09 SES 07 C JS, The Role of Language and Family Characteristics for Mathematics and Science Achievement: Family characteristics and educational aspirations
Joint Paper Session, NW 09, NW 14 and NW 24
Many countries around the world are facing the persistent concern about the low numbers of students who are choosing to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries (Boe, Henriksen, Lyons, & Schreiner, 2011). Recent international policies are putting efforts at examining factors that are related to students’ achievement, interest, and persistence in STEM domains (Dabney, Chakraverty, & Tai, 2013). Although previous studies have highlighted family context as one of these significant factors (e.g., Archer et al., 2012; Gilmartin, Li, & Aschbacher, 2006), family influences in youth’s STEM motivation and persistence are still not enough explored (Harackiewicz, Rozek, Hulleman, & Hyde, 2012). Research on parental involvement has utilized different definitions of this construct which included various parental practices, such as parents’ communication with children about school, communication with teachers, home education-related rules, parents’ educational aspirations for their children, and specific ways parents convey these aspirations and expectations (Fan & Chen, 2001).
In their meta-analysis of the relationship between different types of parental involvement and students’ academic achievement, Fan & Chen (2001) found that parental aspiration or expectation for their child’s education achievement had the strongest relationship with child’s real achievement. Other studies showed that parental academic expectations predict not only achievement but also children’s competence beliefs in specific domains (Bleeker & Jacobs, 2004; Simpkins, Davis-Kean, & Eccles, 2006). The mechanism of the influence of parental expectations and aspirations may be explained in the framework of the Eccles’ expectancy-value model of achievement-related choices (Eccles, 2009). Specifically, parents may convey and communicate their values and child-specific beliefs through different practices, such as through providing toys or learning materials, modeling behaviors, encouraging child’s interests and participation in different activities, and through the coactivity with the child in a certain domain. Parental educational expectations are shaped by prior child’s achievement and social norms (Neuenschwander, Vida, Garrett, & Eccles, 2007). Furthermore, parents with higher socio-economic status (SES) tend to in general have higher educational expectations for their children. In fact, some studies have shown that parental SES is related to child’s achievement indirectly through parental expectations and beliefs (Davis-Kean, 2005).
In order to investigate some of the described mechanisms in STEM school domain, the aim of this study is to test whether general educational aspirations parents have for their children predict children’s performance on an objective measure of STEM knowledge, even after controlling for child’s prior school achievement, as a potential confounding variable in the tested relationship. We will also test the assumption that parental aspiration is influenced by family SES and child’s prior school achievement. Finally we expect parental aspiration to mediate the relationship between parental SES and child’ STEM performance. The specified paths will be compared between boys and girls in the sample, hence previous research suggests that parental evaluations tend to influence boys’ and girls’ choices, beliefs and achievements differently.
Participants This study is part of a longitudinal research project, titled "STEM career aspirations during primary schooling: A cohort-sequential longitudinal study of relations between achievement, self-competence beliefs and career interests" (JOBSTEM). In the present study we included 1205 students (580 girls). Students were in 5th (n = 567), and 6th grade (n = 638) of primary school (Mage = 12.15 years, SDage = 0.61 years, TRage = 10.34–15.42 years). Furthermore, in total we included data from 1148 parents (899 mothers, 219 fathers, and 30 parents with the missing data on the gender). Measures Students’ total score on the objective test of STEM achievement served as an outcome measure in this study. This test was constructed for the purposes of JOBSTEM research project and a separate form was developed for each grade in the sample. Each test form includes content that is covered by current curricular for STEM school subjects that are thought in the given grade. In the Croatian educational system, in the fifth and sixth grade these subjects are Mathematics, Biology, Geography and Technical culture. Students’ test scores were transformed into z-values and cantered around corresponding grade mean. Z-scores for 5th and 6th graders were then combined into a single scale to form a dependent variable of students’ achievement in STEM school domain. General grade point average (GPA) from the prior academic year was collected from the school records. Parental educational aspiration for their child was measured with an ordinal variable that asked the parent: “What is the highest educational level you wish for the child to complete?” The choices ranged from “elementary school” (level 1) to “doctoral degree” (level 7). Family SES was measured as average parental education. Whenever available, we used parents’ reports as the primary measure of parental education. When parental data was not available, we utilized children' reports. Parental educational level was measured on a scale of precoded responses that included following levels: 1 = Unfinished or completed elementary school, 2 = Finished high school, 3 = University degree, 4 = Graduate Degree. Procedure The proposed model was tested by using path analysis in AMOS 21 program, with the Maximum likelihood estimation in handling the missing data. In order to examine if boys and girls differ in estimated parameters the critical ratios for the differences in regression coefficients were used.
Since it was shown that in case of both girls and boys, when controlling for the child’s previous achievement, parental education did not predict parent’s educational aspiration for the child, this path was deleted and the direct path from parental education to child’s STEM performance was added. This model fit well with the data: χ2=3.79, df=2, p=0.151; RMSEA=0.03; NFI=0.997; CFI=0.999. Findings showed that in both girls and boys, parental general aspiration for child’s education is strongly shaped by child’s prior school grades (β = 0.68, p < .001 and β = 0.64, p < .001) – a source of information that is available and known to parents. Interestingly, parents’ own educational level does not seem to have an individual contribution in parents’ formation of aspirations for their child’s educational future. Results also suggest that parents’ aspirations are more consistent with children’s school grades in case of a female (β = 0.68, p < .001) than male child (β = 0.64, p < .001), and further analysis confirmed that parents held higher general educational aspiration for girls than boys (t = 5.30; p < .001). Furthermore, these parental aspirations predicted only girls’ STEM achievement, over and above girls’ prior school grades (β = 0.12, p = .014). These findings suggest that parents’ educational aspirations and expectations for their child may influence girls’ STEM achievement in a manner of self-fulfilling prophecy. Furthermore, the results are in the line with some previous research that showed parents’ evaluations of their children may influence more strongly girls’ than boys’ beliefs and activity-choices. In line with this, future research should examine the possible mediating effect of children’s interpretations of their own abilities in STEM in the relationship between parental educational expectations and aspirations and children’s objective achievement in STEM domain.
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