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Con Cariño: Teacher Caring, Math Self-Efficacy, and Math Achievement Among Hispanic English Learners


by James L. Lewis, Robert K. Ream, Kathleen M. Bocian, Richard A. Cardullo, Kimberly A. Hammond & Lisa A. Fast — 2012

Background/Context: How do we account for the persistence of below-average math test score performance among California Hispanics who are fluent in English, as well as Spanish-dominant English learners? Recent studies have attributed the problem to an overly rigid focus on “what works” in curriculum and fluency in English to the veritable neglect of the social components of teaching and learning—particularly caring.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We investigated Hispanic elementary student perceptions of teacher caring in relation to their math self-efficacy and math test performance, and we specify the sequence of the relationship: Caring teachers bolster student self-efficacy in math, which in turn bolsters math test scores. Moreover, we sought to examine whether the meditational relationships among the variables were moderated by English language proficiency.

Research Design: Our correlational/comparative analyses were based on longitudinal data for 1,456 Hispanic students nested in 84 fifth- or sixth-grade classrooms in the spring of 2007. Students were either fluent English speakers (EFs, n = 799) or English learners (ELs, n = 657). We secured student self-report measures of teacher caring and math self-efficacy using the Student Motivation Questionnaire, and scores from the California Standards Test for Mathematics served as the primary dependent variable. While controlling for background variables, prior math achievement, and prior math self-efficacy where appropriate, we employed a well-known framework and a series of multilevel regression models to examine our hypothesis of moderated mediation.

Conclusions/Recommendations: For all study participants, caring teachers bolstered can-do attitudes in math, which in turn positively impacted math test scores. We identified two principal differences, however, in support of our hypothesis of moderated mediation that indicate that the total effect of teacher caring is larger among ELs. First, the magnitude of the direct link between teacher caring and math self-efficacy was more pronounced among ELs. Second, teacher caring was only partially mediated by math self-efficacy for ELs, whereas for EFs, the positive influence of teacher caring on math scores was completely mediated by math self-efficacy. Several issues come to light when the literature on how communication across cultural and language barriers impacts perceptions of caring is examined concurrently with our findings. Among them is the deemphasis of bilingual ability in California’s recent mandate for more authorizations to teach ELs, which may create a barrier to fostering caring teacher–student and teacher–parent relations for Hispanic EFs and especially Hispanic ELs, whose math achievement would otherwise stand to gain.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 7, 2012, p. 1-42
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16472, Date Accessed: 11/21/2014 8:39:41 PM

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About the Author
  • James Lewis
    University of California, Riverside
    E-mail Author
    JAMES L. LEWIS is a researcher and lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. His primary interests include statistics and measurement for the social sciences, as well as trust and social factors in educational institutions. His work has appeared in publications including the Journal of Educational Psychology, Science Education, the Journal of College Student Retention, and Remedial and Special Education. His recent publications include: Lewis, J., Menzies, H., Najera, E., & Page, R. (2009). Re-thinking trends in minority participation in the sciences. Science Education, 93, 961–977.
  • Robert Ream
    University of California, Riverside
    ROBERT K. REAM is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. His research addresses educational inequality, social capital, and Latina/o social demography. His work is published in scholarly journals, including American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Sociology of Education, and Social Forces. His recent publications include: Ream, R., & Rumberger, R. (2008). Student engagement, peer social capital, and school dropout among Mexican American and non-Latino White students. Sociology of Education, 81, 109–139.
  • Kathleen Bocian
    University of California, Riverside
    KATHLEEN M. BOCIAN is associate director of the Alpha Center and a researcher at the University of California, Riverside. She directs research grants funded by the Institute for Education Sciences in the UC Riverside Graduate School of Education. Her recent publications include: O'Connor, R., Bocian, K., Beebe-Frankenberger, M., & Linklater, D. (2010). Responsiveness of students with language difficulties to early intervention in reading. Journal of Special Education, 43, 220–235.
  • Richard Cardullo
    University of California, Riverside
    RICHARD A. CARDULLO is a professor of biology and a divisional dean of life sciences at the University of California, Riverside. His research program in biophysics addresses questions related to cellular activation in response to cues from the environment. A second research project focuses on how children learn, and specifically how professional development opportunities for teachers impact student learning in mathematics and science. His recent papers on this second program can be found in Science and the Journal of Educational Psychology.
  • Kimberly Hammond
    University of California, Riverside
    KIMBERLY A. HAMMOND is an associate professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside. Her research program in physiology addresses questions related to genetic and phenotypic adaptation to harsh environments. A second research project focuses on how development opportunities for teachers impact student learning in mathematics and science. A third research project focuses on informal science education about habitat conservation. Her recent papers on her second program can be found in Science and the Journal of Educational Psychology.
  • Lisa Fast
    MiraCosta College
    LISA A. FAST is a full-time instructor of psychology in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at MiraCosta College. Her research examines the expression of personality through language and predictors of academic success. Her recent publications include: Fast, L., Lewis, J. Bryant, M., Bocian, K., Cardullo, R., Rettig, M., et al.. (2010). Does math self-efficacy mediate the effect of the perceived classroom environment on standardized test math performance? Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 729–740.
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