Identifying Factors Common Among Students Who Do Not Fit the Typical Mathematics Self-Efficacy and Achievement Correlation

Jodi H. Mantilla, Utah State University


Previous research has shown that mathematical self-efficacy is positively correlated with mathematical performance level. However, in elementary classroom settings, teachers noticed that students with high mathematical self-efficacy had low mathematical performance level. On the other end of the spectrum, there are students who have low mathematical self-efficacy yet excel in mathematics. Discovering what factors are common among these two types of students can aid teachers in helping these students improve their self-efficacy and mathematics performance. This explanatory mixed-methods design was conducted in a K-6 elementary school with the research participants consisting of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade students. The first of two research phases included assessing students’ mathematical performance level and mathematical self-efficacy. Utilizing the criteria of high or low performance in correlation to high or low self-efficacy, the students were placed into one of four categories; high performance/high self-efficacy (High P/High SE), low performance/low self-efficacy (Low P/Low SE), high performance/low self-efficacy (High P/Low SE), and low performance/high self-efficacy (Low P/High SE). Phase II of the research included interviewing the top two students from the High P/High SE group and the bottom two from the Low P/Low SE group as well as all of the students in the High P/Low SE and the Low P/High SE groups. After the interviews were analyzed, the researcher identified the factors that are common to the High P/Low SE and Low P/High SE groups that were not found in the High P/High SE or Low P/Low SE groups. Some examples of these factors for students with High P/Low SE included feelings of jealousy, not feeling smart even when the math is easy, and not feeling encouraged by teachers and parents. Examples of these factors for students with Low P/High SE included preferring completing assignments in a group and giving up when the mathematics gets difficult. The potential implications of this research may be used in elementary classrooms to help teachers identify outlier students as well as help students better align their self-efficacy with their achievement level. The intended audience of this research was elementary mathematics teachers.