Secondary school students' self-efficacy in mathematics and achievement in diverse schools
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Improving the achievement of students in New Zealand is a major commitment of the Government. In his report on the national education priorities, the Minister of Education (2003) clearly stipulates the key goals and strategies across the education system to improve educational outcomes. One of the two major goals, which is a part of the key priorities for the next three years, is to “reduce systematic underachievement in education” (p. 8). To attain this goal the focus of the Government will be, among others, to lift the achievement levels of the bottom 25% especially in literacy and numeracy, increase retention in senior secondary school, and increase achievement at higher tertiary levels by all cultural groups. Strategies focus on raising expectations for achievement of all learners, focusing on quality teaching, strengthening family and community involvement and focusing on learning outcomes. Fancy (2004), Secretary of Education in New Zealand, states that from the 1990s there is a shift in focus in the education sector from that of good administration to effective teaching and clearer expectations on student achievement. A crucial factor in achievement is self-efficacy. Research has been extensive on the relationship between self-efficacy and student achievement in academic settings. With increasing diversity in the student population, and wide disparities in achievement of students in New Zealand, the need to assess student self-efficacy emerges as a valuable source of evidence about students’ self-beliefs in achievement in distinct subjects, and in the use of cognitive, motivational, self-regulatory strategies and related determinants of achievement. The concept of self-efficacy is based on the triadic reciprocality model symbolising a relationship between: (a) personal factors i.e., cognition, emotion, and biological events, (b) behaviour, and (c) environmental factors (Maddux, 1995). Cognition, emotion and behaviour are the domains of personality which form the basis of research in self-efficacy. Self-report scales are most commonly used in the assessment of self-efficacy. The guidelines to construct scales to assess selfefficacy have been specified by Bandura (2001). These guidelines highlight the importance of developing self-report measures which are task specific, and take into consideration all three domains of self-efficacy and three levels within each domain. Suggestions to develop measures which are reliable and have content validity have been provided in the guidelines. Self efficacy is viewed as a multidimensional construct which shares a reciprocal relationship with various determinants of learning and achievement. The determinants considered in the present study include: (a) motivation strategies, (b) cognitive strategies, (c) resource management, (d) self-regulated learning, (e) meeting others’ expectations, and (f) self-assertiveness. The major aims of the present research are to assess diverse students’ self-efficacy in mathematics, and the relationship between self-efficacy and achievement. Students’ self-efficacy in the use of specific learning strategies is further explored. Teachers’ beliefs in the use of learning strategies within the classroom context are also surveyed. Situated in multicultural schools with groups of diverse students, participants were students who opted for mathematics in Form VI and Form VII from three schools, and mathematics teachers from one of the secondary schools. In Phase I, self-efficacy is assessed in the context of the three domains; that is, cognitive, behavioural and emotional self-efficacy. A survey of students and teachers’ self beliefs in the use of learning strategies is undertaken in Phase II of the study. The scores on the scales of self-efficacy in mathematics and in use of learning strategies are correlated with students’ achievement results in mathematics. While the findings from the study show students reporting moderately high levels of self-efficacy, the perceived levels of self-efficacy in the different domains is not reflected in achievement in mathematics. The reasons for this incongruence is explored in the context of student achievement trends, and the wider socio-cultural and historical context of New Zealand society, with recommendations including a four-point strategy to raise achievement of students.