Understanding the Interactive Effects of School Connectedness, Meaningful Participation, and Students' Competence Beliefs on Academic Achievement



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Background: Understanding students’ motivation in educational settings has been a focus of educators for decades and has been integral for supporting students’ academic achievement across grade levels. Motivation theories, such as self-determination theory, explain how perceptions of the classroom environment influence students’ motivation. Self-determination theory provides a framework for how motivation progresses on a continuum from external to internal motivation. Within self-determination theory, three needs must be met for an individual to feel motivated: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Competence beliefs refer to an individual’s feelings of confidence and capability. Competence beliefs across domains and tasks have been linked to outcomes like academic achievement. There is also evidence that competence beliefs decline as students progress through school. The second need, relatedness, refers to feeling cared for and connected to others. Relatedness in educational settings has often been referred to as school connectedness, which involves feelings of belonging, safety, and fairness. The last need, autonomy, refers to an individual’s perceptions of being the main source of their behavior. Autonomy in educational settings includes meaningful participation in classroom activities that are purposeful and of interest to students, and having choices. As students move through developmental stages, their perceptions of having their needs for competence, relatedness and autonomy met in educational settings may change. Understanding how these needs interact and influence one another throughout high school may help identify students who could benefit from more targeted efforts to enhance competence beliefs, school connectedness, or meaningful participation. How do ninth-grade students’ perceptions of competence, autonomy, and relatedness compare to eleventh-grade students’ perceptions? How do perceptions of competence, autonomy, and relatedness interact with one another to impact achievement? Purpose: The goal of the present study was to identify interactive effects of students’ competence beliefs, perceptions of autonomy, and relatedness on self-reported grades. Evaluating the interaction among these motivational needs can provide insight into how these work together to promote academic achievement during the important high school years, especially for vulnerable students. Methods: Data were obtained from the 2017-2018 administration of the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) across 39 districts in California to assess the motivational beliefs of students in ninth and eleventh grades (ninth grade: N = 10,117 and eleventh grade: N = 20,706). The effect of grade level on competence beliefs, relatedness (measured as school connectedness), and autonomy (measured as meaningful participation) was examined to determine whether eleventh grade students report lower perceptions than ninth graders. Latent variable moderation models were run to examine all two- and three-way interactions between competence beliefs, school connectedness, and meaningful participation on academic achievement. Each interaction was assessed in both ninth- and eleventh-grade samples respectively. Results: Analyses revealed significant main effects on self-reported grades for ninth graders’ competence beliefs, B = 0.85, p < .001, school connectedness, B = 0.19, p < .01, and meaningful participation, B = 0.30, p < .001, and eleventh graders’ competence beliefs, B = 0.36, p < .001, school connectedness, B = 0.21, p < .001, and meaningful participation, B = 0.29, p < .001. For the eleventh-graders, significant two-way interactions were observed, where perceived competence beliefs moderated the relation between perceived autonomy and grades, B = -0.16, p < .01. In addition, perceptions of school connectedness moderated the relation between perceived autonomy and grades, B = -0.14, p < .001. For the eleventh graders, there was also a significant three-way interaction on grades, B = 0.11, p < .05. The findings provide insights into how students with high and low levels of perceived competence beliefs, relatedness, and autonomy report their academic performance, and thus important directions for future motivational research.



Competence beliefs, Relatedness, Autonomy