Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

A Comparison of the Mathematics Attitudes of Black Students According to Grade Level, Gender, and Academic Achievement

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

A Comparison of the Mathematics Attitudes of Black Students According to Grade Level, Gender, and Academic Achievement

Article excerpt


In the area of mathematics, the relationship between attitude and ability has been found to be interactive and dynamic (Aiken, 1985; Reyes, 1984). Those with low mathematical abilities are likely to have more negative attitudes toward the subject and less inclination to make the effort to improve their mathematical abilities. Although the majority of the research indicates that poor attitudes toward mathematics are related to lower levels of achievement in the subject, it has not always been found to be so. Brown (1979) conducted a study involving students enrolled in predominantly Black universities. His results indicated no statistically significant relationship between these students' attitudes toward mathematics and their mathematics achievement.

In most other studies, Black students have been found to possess more negative attitudes toward mathematics than have White students (National Science Foundation, 1980). At virtually every grade level, from elementary school through college, these negative attitudes prevail among Black students and do not change as they mature (McClellan, 1984; Reyes, 1984; Willig, Harnisch, Hill, & Maehr, 1983). As a cultural group, Blacks do not have the expectation to perform well in mathematics. Powell (1990) contends that this social-psychological phenomenon is evidence of a form of "learned helplessness," whereupon Black students, debilitated by their poor performance in mathematics, conclude that their failure is the result of low intelligence and subsequently give up trying to succeed in the subject.

Only a small number of studies have been conducted to measure Black students' mathematics attitudes or anxiety (Brown, 1979). Very few of these studies relate mathematics attitude levels to achievement in mathematics or to other characteristics and variables within the Black population (Matthews, 1984; Meece, 1982; Reyes & Stanic, 1988; Travers & McKnight, 1985), and most suggest that Blacks' poor attitudes toward mathematics are associated with lower levels of achievement in the subject. A National Science Foundation (NSF) (1980) study identified the following as contributing factors:

(a) an absence of role models in mathematics;

(b) a lack of significant others, namely parents, who possess an interest in mathematics;

(c) failure to receive positive career counseling in fields that require mathematics;

(d) possession of the attitude that mathematics is a field for White males;

(e) the inability to see the usefulness of mathematics in life at the present time or in the future; and

(f) the lack of success experiences in previous mathematics courses.

Green (1990) claims that a significant amount of variance in Black students' mathematics achievement is accounted for not only by mathematics anxiety, but by mathematics ability, text anxiety, and teacher comments. Similar causes of mathematics anxiety among Blacks were identified by McClellan (1984). The need for positive role models in mathematics is described by Anderson (1990), who notes the absence of such significant others in the lives of many Black students. Black teachers could provide the necessary role models, but few Blacks are presently pursuing careers in education. One study reported that only 5.5% of students enrolled in teacher education programs nationally were Black (American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, 1988).

In the present study, the mathematics attitudes of a group of eelementar and junior high school Black students were examined and compared by grade level, gender, and degree of academic success. This was done or the purpose of determining which Black students were at greatest risk of possessing negative attitudes toward mathematics and possibly achieving poorly in the subject as a result. It was hypothesized that once such a determination was made, recommendations could be offered to remedy the situation, thereby allowing these students the greatest potential for success. …

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