Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Academic Motivation and Performance of Developmental Education Biology Students

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Academic Motivation and Performance of Developmental Education Biology Students

Article excerpt

Many colleges and universities are enrolling more underprepared students than ever before. Indeed, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia students can earn a high school diploma without acquiring the knowledge and skills needed for higher education (Honawar, 2005), and more than three-fourths of students who take the ACT exam are not prepared for college (Cavanagh, 2004). In light of these data, it is not surprising that more than a third of college freshmen take remedial courses (Olson, 2005). Although 48% of these students report having A averages in high school and feel wellprepared for college, more than one-fourth at 4-year schools and almost half at 2-year schools never return for a 2nd year of college (Olson, 2005; Viadero, 2005). Cynthia Schmeiser, ACT's Vice President for Development, summed up the situation this way: "American high school students are not ready for college" (Cavanagh, 2004, p. 5).

Although the academic performance of developmental education students is influenced by many factors (e.g., academic preparation, autonomy, self-efficacy, socioeconomic status; Ray, Garavalia, & Murdock, 2003), most studies of these factors have focused on characteristics that are not directly reflected in students' course-related behaviors (e.g., institutional commitment, personality traits, hours worked by students each week, and whether the student or others pay for the students education; Devadoss & Foltz, 1996; Friedman, Rodriguez, & McComb, 2001). Moreover, many studies of the relationship of students' grades and course-related behaviors have involved likely, but not guaranteed, rewards for course-related behaviors. Guaranteed rewards of material goods (e.g., money, food, movie tickets) and points for attending class improve the grades and rates of class attendance of many students (Beaulieu & Sheffer, 1985).

Most students know that class attendance improves their grades and expect to get points for coming to class (Launius, 1997). However, most instructors agree with Davis (1993), who noted that "attendance should not be mandatory or a factor in your grading policy. Grades should be based on students' mastery of the course content and not on such nonacademic factors as attendance" (p. 138). If students do not get points for attending class (i.e., if there is no guaranteed reward for attending class), many students do not come to class as often (Launius); this is likely why the top nonillness reason for missing class is that students get no points for coming to class (Friedman, Rodriguez, & McComb, 2001). Many students ignore advice about class attendance, even when they are doing poorly in the course and are presumably in greatest need of academic help. Stressing the probable benefits of certain course-related behaviors (e.g., attending class and help sessions) helps some students, but forced attendance and penalties for excessive absences (e.g., lowered grades after missing 20% of classes) are usually ineffective (Berenson, Carter, & Norwood, 1992).

Since so many at-risk students ignore advice about behaviors that are usually associated with academic success, I wondered if students would respond differently if given opportunities for guaranteed improvements of their grades. To investigate this, I studied developmental education students' responses to opportunities to earn guaranteed extra-credit on exams in an introductory biology course. Because self-reported data about students' private course-related behaviors (e.g., time spent studying) are often unreliable (Sappington, Kinsey, & Munsayac, 2002), I studied several easily measured behaviors directly related to their academic success; therefore these behaviors were presumably a surrogate for, and a clear expression of, a student's academic motivation. I sought to answer the following questions:

1. If developmental education students are given guaranteed opportunities to improve their grades by earning extra credit, how many take advantage of the opportunity? …

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