Is Class Attendance a Proxy Variable for Student Motivation in Economics Classes? an Empirical Analysis

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In recent studies, Romer (1993) and Durden and Ellis (1995; 1998) have shown that class attendance appears to affect student average scores and resulting grades in economics classes. Specifically, the fewer absences a student has, the higher the overall exam average and the greater the probability that a given student will earn an A or B. In his study, Romer also attempts to answer the question, Do class attendance rates and internal motivation separately influence performance, or is attendance simply a proxy for the motivation? His results suggest that both factors affect how well a student does, requiring that the influence of each be accounted for.

This study provides an additional test of the relative effects of absence rates and of the effects of internal student motivation. This analysis, however, differs from that of Romer in several ways. Whereas Romer's equations are based on samples ranging from 116 to 195 students in an intermediate macroeconomics class taught by a single individual at a research institution, this study is based on a sample of 252 students enrolled in a principles of economics course taught by two different professors at a comprehensive university. Moreover, Romer's data on absence rates were derived from attendance records limited to six class meetings where he took roll; this study is based on absence rates for a full semester. Finally, while Romer's model is minimally specified, including only absence rates, prior GPA, and his proxy for motivation (the fraction of assigned problem sets completed by each student), this model is more fully realized. Such differences will provide a useful refutation or corroboration of Romer's work.

The Influence of Student Motivation and Other Factors

The dependent variable used for this study is the overall class average for each student. Since there are two instructors represented, observations are normalized so that the mean score for each is equivalent. The independent variables (1) were constructed from responses to a survey administered to students during the fall semester of 1996. These variables include the number of Absences from class, GPA, SAT Math score, SAT Verbal score, and Semester Hours Completed, which are all continuous variables. GPA and SAT scores were independently verified by someone qualified to review relevant materials. This study also contains three dummy variables: Male, with value=1 if male, 0 if female; Calculus, with value=1 if the student has taken calculus, 0 otherwise; and Job, with value=1 if the student is working, 0 otherwise.

In order to measure the influence of motivation, the authors of this study constructed two variables. The first variable is a composite, which is based on answers to several motivation-related questions from the survey. These questions seek to determine why the student enrolled in the course, what is the perceived difficulty of the course compared to others taken by the student, whether the student had a personal interest in the course content, if the student would take another economics course, and whether the respondent was motivated to do well in economics, relative to other courses. On each question, the intensity ranged from 1, low motivation, to 3, the highest motivation level. Using the information obtained, the authors of this study created Motive 1, which, for each respondent, is the numerical sum of answers to the motivation-related questions. Values for Motive 1 range from 5 to 14. On an additional survey question, students were asked directly, "On a scale of 1 to 3 (with 1 being lowest and 3 being highest) how would you rank your motivation to do well in this course?" Responses to this question constitute the variable, Motive 2, with range from l to 3.

Empirical Results

In the regressions that follow, Average Score for each respondent is the dependent variable. The mean and standard deviation for the dependent and independent variables along with d-scores for the coefficients in the regressions cited below are reported in Table 1. …