Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Identifying Students' Expectancy-Value Beliefs: A Latent Class Analysis Approach to Analyzing Middle School Students' Science Self-Perceptions

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Identifying Students' Expectancy-Value Beliefs: A Latent Class Analysis Approach to Analyzing Middle School Students' Science Self-Perceptions

Article excerpt


Given the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) training to the quality of a nation's workforce, there is much attention around understanding persistence in STEM fields. There is some consensus that achievement alone does not explain the lack of persistence in STEM fields and that other approaches are needed to understand and support students' STEM-related aspirations. The expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation provides a potentially useful approach to studying students' career aspirations by incorporating people's beliefs about how well they will do on the task and the extent to which they value the task (Atkinson, 1957; Eccles, Adler, Futterman, Goff, Kaczala, Meece, & Midgley, 1983; Wigfield, 1994; Wigfield & Eccles, 1992, 2000). The theory includes three interrelated constructs: ability belief, expectancy, and value. Ability belief and expectancy are both related to an individual's perceptions of how they do on a task or in a particular subject area currently (ability) or at some point in the future (expectancy). Value includes "attainment value or importance, intrinsic value, utility value or usefulness of the task and cost" (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000, p. 72). Variation in children's ability-expectancy beliefs is domain specific (Eccles et al., 1983; Wigfield, Eccles, Mac Iver, Reuman, & Midgley, 1991). For example, positive attitudes about ability beliefs and values in science are different from ability beliefs and values in art.

In studies specific to math and science, research indicates a positive association between perceived value, ability and achievement in mathematics and science (Wigfield et al., 1991), participation in out-of-school mathematics and science activities (Simpkins, DavisKean, & Eccles, 2006), and reported intention to enroll in mathematics and science courses (Atwater, Wiggins, & Gardner, 1995). In other words, those students who see themselves as being good at science, or expect to do well and continue studying science, tend to have higher achievement and participation in science-related activities than those who do not see themselves so.

This particular theory of achievement-motivation informs our work through its emphasis on student beliefs about whether they can and want to learn science and whether or not they see themselves as having a job in the future which utilizes science-specific learning. This framework is particularly applicable to middle school students' perceptions as this is a critical time for making decisions on which high school science courses to enroll in and which extracurricular activities to participate in (Wigfield, Eccles, Yoon, Harold, Argreton, Freedman-Doan, & Blumenfeld, 1997).

This study extends research by organizing information about students' expectancy-value achievement motivation in a way that helps parents and teachers identify specific entry points to encourage and support students' science aspirations. This study uses latent class analysis to describe underlying differences in ability beliefs and task values, and links these science-self-perceptions to interest in science. In organizing the data using this particular methodology, information is provided in a potentially powerful way to target specific interventions or support.



Students enrolled in eighth grade physical science courses in a Southeast state were recruited for participation by their science teachers. All participating science teachers were part of the Laying the Foundation (LTF) professional development program that includes comprehensive teacher training and student support to boost enrollment and success in Advanced Placement (AP®) courses in mathematics, science and English, and the rigorous courses that lead up to AP Science teachers volunteered to participate in the professional development program and agreed to gather information about program implementation using surveys and teacher logs. …

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