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Track Placement and the Motivational Predictors of Math Course Enrollment

by Marcela Reyes & Thurston Domina - 2017

Background: Virtually all high schools offer a range of courses to allow students to enroll in four years of high school mathematics. However, only two thirds of U.S. high school graduates took mathematics courses each school year.

Purpose/Research Question: This study addresses three research questions: First, how do studentsí math course enrollment and motivational beliefs (i.e., self-efficacy in math, math utility, interest in math, and college expectations) differ by math track? Second, what is the relationship between studentsí motivational beliefs and their decision to take four years of math? Third, to what extent does this relationship vary by math track and whether a student passes or fails a math course? Much of the relevant prior literature approaches these relations primarily from an individualistic psychological perspective, viewing motivation as a student-level attribute that similarly effects studentsí decision-making process. By contrast, our analyses take a more contextual approach, focusing particular attention on the ways in which studentsí math track placements shape their academic approaches and moderate the link between motivation and course-taking.

Research Design: This study uses secondary restricted-access data from the nationally representative Education Longitudinal Study (ELS: 2002). Students were surveyed and tested in mathematics during the base year (2002). In the follow-up (2004) year, data collectors requested academic transcripts for all participants along with follow-up student surveys and an additional math exam.

Findings: Our results coincide with previous motivation research that shows that students opt to take additional math courses when they are interested in math, consider themselves skillful in math, and have high college expectations. But the motivational predictors of math course enrollment vary with studentsí initial math placement. For above-track students, interest in math is the strongest indicator that they will take four years of math, followed by self-efficacy in mathematics and college expectations, respectively. In contrast, for both low-track and on-track students, the strongest indicator of taking four years of math is college expectations.

Conclusions: Our study focused on studentsí motivation and course enrollment, but this does not diminish the importance of tracking, curricular rigor, and teacher pedagogy. This study provides an additional way to improve inequities in math course enrollment, which is by making explicit recommendations for enhancing studentsí motivation. Understanding which particular beliefs have the greatest influence on specific student groups allows educators to appropriately allocate limited resources and increase math course enrollment. This would likely be more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 11, 2017, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21991, Date Accessed: 5/12/2021 7:50:07 PM

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About the Author
  • Marcela Reyes
    University of California, Irvine
    E-mail Author
    MARCELA REYES is a Ph.D. candidate in the UC Irvineís School of Education with a specialization in Educational Policy and Social Context. Her research falls along two broad streams of inquiry that contribute to adolescentsí college and career readiness. In the first line of inquiry, she follows how individualsí psychological state (e.g., motivational beliefs) influences their English and math achievement. In the second line of inquiry, she investigates the sociological factors (e.g., opportunities to learn, educational policy) that contribute to studentsí achievement. Her research has been published in Youth and Society and Learning and Individual Differences.
  • Thurston Domina
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    THURSTON DOMINA is associate professor of educational policy and sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research seeks to better understand the relationship between education and social inequality in the contemporary United States, focusing particular attention on the role organizations play in student transitions from middle and high school into higher education.
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