Parent involvement and student academic motivation towards science in 9th grade

Parent involvement and student academic motivation towards science in 9th grade

With increasing concern about student disengagement from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), parental engagement is viewed by researchers, educators, and educational administrators as an important factor in the educational success of their children in these disciplines (An et al., 2019; Castro et al., 2015; Harackiewicz et al., 2012; Simpkins et al., 2015). However, not all parents possess the necessary knowledge and skills to support their children’s academic efforts. This especially applies to STEM content where parents might have limited STEM-related skills, knowledge, or vocabulary. Parents might also have negative attitudes about their children studying STEM (Kaya and Lundeen, 2010; Perera et al., 2014; Sha et al., 2015; Thomas and Strunk, 2017). These barriers can restrict parents’ ability to support their children in meaningful STEM learning. Therefore, it is important to examine how parents can meaningfully engage in their children’s education, especially in STEM areas. Using the High School Longitudinal Survey (HSLS:09), this study examines how parents’ STEM-related activities, beliefs, and values influence their child’s academic motivation and academic self-efficacy in STEM.

Expectancy-value theory suggests that students make choices about whether or not to engage in an academic task based on the interaction between their expectation of success and the subjective value of that task (Wigfield and Eccles, 2000). The theory emphasizes that the students’ perception of expectancy of success and task value are constructed through socialization with significant others and situated within environmental and temporal factors (Eccles and Wigfield, 2020). As powerful influencers of students’ expectancy-value beliefs, parents communicate their beliefs and values both implicitly and explicitly through their interactions and behaviors regarding academic topics. The influence of parents’ beliefs and values on their child’s motivation, particularly in science, has been historically under-investigated (Lee et al., 2019; Wigfield and Eccles, 1992).

Between 2009 and 2019, the number of students taking AP mathematics and science exams has increased in every STEM subject area (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), 2019). However, the gender distribution represented by AP STEM areas remains unchanged from the previous decade (NSF, 2012). Female students took over half (56%) of the total number of AP exams in several STEM areas including biology (63%), environmental science (56%), statistics (52%), and chemistry (51%). However, for the majority of STEM AP subjects, female students accounted for less than half of the test takers (NCSES, 2019).

Students identifying as male (55%) were more likely than those identifying as female (48%) to report that they took a science course because they “really enjoy science” (NCES, 2021). On the other hand, students identifying as female (29%) were more likely than those identifying as male (26%) to report taking a science course because their “parents encouraged me to take it” (NCES, 2021). Further, male and female-identifying students varied in their perceptions of their math and science identity and ability. For example, about half of male students saw themselves as a “science person” compared to 46% of their female counterparts. Male students (71%) were more likely than female students (62%) to be confident in their “ability to do an excellent job on science tests” (NCES, 2021).

The influence of parents’ beliefs and behaviors on students’ expectancies and task values have been widely examined across a variety of academic content areas. For example, Simpkins et al. (2012), using the Childhood and Beyond Study, provided a comprehensive, longitudinal study of the connections between mothers’ beliefs and behaviors in elementary school and youths’ beliefs and behaviors in adolescence across sports, music, math, and reading. They found that while mothers’ behaviors predicted youths’ value in sports, music, and math, they did not predict youths’ reading beliefs or math self-concept. Lee et al. (2019) explored gender differences in the effects of parents’ beliefs on their children’s motivation, achievement, and career aspirations in STEM-related careers. They found that parents’ beliefs strongly predicted their sons’ science motivation, but did not predict their daughters’ science motivation suggesting that socializers beyond parents’ beliefs were required to influence their motivation. Finally, Harackiewicz et al. (2012) found that an intervention which focused on increasing communication around the utility value of math and science courses between parents and their adolescent children, increased parents’ value of STEM courses and increased the number of STEM courses the students took during their last two years of high school. However, a subsequent study found significant gender differences in the effectiveness of the same intervention and low-achieving daughters benefited the least (Rozek et al., 2015).

With current national and state level educational policies and initiatives focusing on improving the performance of students, particularly in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, student course-taking behaviors in high school and college major choice is of particular concern (NSF, 2012). It is important to develop understanding about how parents influence students’ decisions at consequential educational markers in order to best target effective interventions. The purpose of this study is to focus on specific parental behaviors and beliefs that influence students’ motivational profiles in science, including science identity, utility, and competency.

Following is a brief overview of the current literature, specifically in regards to the parental factors that have demonstrated to influence high school students’ science motivation.

Parental involvement defined

The definition of parental involvement is complex and multifaceted. Some researchers’ definitions rely upon parent behaviors (An et al., 2019; Castro et al., 2015; De Silva et al., 2018; Sha et al. (2015), Shumow and Schmidt, 2014) while others interpret parents’ science-related beliefs (Harackiewicz et al., 2012; Lee et al., 2019; Rozek et al., 2015; Simpkins et al., 2018; Vedder-Weiss and Fortus, 2013). Castro et al. (2015) and De Silva et al. (2018) define parental involvement as being actively involved in every aspect of their child’s development. In addition to involvement in their academic development, specifically reading support, parents should also be involved in their emotional and social growth (Castro et al., 2015).

In contrast, Rodriguez et al. (2013) divided the different aspects of parental involvement into three major categories: “home environment, parents and school/community, and students and school/community” (p 51). Examples of the home environment include, assistance with homework, monitoring, peers/siblings as role models, and parental expectations (Rodriguez et al., 2013). When it comes to parents and the school/community, parents have multiple routes of communication, participating in the decision-making, volunteering at their child’s school, and receiving support for parenting (Rodriguez et al., 2013). Parental engagement, as discussed by Shumow and Schmidt (2014), occurs at home (homework, rules, and routines), at school, and through educational planning. This view aligns with Vedder-Weiss and Fortus’ (2013) parental involvement definition which places an emphasis on the achievement of goals.

Another aspect of parental involvement which was explored by Castro et al. (2015) was communication between students and parents on school activities. Here, parental involvement goes both ways. To involve parents, schools need to ensure that their curriculum and teaching is student-centered, socially relevant and culturally appropriate (Rodriguez et al., 2013). By providing homework that is culturally and socially appropriate, parental involvement may be increased (Rodriguez et al., 2013). Supporting the use of homework as an effective tool for parental involvement, Karaçöp et al. (2016) insists that although parents may not feel comfortable assisting students in science homework, they can encourage curiosity, the openness to learn, and consistent homework habits. In addition, the role played by parents during science activities may depend upon the parents’ educational background and science literacy (Eș et al., 2019).

In contrast to using parental behaviors as their definition, other studies defined parental involvement as parents’ science beliefs, specifically, parents’ expectancy for success (Thomas and Strunk, 2017) and expectancy value of science (Harackiewicz, 2012). Uniquely, Rozek et al. (2015) defined parental involvement as the mothers’ utility value for their student. As this overview has demonstrated, there exists a wide variety of definitions of parental involvement within the limited number of studies. Thus, defining parental involvement, especially in science, involves many interpretations.

The complexity of parent involvement and indicators of student science motivation and success

In general, parents are less involved in their student’s science education than other subjects such as reading and math, due to low science self-efficacy and lack of school communication (Kaya and Lundeen, 2010). Students’ motivation to learn science also declines as they progress through school, particularly during fifth through eighth grade (Vedder-Weiss and Fortus (2013)). But it is difficult to compare the relationship of parental involvement and student science motivation across grade levels due to the limited studies and the ranges in which they were explored. Across all ages, the indicators for student science motivation and success were also diversely defined.

Similar to the various perspectives of parental involvement, the definition of student motivation also fell within two broad categories, 1. student behaviors and 2. student beliefs. Karaçöp et al. (2016) assessed student success and motivation through school attendance and their positive attitudes towards school. In contrast, Vedder-Weiss and Fortus (2013) categorized indicators of science student motivation into three groups, extracurricular engagement, personal mastery, and classroom engagement. Sha et al. (2015) assessed student motivation in science through academic achievement on a pre and post test and their self-reported science self-efficacy. Test scores were also used by others to assess student motivation, but these test scores were collected from exams associated with the course and or grade-level (An et al., 2019; Castro et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2019; Thomas and Strunk, 2017). Two studies assessed academic achievement through student GPAs (Rozek et al., 2015; Shumow and Schmidt, 2014). In addition to GPAs, Rozek et al. (2015) also assessed student motivation through the number of science and math courses taken the junior and senior years, similar to Harackiewicz et al.’s study in 2012. Uniquely, Shumow and Schmidt (2014) defined student motivation as science homework completion as well as GPA. In contrast to the studies with student motivation assessed through observable behaviors such as grades, test scores, the number of science courses taken, etc. some researchers explicitly assessed students’ motivational beliefs (De Silva et al., 2018) the value of science (Lee et al., 2019), the child’s self-efficacy (Sha et al., 2015; Thomas and Strunk (2017); students’ in-class beliefs (Shumow and Schmidt, 2014), and career aspirations (Lee et al., 2019). In summary, the few studies that exist do not all agree upon one definition of parental involvement nor upon the indicator for student academic science motivation and success.

Associations to parental involvement and student science motivation

A meta-analysis conducted by Castro et al. (2015) revealed that high expectations of parents have a strong and positive association with student academic achievement in all subjects and school grades. Parental involvement is also positively associated with school attendance and positive attitudes towards school (Karaçöp et al., 2016). Thus, parental involvement is important. This is especially true in elementary grades (Sha et al., 2015). In their meta-analysis of K-12 schooling of all subjects, Castro et al. (2015) found a strong association between parent aspirations and academic achievement. But, they declared the two science-specific studies’ effect inadequate for interpretation because it contained a relatively large error (Castro et al., 2015). The literature on the associations to parental involvement and student motivation is limited, specifically within science. Within the limited literature specific to science, and in contrast to Castro et al. (2015), researchers agree that parental involvement is an indicator of student science motivation and or achievement (Harackiewicz et al., 2012; Perera et al., 2014; Sha et al., 2015; Shumow and Schmidt, 2014; Thomas and Strunk, 2017; Vedder-Weiss and Fortus, 2013). Notably, Thomas and Strunk (2017) found that parents have an influence on elementary students’ achievement over and above children’s own self-efficacy beliefs about science.

Parent attitudes about science (Perera et al., 2014), parents’ expectancy (Thomas and Strunk, 2017), their engagement at-home and at-school (Shumow and Schmidt, 2014), and parent beliefs (Simpkins et al., 2018) are each a positive and significant indicator of students’ science achievement. Additionally, students’ personal mastery goals and extracurricular science engagement (Vedder-Weiss and Fortus, 2013), and students’ interest in science, self-efficacy, and engagement (Sha et al., 2015), were also positively related to parental involvement. Both Harackiewicz et al. (2012) and Rozek et al. (2015) found that when parents received science-related content to assist with the support of their students, students were more likely to take an additional science course compared to students whose parents did not receive the information. Since assistance with homework is another way parents are able to be involved, it is also important to note that homework assistance decreases as students reach higher levels of science (Karaçöp et al., 2016). Moreover, Shumow and Schmidt (2014) found that the time parents spend with students working with science outside school was negatively associated with students’ GPAs. If an increase in involvement with homework was due to a call home from the school to the parents in order to express concern, the call could lead to negative feelings in both parents and students (Shumow and Schmidt, 2014). Thus, it may be important to establish parent connections within the schools early in the school year to avoid communication only after a students’ poor academic performance. Another way to involve parents before an academic or behavior issue prompts a call home is through positive science learning experiences such as “Family Science Night” (Kaya and Lundeen, 2010). These studies demonstrate that although the impact of parental involvement upon student science motivation and performance is complex, parents are indeed important.

Gender and socioeconomic status (SES)

When considering population characteristics, findings indicated that there is a drop in effect size (Castro et al.’s, 2015). However, Simpkins et al.’s (2018) found potential differences between gender and familism values in regards to parents and student science motivation. They found that although parents’ have an impact on student beliefs, especially when students exhibit high familism, this is particularly true for males (Simpkins et al., 2018). Similarly, Lee et al. (2019) stated, “while parental perceptions of the value of science for their child was a significant predictor of their sons’ value in science, they did not predict their daughters’ value in science” (p 95). This was evident in the boys’ higher selection of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career aspirations as well (Lee et al., 2019). Uniquely, Rozek et al. (2015) “…hypothesized that gender differences might emerge once we consider students’ past performance” (p 3). When girls had performed well in 9th grade, the intervention increased their likelihood to take STEM courses in 12th grade (Rozek et al., 2015). The opposite was true for boys. The intervention led boys to take more STEM courses in 12th grade when they had not done well in 9th grade (Rozek et al. 2015). Regarding socioeconomic status (SES), Perera, et al. (2014) found that families with low SES benefit from parental involvement as much as families with high SES. Specifically, parents’ expectations had a significantly positive impact on student achievement across all SES areas (An et al., 2019).

Purpose of the study

Using the NCES High School Longitudinal Survey (HSLS:09), we examined how parent beliefs and behaviors regarding their 9th grader’s science education predicted the students’ motivational profile towards science. Specifically, the research questions for this study are:

How do parents’ participation in their 9th grade child’s academic science activities both at home and at school affect their child’s academic motivation towards science?

How do parents’ beliefs about their own confidence in helping their 9th grade child with their science homework affect their child’s academic motivation towards science?

By conducting a multiple, linear regression we were able to measure the predictive quality of these parent variables on the 9th grade students’ academic motivation towards science.

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