The Effects of Mathematics Preparation and Mathematics Attitudes on College Calculus Performance

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  • 1 Harvard University
  • 2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 3 Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Students’ attitudes toward mathematics and the strength of their mathematics preparation typically go hand in hand such that their specific effects are difficult to disentangle. Employing the method of propensity weighting of a continuous variable, we built hierarchical linear models in which mathematics attitudes and preparation are uncorrelated. Data used came from a national survey of U.S. college students taking introductory calculus (N = 5,676). A 1-standard-deviation increase in mathematics preparation predicted a 4.72-point higher college calculus grade, whereas a 1-­standard-deviation increase in mathematics attitudes resulted in a 3.15-point gain. Thus, the effect of mathematics preparation was about 1.5 times that of mathematics attitudes. The two variables did not interact, nor was there any interaction between gender and these variables.

Footnotes

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant 0813702. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors have no financial interest or benefit arising from the direct applications of their research. Without the excellent contributions of many people, the Factors Influencing College Success in Mathematics (FICSMath) project would not have been possible. We thank the members of the FICSMath team: John Almarode, Devasmita Chakraverty, Jennifer Cribbs, Kate Dabney, Zahra Hazari, Heather Hill, Jaimie Miller, Matthew Moynihan, Jon Star, Robert Tai, Terry Tivnan, Annette Trenga, Carol Wade, and Charity Watson. We would also like to thank several mathematics educators who provided advice or counsel on this project: Sadie Bragg, David Bressoud, James S. Dietz, Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Solomon Garfunkel, Daniel Goroff, Ed Joyce, Carl LaCombe, James Lewis, Karen Marrongelle, William McCallum, Ricardo Nemirovsky, and Bob Speiser. Last but not least, we are grateful to the many college calculus professors and their students who gave up a portion of a class to provide data.

Journal for Research in Mathematics Education
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