Student Characteristics and Motivation in Rural High Schools

Article excerpt

This research tested a path model for how rural high school students' self-perceptions and environmental perceptions influence their course-related interest, school engagement, and ultimately, post-graduation intentions. Participants were 414 students in all four grades, in 10 rural, public high schools. Correlation and path analyses (in LISREL 8.58) were utilized to identify significant paths and test model fit. All paths in the final model were statistically significant and demonstrated good fit. Among environmental factors, teacher support predicted student interest in subject matter. Of personal characteristics, learning goals and perceived competence most strongly predicted interest and achievement, and content-related perceptions of instrumentality and value strongly predicted class effort as well as future intentions to finish high school and go on to postsecondary education. Overall, these rural students exhibited positive motivational profiles for learning, apart from achievement. However, the MANOVA analysis demonstrated significantly lower motivational profile for math than for all other subjects.

Introduction

Recent debates in rural research alternately call for greater empirical rigor (i.e., use of experimental designs) to improve generalizability (Arnold, Newman, Gaddy & Dean, 2005) as well as sensitivity to the uniqueness and individuality of rural communities (Barley & Beesley, 2007; Howley, Theobald & Howley, 2005). The present study used a largely exploratory approach to examine the relationship between student characteristics, motives, and environmental perceptions, on the one hand, and effortful engagement and school-related intentions, on the other. It was our aim to develop a more parsimonious description of the relationship between motivational constructs in rural schools and to examine the relationships between these variables in the rural context. For the purposes of this study, we devised a proposed path model of the relationships among our variables of interest, realizing that considerable model respecification might be necessary in order to achieve a wellfitting and theoretically meaningful final model.

Focus on Rural Schools

Compared to work in urban and suburban educational settings, relatively little systematic research has been done in rural schools (Gándara, Gutièrrez & O'Hara, 2001). Over 30% of U.S. schools are in rural communities, yet less than 6% of research conducted in schools has included rural schools (Hardré, 2008). Rural schools serve large numbers of minority students, families in socioeconomic distress, and many single-parent families with little education (Flora, Flora & Fey, 2003; Khattri, Riley & Kane, 1997; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2004; Stern, 1994). Rural students are at risk for low motivation and lack of school success (D'Amico, Matthes, Sankar, Merchant & Zurita, 1996; Lichter, Roscigno & Condron, 2003; National Research Council, 1993). Most rural schools offer fewer support and extracurricular programs overall than do nonrural schools (Ballou & Podgursky, 1995; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2004), and teachers are often required to be an "expert" in multiple subject areas for multiple grade levels (Colangelo, Assouline & New, 1999; Fowler & Walberg, 1991; Lemke, 1994). Dropout rates in some of the more remote rural schools is well over twice the national average (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2001), and rural students often drop out or discontinue their educations prematurely (Gándara, Gutiérrez & O'Hara, 2001; Kao & Tienda, 1998). Rural communities are unique (Colangelo, Assouline & New, 1999; MacTavish & Salamon, 2003), and local values and opportunities exert influences on the attitudes of students and their families about education and careers, for better or worse (Barley & Beesley, 2007; Flora, Flora & Fey, 2003; Gándara, Gutierrez & O'Hara, 2001). …