Personal Characteristics Related to Developmental Math Courses
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
SMITH, D.L. (1998). Personal Characteristics Related to Developmental Math Courses. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved June 29, 2017 .

Personal Characteristics Related to Developmental Math Courses
DIANA L. SMITH
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this study was to examine psychological predictors of academic achievement in students enrolled in self-paced math courses. At the beginning of the fall1998 development math courses at Missouri Western State College, 250 students completed a questionnaire with standardized measures of procrastination, optimism, self-esteem, anxiety, locus of control, need for achievement, and fear of success. After the questionnaires were collected and tallied, correlations and mean comparisons were done to determine if psychological variables, gender, and age could predict math performance. The original hypothesis that gender would have an effect on optimism and self-esteem was not supported. However, the results indicated a significantly higher level of math anxiety in women and found a relationship between procrastination and age. These findings suggest that psychological factors should be considered when designing developmental math course.

INTRODUCTION
In an increasing technological society, knowledge of mathematics is needed to obtain a desired position in the work force. In addition to its necessity in scientific and technical fields, knowledge of mathematics is increasingly important in business, social sciences, and humanities. In spite of the importance of mathematics, however, many intellectually capable students avoid taking math courses in high school and in college, which in turn may limit their career choices to those that do not require math skills. A students failure to perform as well in math as they are capable of, may be do to psychological variables such as; procrastination, locus of control, fear of failure, need for achievement, anxiety, and optimism.Although procrastination is viewed as a negative and unproductive trait, it is estimated that ninety-five percent of college students procrastinate (Ellis and Knaus 1977, as cited in Senecal, Koestner, & Vallerand, 1995). According to Solmon and Rothblum (1984) procrastination is related to fear of failure arising from low self-esteem and anxiety. This hypotheses was supported in a study by Beswick, Rothblum, and Mann (1986, as cited in Owens & Newbegin, 1997) which found that procrastination was correlated with low self-esteem and anxiety in high school students. It is thought that some students use procrastination to protect their perceived level of self-worth (Owens & Newbegin, 1997). By using procrastination as an excuse for not studying or completing work, an individual can blame failure on lack of effort, thus keeping the individual`s self-concept intact. Procrastination has also been attributed to overestimation or underestimating the time it takes to complete a task (Lay, 1988). This implies that time restraint on task completion and how an individual deals with the restraint, optimistically or pessimistically, is a key condition for procrastination. According to Lay (1988), "optimistic persons would be more likely to form favorable outcome expectancies in some specific situation than pessimistic persons would, resulting in a greater likelihood of renewed effort on the part of the optimist than the pessimist (p.202)". Many researchers believe that academic procrastination is a motivational problem that involves more than poor time management skills or trait laziness (Senecal, Koestner, & Vallerand, 1995). Deci and Ryan (1991) distinguished between intrinsic motivation (doing something for pleasure and satisfaction) and extrinsic motivation (external forces, such as reward, influences actions and behaviors). The idea of external controls to intrinsic motivation is very complex. Persons who have intrinsic motivation do not procrastinate as much because they are interested in and find satisfaction in completing tasks. Where as persons who are externally motivated will procrastinate because they are not interested in tasks for satisfaction but rather for reward or acknowledgement purposes (Senecal, Koestner, & Vallerand, 1995). Findings suggesting that women have more intrinsic motivation and less external regulation with regard to academic activities than men (Connell & Ryan 1986, as cited in Senecal, Koestner, & Vallerand, 1995), help to support the hypothesis that women are less likely to procrastinate. One increasingly used concept to explain math avoidance and poor math performance are the differences that maybe occurring between male and female treatment in classrooms. Several researchers have suggested that due to the influence of sex role socialization, anxiety is more common in women than men (Stent, 1977). This hypothesis was supported in a study done by Betz (1995) looking at math anxiety in college students. In the study women reported significantly higher levels of math anxiety than men, due to earlier childhood experiences.Researchers have found correlations between levels of anxiety and age. In an article by Rothblum (1984) older women reported higher levels of math anxiety than younger women did. The younger students in the study were typical college undergraduates who entered college immediately following high school graduation. The older, nontraditional women students in the study had more time passe since they had taken high school mathematics. The study concluded that the amount of prior math experience and time that had elapsed between experiences could explain the differences found in anxiety between ages. In a study done by Betz (1995) there was a moderately strong relationship found between math anxiety and the number of years of high school math. The relationship that was found was consistent across gender and subject groups. This finding supports previous research done by Hendel (1977, as cited in Betz, 1978). Hendel found a correlation of - .31 between scores on the Math Anxiety Rating Scale and the number of high school math taken. One of the major academic hurdles for first year college student is the general studies mathematics requirement. Many students enter college underprepared in mathematics, and many are also math anxious (Betz, 1978). The present study, is an attempt to investigate associations between psychological variables and math performance. It is predicted that there will be differences found between anxiety and gender, optimism and gender, and self-esteem and gender. It is further predicted that correlations will be found regarding past mathematics experiences, procrastination and age, locus of control and age, and fear of failure and age.


METHODS

PARTICIPANTS
The participants in this study consisted of 250 students enrolled in the developmental math courses during the fall 1998 semester at Missouri Western State College. Each student in the developmental math courses received a questionnaire and the participants consisted of those who filled out the questionnaire and returned it within ten days.

SURVEY INSTRUMENT
The participants in this study were asked to complete a questionnaire including the following assessment instruments: the Life Orientation Test (LOT; Scheir & Carver, 1985), a measure of optimism, Lay`s (1986) Procrastination Scale, Rosenberg`s (1965) Self- Esteem Scale, Rotter`s (1966) Internal-External Locus of Control, Eckhoff`s (1990) Fear of Success Scale, A Quick Measure of Achievement Motivation (Smith, 1973), and The Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS, Suinn 1972).

PROCEDURE
The paper and pencil survey was administered during the first two weeks of class by the professor of the course and myself. The participants were instructed to return the questionnaires within one week after receiving them. Once the surveys were collected and tallied, the psychological and demographic variables were correlated.


RESULTS
An independent t test comparing the mean scores of anxiety and gender found significant difference between the scores of the two variables (t(129) = -3.240, p<.01). The anxiety scores of the females were significantly higher (M = 36.47, sd = 8.20) than the anxiety scores of the males (M = 31.38, sd = 9.43). An independent t test was calculated comparing the mean scores of optimism and gender. No significant difference was found (t(246) = -.598, p > .05). The scores of the females (M = 19.54, sd = 6.51) were not different from the males (M = 19.06, sd = 5.90). An independent t test was calculated comparing the mean scores of self-esteem and gender. No significant difference was found (t(244) = .496, p >.05). The scores of the females (M = 32.17, sd = 6.25) were not different from the males (M = 32.56, sd = 5.90). A Pearson correlation was calculated examining the relationship between the number of high school courses completed in math and anxiety. A weak non-significant correlation was found (r(129) = .100, p > .05). Number of high school courses completed in math is not related to anxiety (see figure 1). A Pearson correlation was calculated examining the relationship between a subject`s age and procrastination. A weak negative correlation was found (r(246) = -.202, p < .01) indicating a significant liner relationship between the two variables. Older subjects tend to procrastinate less (see figure 2). A Pearson correlation was calculated examining the relationship between a subject`s age and locus of control. A weak non-significant correlation was found (r(244) = .074, p > .05). Age is not related to locus of control (see figure 3). A Pearson correlation was calculated examining the relationship between a subject`s age and fear of failure. A weak non-significant correlation was found (r(246) = -.029, p > .05). Age is not related to fear of failure (see figure 4).


DISCUSSION
Inspired by the need to improve student performance in developmental math courses, the purpose of this study was to determine if psychological factors combined with age and gender variables could predict math performance. The original hypothesis that gender would have an effect on optimism and self-esteem was not supported. However, the results are consistent with Betz`s (1995) findings of a significantly higher level of math anxiety in women and support Rothblum`s (1984) hypothesis that there is a relationship between procrastination and age. The difference`s found in anxiety levels between females and males should be of interest to counselors and teachers. In an article by Stent (1977) it was suggested that the differences in anxiety might be do to how females and males are treated in the classroom. Teachers and counselor may want to take this result into consideration when help females with feelings of anxiety. In order to help students through their math courses, it is also important to deal with issues such as age and the amount of time that has elapsed since taking a math course. The results in this study indicate a relationship between procrastination and age. This finding suggests that younger students procrastinate more. Thus, in helping a student to improve their scores in math one may want to take into consideration procrastination. The limitations of this study consist of the limited geographic area used. The study was only conducted using students in the developmental math courses at one college in the Midwest. Generalizability is therefor somewhat limited. In addition, the questionnaires were only completed by those that wanted to participate. In future research more students as well as a broader geographic area should be included to provide stronger more generalizable results. Another extension of this research would be to include the perspectives of counselors as well as teachers. Overall, results of the study indicate that psychological variables should be considered when designing developmental math courses and in structuring support services for those students enrolled in the classes.


REFERENCES
Betz, N. E. (1978). Prevalence, distribution, and correlates of math anxiety in college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 25, 441-448. Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 38, 237-288. Eckhoff, D. O. (1990). A fear of success scale: Team project for measurements and appraisals. Unpublished manuscript, Missouri Western State College. Lay, C. H. (1986). At last, my research article on procrastination. Journal of Research in Personality, 20, 474-495. Lay, C. H. (1988). The relationship of procrastination and optimism to judgment of time to complete an essay and anticipation of setbacks. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 3, 201-214. Owens, A. M., & Newbegin, I. (1997). Procrastination in high school achievement: A causal structural model. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 12, 869-887. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80. Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychology, 4, 219-247. Senecel, C., Koestner, R., & Vallerand, R. J. (1995). Self-regulation and academic procrastination. The Journal of Social Psychology, 135, 607-619. Smith, J. M. (1973). A quick measure of achievement motivation. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12, 137-143. Stent, A. (1977). Can math anxiety be conquered? Change, 9, 40-43.Suinn, R. M. (1972). The mathematics anxiety rating scale. Ft. Collins. CO: RMBSI.


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Submitted 12/3/98 9:18:53 AM
Last Edited 12/3/98 1:25:18 PM
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