender gaps in academic achievement (Steele, 1992; Vanneman, Hamilton, Anderson, & Rahman, 2009). Stereotype threat theory proposes that the gaps may be in part affected by perceptions that minority students have concerning societal structures as well as their own capabilities. Stereotype threat theory suggests that under certain situations, students of a minority status will demonstrate lowered performance on a meaningful task as they attempt not to confirm the negative stereotype to be true of their minority group (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Researchers have begun to investigate the influence of aspects of academic motivation (achievement goals, self-efficacy, and test anxiety) in the negative relationship between stereotype threat and academic performance (Brodish & Devine, 2009; Osborne, 2001; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). However, not much research has been conducted that examines the attributions that stereotype threatened students make regarding their perceptions of academic performance, particularly among African American middle school students. Purpose: Therefore, the main purpose of this study was to develop and test conceptual models that examine the direct and indirect effects of achievement goals and self-efficacy on attributions for perceived performance in a middle school English course, moderated by stereotype threat. Confirming these models will allow researchers to more fully understand the differences in motivational beliefs between stereotype threatened and non-threatened students. The second goal of this study was to more firmly establish the link between achievement goals and attributions among middle school students. Methods: The final sample included 789 sixth and seventh grade students who were enrolled in an English course in schools of a suburban school district. Participants were administered two questionnaires approximately one week apart from one another. Questionnaire 1 collected demographic data and measured achievement goals and self-efficacy. Questionnaire 2 assessed stereotype threat and causal attributions for perceived performance. Results: Path analyses of recursive models were conducted to examine the direct effects of mastery and performance achievement goals on four types of attributions. The indirect effects of these achievement goals on attributions were also explored to determine the extent that self-efficacy mediates the relationship between achievement goals and attributions. A multiple group path analysis was conducted and determined that stereotype threat does moderate the direct effects of achievement goals on attributions, but no moderated mediation was observed. Conclusion: Results provide insight into motivation of stereotype threatened students as well as to what they attribute their performance. This insight may help researchers and educators establish ways to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of stereotype threat as well as ways to increase academic performance for all students.



Stereotype Threat, Achievement goals, Attributions, Motivation