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The effects of math anxiety and low self-efficacy on students’ attitudes and interest in STEM
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The effects of math anxiety and low self-efficacy on students’ attitudes and interest in STEM
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Running head: MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 1
THE EFFECTS OF MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY ON STUDENTS’
ATTITUDES AND INTEREST IN STEM
by
Chad James Smith
A Dissertation Presented to the
FACULTY OF THE USC ROSSIER SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
DOCTOR OF EDUCATION
December 2016
Copyright 2016 Chad James Smith
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 2
Epigraph
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Nelson Mandela
Believe it or not, lots of people change their majors and abandon their dreams just to avoid a
couple of math classes in college.
Danica McKellar
Somehow it’s O.K. for people to chuckle about not being good at math. Yet if I said, ‘I never
learned to read,’ they’d say I was an illiterate dolt.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 3
Dedication
For my amazing wife, Laura Lynn Smith and my incredible children, Jessica, Matt and Edward,
who always inspire me to be more…
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 4
Acknowledgments
I wish to express my appreciation to my chairperson, Dr. Frederick Freking, for his
encouragement, counsel and friendship; and my dissertation committee members: Dr. Anthony
Maddox for his insightful analysis and support, and Dr. Richard Sheehan for his continued
mentorship and guidance. I give my heartfelt appreciation and eternal gratitude to each of them
for their time throughout this process.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 5
Table of Contents
Epigraph 2
Dedication 3
Acknowledgments 4
List of Tables 7
List of Figures 8
Abstract 9
Chapter One: Introduction 10
Background of the Problem 12
Statement of the Problem 14
Purpose of the Study 16
Concept Map 17
Concept Map Narrative 17
Significance of the Study 18
Definitions of Terms 18
Organization of the Study 20
Chapter Two: Literature Review 21
Math Anxiety 23
Teacher Influence on Math Anxiety 24
Stereotype Threats 27
Stereotype Threat Implications 29
Social Cognitive Theory 30
Self-Efficacy Construct 33
Self-Belief 34
Authentic Mastery Experiences 35
Vicarious Experiences 35
Social or Verbal Persuasions 35
Physiological Indexes 36
Self-Efficacy implications 42
Expectancy-Value Theory 43
Attainment Value 45
Intrinsic Value 45
Utility Value 45
Cost 46
Theories Focused on Expectancy 46
Theories Focused on Engagement 46
Expectancy-Value Implications 48
Effects of Anxiety, Low Efficacy and Expectancies on Stem Interest and Choice 49
Pre-Service Teacher Anxiety 50
Conclusion 52
Chapter Three: Methodology 53
Framework 53
Research Questions 54
Research Design 54
Hypothesis 55
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 6
Participants 56
Access 56
Instrumentation 57
Math Anxiety Questionnaire (MAQ) 58
Revised Math Anxiety Rating Scale (R-MANX) 58
STEM Career Interest Survey (CIS) 58
Validity and Reliability 59
Math Anxiety Questionnaire 59
Revised Math Anxiety Survey 59
STEM Career Interest Survey (STEM-CIS) 59
Data Collection 60
Data Analysis 61
Limitations 61
Summary 62
Chapter Four: Results 63
Preliminary Analysis 63
Participant Population 64
Students 64
Teachers 65
Research Question 1 67
Research Question 2 71
Research Question 3 74
Chapter Summary 75
Chapter Five: Findings, Conclusions and Implications 77
Summary of the Study 77
Findings 78
Conclusions 79
Implications 83
Limitations 85
Future Research 86
Summary 88
References 90
Appendix A: Survey Monkey Surveys 103
Appendix B: Youth Assent and Parent Permission 107
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 7
List of Tables
Table 1: Demographic Variables for Participants in the MAQ-CIS Survey 64
Table 2: Demographic Variables for Participants in the R-MANX Survey 65
Table 3: Percentages and Frequencies for Major, Math Instruction Courses and Pedagogy
Courses R-MANX Survey Participants 66
Table 4: Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety Expereinced by Participants (MAQ) 67
Table 5: Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety by Grade and Gender 68
Table 6: ANOVA Analysis of Math Anxiety by Grade and Gender 68
Table 7: Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety Expereinced by Participants by
Grade Level (MAQ) 70
Table 8: ANOVA Analysis of Math Anxiety by Grade 70
Table 9: Tukey HSD Comparison for Grade Level 71
Table 10: Correlation Analysis of Math Anxiety by Individual STEM Fields 72
Table 11: ANOVA Analysis of Math Anxiety Level and Interest in STEM 73
Table 12: Tukey HSD Comparison for Math Anxiety Level 73
Table 13: Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety by Gender (R-MANX) 74
Table 14: Power Analysis of RMANX 75
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 8
List of Figures
Figure 1: Concept Map of Math Anxiety’s Influence on STEM Interest 17
Figure 2: Profile Plot of Math Anxiety by Grade and Gender 69
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 9
Abstract
This study applied expectancy-value theory, social cognitive theory and math anxiety
theory from academic motivation literature to understand the impact of math anxiety on attitudes
and interest in STEM educational pathways. The purpose of this study was to determine if math
anxiety was a barrier for student enrollment in STEM pathways. This study also sought to
determine if math anxiety was prevalent in pre-service teachers. Using data from the Math
Anxiety Questionnaire and the Career Interest Survey of 273 Participants (n=273), expectancy-
value theory, social cognitive theory and math anxiety theory were tested on samples of middle
school students using correlational and regression modeling. This study also used data from 35
pre-service teachers who completed the Revised Math Anxiety Survey (R-MANX) using
correlational and analysis of variance modeling. Finding from this study suggest that math
anxiety is prevalent in both populations and that math anxiety levels are negative correlated with
interest in STEM pathways. This study begins to identify hidden barriers that negatively affect
enrollment in STEM majors in high school and college and begins to address alternative
perspectives to solving the STEM shortage that the United States is currently experiencing. The
results from this study will add to our understanding of the barriers that limit students from
enrolling in STEM education and will influence how math instruction and teacher preparation is
developed to increase interest in STEM educational pathways.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 10
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
For more than 50 years, American political, business, military, and academic leaders have
emphasized the need to improve performance in science, technology, engineering, and math
(STEM) education. Despite increasing federal spending on STEM education programs, U.S.
students continue to underperform in these subjects. An urgent priority for improving STEM
education in America is to focus on strategies that will fix the leaky pipeline in elementary and
secondary education, since many American students are simply not being prepared to succeed in
math and science (Lips & McNeil, 2009). In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—a piece of legislation that includes $2.5
billion in additional federal funding for the National Science Foundation, including new funding
for STEM education programs. As a result of this legislation, the United States made a
significant effort and investment in STEM education, yet the size and the composition of the
STEM workforce continues to fail to meet demand (Lips & McNeil, 2009). It is, thus, important
to understand the barriers and factors that influence individual educational and career choices.
Despite the United States’ significant investment in STEM education, the size and the
composition of the STEM workforce continues to fail to meet the growing demand. In 2012,
there were approximately 7.4 million STEM positions in the U.S., and this number is expected to
grow to 8.65 million by 2018 (Discovery Education, 2012). Unfortunately, STEM employers
throughout the United States report shortages of skilled workers, raising concerns about the
quality of the U.S. educational system and its ability to produce a large enough workforce to fill
these positions (U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, 2012). Moreover, despite the
impressive gains girls and women made in math and science course enrollment and performance
in recent years, concerns remain regarding the number of females pursuing degrees and careers
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 11
in certain STEM fields (National Science Foundation, 2011). In primary and secondary school,
girls and boys take math and science courses in approximately equal numbers (U.S. Department
of Education, 2012), and girls outperform boys in math and science courses (Duckworth &
Seligman, 2006). However, at the bachelor’s level, women earned 27% of degrees awarded in
mathematics and computer science, 20% in engineering, and 36% in physical sciences (National
Science Foundation, 2011). At the graduate level, females were awarded 30%, 25%, 23%, and
31% of masters and doctorates in mathematics, computer science, engineering, and physical
sciences, respectively (National Science Foundation, 2011).
A strong background in mathematics is critical for many career and job opportunities in
today’s increasingly technological society. However, many academically capable students
prematurely restrict their educational and career options by discontinuing their mathematical
training early in high school. Several surveys (National Assessment of Educational Progress
[NAEP], 1988; National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 1984) indicate that only half
of all high school graduates enroll in mathematics courses beyond the 10th grade. These reports
also indicate that fewer women than men enroll in the more advanced courses in high school
mathematics (Chipman & Thomas, 1985; Eccles, 1987). Furthermore, students of both sexes, but
particularly women, do not attain a high level of mathematical competency, even if they have
completed 4 years of high school math (Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles, 1990).
A key theme running through much of the recent science education literature is the
increasing reluctance of young people in many parts of the world to participate in STEM.
Awareness of this disinclination emerged in the early 1990s, with several national reports
identifying shortages of science graduates and declines in student interest in school science. As a
result, international comparative studies were undertaken to investigate the extent of these trends.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 12
The commonalities revealed by these studies across a number of countries led research in this
field to the point where broader explanatory models are now needed to account for the fact that
the trend appears to be more closely associated with socio-cultural characteristics of a generation
than with national economies or education systems (Boe, Henriksen, Lyons, & Schreiner, 2011).
Background of the Problem
The disinterest of student to enroll in STEM related pathways continues to affect the size
and composition of the STEM workforce. Most researchers suggest that policies and investments
strategies should focus on educational reforms aimed at increasing access and exposure to STEM
pathways. According to Lips et al. (2009), aggressive reform is the most promising strategy for
fixing the leaky pipeline in STEM education and for increasing the population of American
students prepared to pursue these fields in college and beyond. However, the problem is more
complex than a simple policy issue. The focus in most of the research is on educational programs
and not the students. Student interest and attitudes on STEM pathways are formed and affected
during their primary educational years. Several factors, including math anxiety, self-efficacy and
expectancy, contribute to and influence these interests and attitudes. According to Keir et al.
(2013), one reason that students may not see themselves in STEM careers is a perception that
these careers are too difficult and require too much education. The importance of self-efficacy in
developing career interest and forming academic goals is well supported by expectancy-value
and social cognitive theorists. In addition, Frome (2006) suggests that societal roles and gender
play a role in the students’ self-efficacy and interest. It seems plausible that interest and attitudes
in STEM pathways are affected more by social cognitive and expectancy-value influences than
simply by educational reforms. The root of the problem is much more complex than simply
changing the curriculum to expose students to STEM careers. Anxiety, self-efficacy and
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 13
expectancy affect young students in significant ways and must be researched to identify a
relationship between students’ interest and attitudes towards STEM.
One particular issue that affects students’ attitudes and interest in STEM and,
specifically, in mathematics is math anxiety. The impact of math anxiety cannot be understated.
Researchers and educators agree that mathematics plays a key role in academic and professional
success and is also a major component of STEM. However, math anxiety can have a negative
impact on an individual’s initial learning of mathematics and, over time, lead to poor math skills
which, in turn, can have an adverse effect on long term expectancies for success in mathematics
(Wu, Barth, Amin, Malcarne, & Menon, 2012). Existing studies showed that individuals with
math anxiety experience more difficulty with greater performance pressure, which results in
avoidance and anxiety behaviors and a decrease in self-efficacy, which, ultimately, has an impact
on interest and attitudes towards STEM.
A more serious problem associated with math anxiety is that studies showed that math
anxiety can be passed on to children by their by teachers and parents. According to Beilock et al.
(2010), math anxiety is not limited to students; it is often developed in adolescence and stays
with an individual most of their life. Coupled with the fact that females and minorities are
affected most by math anxiety, and that 90% of all elementary teachers are female, the problem
becomes quite clear. Math anxiety affects students’ attitudes and expectancies of success in
mathematics, which, in turn, affects their confidence and efficacy and results in avoidance
behaviors. With the enormous investment into STEM pathways and education, it is reasonable to
assume that identifying the root of the problem provides researchers and educators with the
knowledge to enhance individual motivation and capacity to pursue STEM careers.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 14
Statement of the Problem
For over a half of a century, science-based innovation has powered the American
economy. Yet, our global share of activity in STEM-focused industries is in decline (Atkinson &
Mayo, 2010). There is clear evidence that the United States is consistently not able to produce
enough of its own workers in key STEM fields even though the best universities and colleges
that study STEM are U.S. based. The U.S. STEM pipeline is diminishing at high rates, and is
falling significantly behind other countries progress in STEM education (Raju & Clayton, 2010).
STEM employers throughout the United States report shortages of skilled workers, raising
concerns about the quality of the U.S. educational system and its ability to produce a large
enough workforce to fill these positions (Wang, 2013).
Several factors contributed to the decline in skilled workers and an interest in STEM
careers. Among the chief problems is low participation of women in STEM fields. The
participation of women in STEM careers is disproportionately lower than that of men (NCES,
2006). Women currently make up nearly 47% of the workforce in America, (Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2000) but make up less than a third of the STEM workforce. More surprising is that
women make up the majority of the college student population in America. The lack of
participation and interest stems from other factors such as math anxiety, low self-efficacy and
low self-beliefs they hold about their capabilities (Zeldin, 2007).
Another key factor that contributed to the decline in interest in STEM fields is the lack of
student matriculation into higher mathematics courses. According to NCES (2006), only half of
all high school graduates enroll in mathematics courses beyond the 10th grade. Many
academically capable students prematurely restrict their educational and career options by
discounting their mathematics training early in high school (Meece et al., 1990). In addition, the
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 15
research also indicates that fewer women than men enroll in the more advanced courses in high
school mathematics. The lack of interest in mathematics courses stems from several factors,
including math anxiety, low self-efficacy and low expectancy for success. In addition, poor
teaching methodologies and high anxious math instructors also play a pivotal role in the decline
in interest in STEM fields.
The increasing reluctance of young people to participate in STEM education can be
traced to teachers’ beliefs about mathematics. It has been suggested that teachers with negative
beliefs about mathematics influence a learned helplessness response from students (Uusimaki &
Nason, 2004). Emenker (2006) suggests that teacher beliefs and attitudes towards mathematics
plays a major role in student mathematics achievement. According to Vinson (2001),
mathematics anxiety has its roots in teaching and teachers and is tied to poor academic
performance of students as well as to the effectiveness of elementary teachers. Both Gresham
(2007) and Beilock et al. (2010) suggest that most pre-service teachers are female, suffer from
math anxiety and pass on their anxiety to their students. The result is low efficacy in
mathematics, low expectancy for success in mathematics and, ultimately, avoidance of
mathematics completely. The research demonstrates that students choose to end their
mathematics training early in their educational career.
One thing is clear, the United States faces a dilemma with significant consequences if it is
unable to reverse the current trend. Math anxiety, low math self-efficacy and low expectancy in
mathematics have already had an impact on the innovation competitiveness in the United States
and will continue to plague national innovation strategy.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 16
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to examine the effects and relationships between math
anxiety and low self-efficacy in mathematics on student choices and attitudes towards enrollment
in STEM pathways and courses in high school and college. This study aimed to identify math
anxiety levels of students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade and measure their interests and attitudes
towards STEM pathways in high school. This study also examined the math anxiety levels of
pre-service teachers to determine an epidemiological correlation between teachers with math
anxiety and their effect on student attitudes and interest in STEM.
This study aimed to develop an understanding of the effects that teachers have on
students during their primary education and how that impact affects future attitudes and interests
in mathematics and science. In addition, it sought to inform educators and teacher preparation
programs of the importance of self-efficacy and expectancy when teaching mathematics. Finally,
the study intends to develop an understanding of the barriers and challenges that math anxiety
has on student interest and attitudes towards STEM careers.
With this research problem in mind, the purpose of this study was to identify the effects
that math anxiety and low self-efficacy have on student enrollment in advanced math courses and
STEM pathways and, ultimately, improve the support that schools, teachers and administrators
can provide to all students.
Accordingly, I three research questions guided the study:
1. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in current middle school students?
2. To what extent does math anxiety and low math expectancy affect enrollment in high
school STEM courses?
3. To what extent is math anxiety present in pre-service teacher candidates?
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 17
Concept Map
Low Interest in
STEM Pathways
High Math Anxiety
Low Self-Efficacy
Low Expectancy
Value
Decrease in Interest
and poor a tudes
towards STEM
Figure 1. Concept Map of Math Anxiety’s Influence on STEM Interest
Concept Map Narrative
The literature seems to be clear that high math anxiety negatively affects students’
attitudes and interest in mathematic courses and STEM pathways. The research further suggests
that the low self-efficacy affects students’ persistence and interest in mathematics and,
ultimately, leads to lower expectancies of success. Furthermore, low expectancy-value in
mathematics leads to a lack of interest, poor attitudes towards STEM and math careers and lower
enrollment in STEM pathways by students, especially women and minorities. In order to develop
effective programs to support student motivation and efficacy, we must identify practices that
affect math anxiety, self-efficacy and self-concept in mathematics instruction in primary and
secondary education. Then, we need to determine the training and instruction that teachers and
administrators need to mitigate the effects of math anxiety and low self-efficacy and increase
expectancy-values of success. From here, we can measure the impact of each effect and propose
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 18
solutions and programs specifically designed to support and improve the expectancy-values and
attitudes towards STEM.
The concept map above shows how math anxiety leads to low self-efficacy in
mathematics which, in turn, affects a student’s expectancy for success which has an impact on
his or her motivation and persistence and, ultimately, affects his or her attitudes and interest in
enrolling in a STEM pathway or career.
Significance of the Study
The knowledge generated from this study will help develop a pedagogical model for
increasing expectancies for mathematics success and increasing interest in pursuing STEM
pathways. It will help identify key factors that negatively affect math self-efficacy and increase
math anxiety. This study sought to provide a framework for developing mitigation measures and
programs aimed at addressing math anxiety in both students and pre-service teachers. The
reduction of math anxiety in primary math education may have positive effects on attitudes and
interest in STEM. A reduction of anxiety has the potential to increase enrollment in mathematics
courses for both women and minorities as well as increase interest in STEM careers for all
students. Increasing a student’s expectancy for success in mathematics will subsequently
increase their value for mathematics. When students value the class and experience success in
the class, their efficacy increases and their participation in STEM and higher-level mathematics
will increase as well. These experiences have the potential to enhance individual motivation and
capacity to pursue STEM careers.
Definitions of Terms
The following list includes some key terms along with their definitions in the context of
this study.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 19
Math Anxiety: a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math
performance
Self-Efficacy: refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors
necessary to produce specific performance attainments and reflects confidence in the
ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behavior, and social environment.
Expectancy-Value: the theory that behavior is a function of the interaction between a
person’s expectancies about the outcomes of actions and the value they place on those
outcomes.
STEM: Acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Pathway: Academic course work towards a specific field of study (i.e., business
enterprise, information technology, international baccalaureate).
Stereotype Threat: is a concern or anxiety that one’s performance or actions can be seen
through the lens of a negative stereotype.
Social Cognitive Theory: Social cognitive theory is a learning theory based on the idea
that people learn by observing others. Social cognitive theory revolves around the process
of knowledge acquisition or learning directly correlated to the observation of models
Attribution Theory: Attribution is the process by which individuals explain the causes
of behavior and events. When attributions lead to positive affect and high expectancy of
future success, such attributions should result in greater willingness to approach to
similar achievement tasks in the future than those attributions that produce negative affect
and low expectancy of future success
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 20
Self-Belief: Individuals’ perceptions of their competencies are powerful motivators that
affect the choices they make, the effort and persistence they put forth, and the resilience
they show in overcoming obstacles.
MAQ: Math Anxiety Questionnaire – Instrument used to measure math anxiety in
students.
R-MANX: Revised Mathematics Anxiety Survey – Instrument used to measure the math
anxiety in teachers and their confidence to teach math to students.
CIS: Career Interest Survey – Instrument used to measure a student’s interest in STEM
careers.
IRB: Institutional Review Board - A committee formally designated to approve, monitor,
and review behavioral research involving humans.
Organization of the Study
Chapter One provides an overview for introducing the topic and outlining its purpose.
Chapter Two explores the relevant literature to establish the need for the study. It describes the
effects of math anxiety and low math efficacy and the impact both have on student interest and
attitudes towards STEM. Chapter Two discusses the theoretical framework of social cognitive
theory, math anxiety and expectancy-value that will guide the study. Chapter Three describes the
research design of the study along with the conceptual framework that supported the
development of research questions and instruments for data collection. Chapter Four provides a
detailed description of the study site and data analysis process to address the research questions.
Finally, Chapter Five presents analysis of the data, describes the findings, discusses the
implications of the study and details recommendations for future research.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 21
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
The participation of women in STEM programs and careers is disproportionately lower
than that of men (NCES, 2006). Women earn fewer degrees in mathematics and science than do
men, with the largest discrepancies in the fields of mathematics, engineering, chemistry, and
physics (NCES, 2006). Researchers continue to examine this phenomenon, but those who
embrace a social cognitive perspective suggest that the underrepresentation of women in these
careers may be due in large part to the self-beliefs that they hold about their capabilities (Betz &
Schifano, 1999; Hackett & Betz, 1995; Lent & Hackett, 1987). Self-beliefs are a critical
component of most modern theories of human motivation.
The central construct in Albert Bandura’s (1986, 1997) social cognitive theory is self-
efficacy, which he defined as people’s judgments of their capabilities to produce designated
levels of performance. According to social cognitive theory, people are more likely to perform
tasks they believe they are capable of accomplishing and less likely to engage in tasks about
which they feel less competent. Individuals’ perceptions of their competencies are powerful
motivators that affect the choices they make, the effort and persistence they put forth, and the
resilience they show in overcoming obstacles. Self-efficacy beliefs also play a mediating role in
that they serve as filters between prior achievements or abilities and subsequent behavior. For
example, students who interpret the results of their test scores favorably may use that
interpretation to increase their effort to study harder so as to perform well on subsequent exams.
Math anxiety is defined as feelings of tension, apprehension, or fear that interfere with
math performance. According to Nunez-Pena, Guilera and Suarez-Pellicioni (2014), it is widely
demonstrated that individuals with high levels of math anxiety perform lower than their peers
with low levels of anxiety do. Researchers also demonstrated that math anxiety leads to
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 22
avoidance behaviors and creates psychological barriers to enrollment in science and mathematics
courses (Keir, Blanchard, Osborne, & Albert, 2014).
Expectancy-value theorists posit that individuals’ choice, persistence and performance
can be explained by their beliefs about how well they will do on the activity and the extent to
which they value the activity (Eccles & Wigfield, 2000). According to Eccles and Wigfield
(2000), achievement-related choices, such as high school course enrollment or college major
selection, are most directly influenced by an individual’s perceived competence and the value
attached to the various options.
The salient research begins to form a picture of the potential challenges and barriers to
STEM integration. Self-efficacy and self-belief form the basis for motivational theory but can
work against the efforts to expand STEM education in America. The addition of math anxiety
begins to formulate an idea that the barriers that exist may begin much earlier than research
suggests.
In order to move forward with the national agenda, it is clear that researchers must
examine the underlying psychological effects of self-efficacy, math anxiety and expectancy-
value theory to develop a more coherent understanding of the barriers that exist in advancing
STEM education. The goal of this literature review is to identify the effects that social cognitive
theory, math anxiety theory and expectancy-value theory have on student choice and interest in
STEM education and careers. The literature review addresses the applicable theory and research
related to the research questions:
1. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in current middle school students?
2. To what extent does math anxiety and low math expectancy affect enrollment in high
school STEM courses?
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 23
3. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in pre-service teacher candidates?
Math Anxiety
People’s fear and anxiety about doing math, despite their actual ability, can be a major
impediment to their math achievement (Beilock, Gunderson, Ramirez, & Levine, 2010). One
affective factor is anxiety towards mathematics, which “has probably received more attention
than any other area lies within the affective domain” (McLeod, 1992, p. 584). Krinzinger,
Kaufmann and Willmes (2009) suggest that anxiety emerges as an obligatory response to an
aversive stimulus. As a result, frequent poor math performance leads to negative emotions such
as math anxiety. Highly math-anxious individuals are characterized by a strong tendency to
avoid math, which ultimately undercuts their math competence and restricts important career
paths. Math is thought to be inherently difficult, aptitude is considered far more important than
effort and being good at math is considered relatively unimportant or even optional (Ashcraft,
2002). Ma (1999) suggests that math anxiety is often referred to as the general lack of comfort
that someone might experience when required to perform mathematically. Math anxiety can also
take multidimensional forms, including dislike (attitude), worry (cognitive) and fear (emotional)
(Ma, 1999). Math anxiety is also commonly defined as a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear
that interferes with math performance (Ashcraft, 2002).
Highly math-anxious individuals avoid math. They take fewer elective math courses,
both in high school and in college, than do people with low math anxiety. More importantly,
when they take math, they receive lower grades. This avoidance behavior continues throughout a
student’s educational career and ultimately restricts or inhibits choice to pursue STEM careers.
Hembree (1990) concluded that mathematics anxiety seriously constrains performance in
mathematical tasks and that reduction in anxiety is consistently associated with improvement in
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 24
achievement. Ma (1999) also suggests that once math anxiety takes shape in individuals, its
relationship with math achievement is consistent across all grade levels. Highly math-anxious
people also embrace negative attitudes toward math, and hold negative self-beliefs about their
math abilities. The correlations between math anxiety and variables such as motivation and self-
confidence in math are strongly negative, ranging between -.47 and -.82 (Hembree, 1990).
According to Meece et al. (1990), research has shown that math anxiety relates negatively to
student’s performance on standardized tests of mathematics achievement, grades in mathematics,
plans to enroll in advanced high school mathematics courses and selection of math-related
college majors.
It is not surprising that people who hold these negative self-beliefs tend to avoid higher
math courses in high school and college majors and careers that are math intensive or
quantitative in nature. As math anxiety takes hold in adolescents, it is difficult to intervene and
reverse the impact it has on math achievement (Hembree, 1990). Math anxiety originates during
student’s early educational careers and carries forward to college and career choices (Meece et
al., 1990). The effects of math anxiety on mathematic achievement has a significant impact on a
student’s choice, attitude and motivation to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Teacher Influence on Math Anxiety
Early elementary teachers in the United States are primarily female (>90%).
Interestingly, elementary education majors are also largely female and have the highest levels of
math anxiety of any college major (Beilock et al., 2010). At the same time, teachers are the
crucial component to the success of the current reform movement in mathematics education
(Battista, 1994). Teachers ’ beliefs about mathematics have a powerful impact on the practice of
teaching (Charalambos, Philippou & Kyriakides, 2002; Ernest, 2000). According to Hembree
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 25
(1990), math anxiety has its roots in teaching and is tied to poor academic performance of
students, as well as the effectiveness of elementary teachers. Pre-service teachers have poorer
attitudes toward mathematics than the general college population (Emenaker, 1996), and have
greater mathematics anxiety when the subject either is, or is perceived to be, under evaluation
(Wood, 1988). This is cause for alarm, considering that teachers who possess higher levels of
mathematics anxiety may unintentionally pass on these negative feelings to their students
(Wood, 1988). Several educators agree that teachers transmit their avoidance and fear of
mathematics to their students (Furner & Berman, 2005; Hembree, 1990; Vinson, 2001; Zettle &
Raines, 2002). The instruction of mathematics seems to play a critical role in shaping one’s
attitudes toward mathematics (Jackson & Leffingwell, 1999). Math anxiety is directly related to
perceptions of one’s own mathematical skill in relation to skills in other subject areas and with
negative attitudes towards mathematics (Wright & Miller, 1981). In other words, negative
attitudes toward mathematics can produce negative results in mathematics thus creating
mathematics anxiety (Vinson, 2001). Greenwood (1984) and others (Burton, 1984; Clute, 1984;
Downie, Slesnick, Stenmark, & Hall, 1983; Tobias, 1998) contended that the root of some
mathematics anxiety lies in how one is taught mathematics.
It has been suggested that teachers with negative beliefs about mathematics influence a
learned helplessness response from students, whereas the students of teachers with positive
beliefs about mathematics enjoy successful mathematical experiences that result in them seeing
mathematics as a discourse worthwhile of study (Karp, 1991). Therefore, what goes on in the
mathematics classroom may be directly related to the beliefs teachers hold about mathematics. It
has been argued that teacher beliefs play a major role in their students ’ achievement and in their
formation of beliefs and attitudes towards mathematics (Emenaker, 1996). Teachers with high
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 26
mathematics anxiety use more traditional teaching methods, such as lecture, and concentrate on
teaching basic skills rather than concepts in mathematics. These teachers devote more time to
seatwork and whole-class instruction and less time to playing games, problem-solving, small-
group instruction, and individualized instruction (Krinzinger et al., 2009). Math-anxious teachers
also dominate the mathematics classroom and nurture a dependent atmosphere among students
(Karp, 1991). In addition, teachers with high mathematics anxiety avoid teaching mathematics
(Trice & Ogden, 1986) as well as perpetuate this negative attitude toward mathematics among
their students (Swetman, 1994). Such negative attitudes toward mathematics affect student
performance in mathematics (Hembree, 1990; Ma, 1999). One study indicated that elementary
pre-service teachers ’ mathematics teacher efficacy is negatively influenced by mathematics-
related fears caused by past experiences with mathematics (Wenta, 2000). These types of fears
from past experiences with mathematics are one of the leading causes of mathematics anxiety
(Harper & Daane, 1998). The research also suggests that mathematics anxiety may be linked to
mathematics teacher efficacy. More importantly, fears and anxiety about math may have more
widespread consequences than merely having an impact on the achievement of math-anxious
individuals themselves. If people who are anxious about math are charged with teaching others
mathematics—as is often the case for elementary school teachers—teachers’ anxieties could
have consequences for their students’ math achievement (Beilock et al., 2010). First, parents’
and teachers’ own math anxieties and their beliefs about whether math ability is a stable trait
may prove to be significant influences on children’s math attitudes.
However, teacher attitudes and beliefs are only part of the problem. According to Ball,
Hills and Bass (2005), the quality of mathematics teaching depends on the teachers’ knowledge
of the content. It is no surprise that many U.S. teachers lack sound mathematical understanding
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 27
and skill. This is to be expected because most teachers, like most adults in this country, are
graduates of the very system that we seek to improve (Ball et al., 2005). Studies over the past 15
years demonstrate that the mathematical knowledge of many teachers is very thin (Ball et al.,
2005). How well teachers know mathematics is central to their capacity to use instructional
materials wisely, to assess students’ progress, and to make sound judgments about presentation,
emphasis and sequencing (Ball et al., 2005). Having strong content and specialized knowledge
for teaching mathematics does have an impact on and influence student achievement and
positively predicts gains in mathematics. The lack of content knowledge, coupled with math
anxiety, negatively reinforces low efficacy in mathematics.
Stereotype Threats
According to Shapiro and Williams (2012), stereotype threat is a concern or anxiety that
one’s performance or actions can be seen through the lens of a negative stereotype. Gunderson
(2011) details how negative stereotypes about women’s math abilities are transmitted to girls by
their parents and teachers, shaping girls’ math attitudes and, ultimately, undermining
performance and interest in math and STEM fields. Her research suggests that negative
stereotypes emerge as early as preschool and elementary school and shape girls’ math attitudes
and interests in math and STEM activities. Gunderson (2011) also suggests that environmental
factors, specifically parents and teachers, contribute to the gender-related math attitudes held by
women and girls. Shapiro and Williams (2012) utilize a multi-threat framework to describe the
effects of negative stereotypes and their influence on women’s and girls’ math attitudes. They
describe two dimensions of stereotype threats: self-as-source and other-as-source. When in a
stereotype-relevant situation, one’s performance has the possibility of confirming, in one’s own
mind, that the stereotype is true of one’s own, or the group’s abilities. Thus, for self-as-source
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 28
stereotype threats, the distracting concern in a stereotype-relevant situation emerges as a function
of what one might personally take away from this performance (Shapiro et al., 2012). For
example, if a female student is taking a math test, she might fear a poor performance on this test
will support, in her own mind, that she is, by virtue of her gender, less skilled in math than her
male classmates. Similarly, she might fear an inadequate performance on this math test will
confirm the stereotype, in her own mind, that women (as a whole) are less competent in STEM
fields when compared to men. Thus, this particular form of stereotype threat is influenced by
math attitudes and self-beliefs. For self-as-source stereotype threats to emerge, the student must
believe that there is some possibility that the stereotype could be true (Shapiro et al., 2012;
Shapiro & Neuberg, 2007). Thus, an implication of the transfer of negative math attitudes from
parents and teachers to girls is that this transfer can put girls at risk for self-as-source stereotype
threats. This suggests that the development of children’s gender-related math attitudes and the
internalization of the gender-math stereotypes should create an additional burden while taking
diagnostic math tests. That is, as girls develop these negative math attitudes, including endorsing
the stereotypes associated with women and math, diagnostic tests become more threatening
because they have the potential to confirm this stereotype in their own minds about their own, or
women’s, abilities (Gunderson, 2011).
In contrast to self-as-source stereotype threats, other-as-source stereotype threats emerge
as a function of perceptions of how others might assess one’s performance (Shapiro et al., 2012).
According to Shapiro et al. (2012), when in a stereotype-relevant situation, one’s performance
has the possibility of confirming, in another person’s mind, that the stereotype is true about one’s
own, or one’s group’s abilities. For example, the same student might fear a poor performance on
a math test will enable a teacher, peer, or parent to see her as stereotypic and, thereby, treat her in
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 29
an unfavorable manner. Similarly, she might fear being a bad representative for women: that this
performance will confirm math-gender stereotypes in the minds of a teacher, peer, or parent.
Distinct from self-as-source stereotype threats, for other-as-source stereotype threats to emerge,
one does not need to believe the stereotype could be true. Instead, the student must believe that
others endorse these negative stereotypes (Shapiro & Neuberg 2007; Shapiro et al., 2012).
Gunderson et al. (2011) primarily focused on girls’ gender-related math attitudes and the
transfer of these attitudes from their parents and teachers. However, other as-source stereotype
threats point to a different and equally harmful aspect of parent and teacher math attitudes: the
role of parents and teachers as potential sources of stereotype threats: the knowledge that one’s
performances and actions are visible to parents and teachers who may endorse math-gender
stereotypes puts women and girls at risk for other-as-source stereotype threats, which can harm
performance, confidence, self-efficacy, and interest in these domains (Gunderson, 2011). Thus,
other-as-source stereotype threats can undermine the efforts of women and girls even if they
have been able to resist the transfer of gender-related math attitudes and the internalization of the
negative stereotypes and even if they possess strong, positive math attitudes (Shapiro et al.
2012).
Stereotype Threat Implications
What role do environmental factors play in undermining women’s interest and
performance in STEM fields? As Gunderson et al. (2011) detail, parents’ and teachers’ gender-
related math attitudes—including their stereotypes and anxieties—can transfer to girls and play a
critical role in girls’ development of math attitudes and interests. However, stereotype threat
research argues that broad situational cues can also communicate gender-relevant math attitudes
Shapiro et al., 2012). Specifically, the transfer of gender-related math attitudes to girls can put
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 30
them at risk for self-as-source stereotype threats rooted in the concern that a performance could
confirm in one’s own mind that the stereotypes are, indeed, true of oneself or the group. In
addition, knowledge of gender-related math attitudes can also put girls at risk for a different set
of stereotype threats. Other-as-source stereotype threats emerge out of a concern regarding
potentially being seen through the lens of a negative stereotype by others or the possibility that
one will poorly represent the group (Shapiro et al., 2012). What is important to note about these
particular stereotype threats is that they do not require the internalization of the stereotypes or
even the endorsement of the stereotypes by others. Instead, other-as-source stereotype threats
emerge when one believes others might hold the stereotypes. Thus, the consideration of
stereotype threat research illuminates the wider reach of gender-related math attitudes
(Gunderson, 2011). Furthermore, the multi-threat framework serves as a useful tool to unpack
how teacher and parent gender-related math attitudes and behaviors could influence girls’
gender-related math attitudes. A consideration of environmental factors that allow gender-related
math attitudes to undermine girls’ interest and performance in STEM domains will facilitate the
development of theoretically driven interventions that helps to close the gender gap in STEM
fields (Shapiro et al., 2012).
Social Cognitive Theory
As a fundamental part of his social cognitive theory, Bandura (1986) posited that, unless
people believe they can produce desired outcomes, they have little incentive to act. Although
ample research attests to the predictive power of self-efficacy—the beliefs students hold about
their academic capabilities on academic achievement, there have been fewer efforts to
investigate the sources underlying these self-beliefs (Pajares & Urdan, 2006). Bandura (1986)
has drawn a distinction between the role of self-efficacy beliefs versus that of outcome
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 31
expectations in influencing and predicting motivation and behavior. Efficacy beliefs and
outcome expectations are often positively related. The outcomes people expect are largely
dependent on their judgments of what they can accomplish. For example, students confident in
their academic skills typically expect high marks on exams. The relationship between self-
efficacy and outcome expectations is not always consistent, however. Bandura (1997)
hypothesized that self-efficacy beliefs are developed as individuals interpret information from
four sources, the most powerful of which is the interpreted result of one’s own previous
attainments, or mastery experience. In school, for example, once students complete an academic
task, they interpret and evaluate the results obtained, and judgments of competence are created or
revised according to those interpretations. Mastery experiences prove particularly powerful when
individuals overcome obstacles or succeed on challenging tasks, especially those that are
difficult for others (Bandura, 1997). In addition to interpreting the results of their actions,
students build their efficacy beliefs through observing others. Therefore, students can gauge their
capabilities in relation to the performance of others. For example, watching a similar classmate
succeed at a challenging mathematics problem may convince fellow students that they, too, can
accomplish the task. In this sense, self-comparative information is another type of vicarious
experience capable of altering people’s self-efficacy (Usher & Pajares, 2008).
The social persuasions that students receive from others serve as a third source of self-
efficacy. Encouragement from parents, teachers, and peers whom students trust can boost
students’ confidence in their academic capabilities. Supportive messages can serve to bolster a
student’s effort and self-confidence, particularly when accompanied by conditions and
instruction that help bring about success (Bandura, 1997). Social persuasions may be limited in
their ability to create enduring increases in self-efficacy, however. According to Usher et al.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 32
(2008), it may actually be easier to undermine an individual’s self-efficacy through social
persuasions than to enhance it, particularly in the formative years during which youngsters
eagerly attend to the messages they receive from those close to them (Bandura, 1997). For
example, the construct of stereotype threats demonstrates how social persuasions may hinder
efficacy and contribute to anxiety and other negative behaviors.
Finally, Bandura (1997) hypothesized that self-efficacy beliefs are informed by emotional
and physiological states such as anxiety, stress, fatigue, and mood. Students learn to interpret
their physiological arousal as an indicator of personal competence by evaluating their own
performances under differing conditions (Usher et al., 2008). Strong emotional reactions to
school-related tasks can provide cues to expected success or failure (Bandura, 1997). High
anxiety can undermine self-efficacy. Students who experience a feeling of dread when going to a
particular class each day likely interpret their apprehension as evidence of lack of skill in that
area. As described earlier in this chapter, math anxiety’s impact on self-efficacy leads to
avoidance, which can effect self-beliefs and increase stereotype threats. In general, increasing
students’ physical and emotional well-being and reducing negative emotional states strengthens
self-efficacy (Usher et al., 2008).
The research of Albert Bandura (1997) and Usher and Pajares (2008) on social cognitive
theory illustrates the predictive power of self-efficacy and the impact that social cognitive theory
has on student achievement and, specifically, mathematics performance. Their research revealed
that each of the four sources of self-efficacy correlated significantly with the four mathematics
self-efficacy measures and with motivation-related constructs such as mathematics self-concept,
invitations, task goals, and optimism. As their findings demonstrate, perceived mastery
experience is a powerful source of students’ mathematics self-efficacy. Students who feel they
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 33
have mastered skills and succeeded at challenging assignments experience a boost in their
efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1997). However, social persuasion and vicarious experiences have the
ability to enhance or destroy efficacy in mathematics. Furthermore, physiological and emotional
states such as anxiety and stress can also have an impact on a student’s performance and
ultimately reduce their self-efficacy.
Self-Efficacy Construct
Self-efficacy refers to beliefs about one’s capabilities to learn or perform behaviors at
designated levels (Bandura, 1986, 1997). Research shows that self-efficacy influences academic
motivation, learning, and achievement (Pajares, 1996; Schunk, 1995). Self-efficacy refers to
“beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage
prospective situations” (Bandura, 1997, p. 2). These beliefs of competence and confidence affect
behavior in several predictive ways. They influence the choices individuals make and the course
of action they pursue. Students, specifically, will engage in tasks in which they feel personally
confident and competent in achieving and will avoid those tasks in which they feel anxious or
unsure of success (Pietsch, Walker, & Chapman, 2003). Efficacy beliefs determine how much
effort people will expend on a task, how long they will persistent in doing the task and how
resilient they will be when confronted with obstacles and adverse situations (Pajares, 1996). The
higher sense of efficacy an individual possesses, the greater the effort, persistence and resiliency
they will demonstrate (Clark & Estes, 2002).
Conversely, low self-efficacy can have a negative impact on the effort and persistence an
individual will display. People with low self-efficacy believe that things are much harder than
they really are, which, in turn, creates feelings of anxiety, depression and stress that clouds one’s
ability to find positive and successful solutions (Pajares, 1996). High self-efficacy, on the other
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 34
hand, helps to create feelings of serenity in approaching difficult tasks (Pajares, 1996). The
influences on an individual’s self-efficacy beliefs are strong determinants and predictors of the
level of accomplishments that individuals finally attain (Bandura, 1997). People form their self-
efficacy perceptions by interpreting information from four sources: (1) authentic mastery
experiences, (2) vicarious experiences, (3) social persuasions, and (4) physiological indexes
(Bandura, 1997).
Self-Belief
Self-beliefs are a critical component of most modern theories of human motivation.
According to Pajares and Schunk (2002), self-beliefs that children create and develop and hold to
be true about themselves are vital forces in their success or failure in in school. As part of social
cognitive theory, self-belief differs from self-efficacy in a particular way. Efficacy is formed
when an individual determines s/he can successfully accomplish a task. Self-belief is developed
through the way an individual feels about accomplishing said task. According to Bong and
Skaalvik (2003), self-concept or belief has a cognitive and affective component, whereas self-
efficacy relates to cognitive appraisals of competence. Self-belief complements self-efficacy and
the social cognitive construct by enhancing the self-perceptions and thinking of individuals.
Individuals’ perceptions of their competencies are powerful motivators that affect the choices
they make, the effort and persistence they put forth, and the resilience they show in overcoming
obstacles. Self-efficacy beliefs also play a mediating role in that they serve as filters between
prior achievements or abilities and subsequent behavior. For example, students who interpret the
results of their test scores favorably may use that interpretation to fuel their effort to study hard
so as to perform well on subsequent exams.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 35
Authentic Mastery Experiences
Bandura (1997) theorized that the most influential source of information comes from the
interpreted results of past performance, which he called mastery experiences. These past
performance accomplishments can create a strong sense of efficacy to accomplish similar tasks
in the future. Alternatively, repeated failure can lower efficacy perceptions, especially when such
failures occur early in the course of events and cannot be attributed to lack of effort or external
circumstances.
Vicarious Experiences
The second source of self-efficacy information is the vicarious experiences gained by
observing others perform a task. By observing the successes and failures of others, people gather
information that contributes to their judgments about their own capabilities. Modeling has the
greatest influence when the models observed are perceived to be similar to the observer and in
situations in which the observer has little personal experience.
Social or Verbal Persuasions
Social or verbal persuasions—messages from others about one’s ability to accomplish a
task—are hypothesized to exert the most positive influence on those who already have a strong
sense of self-efficacy. Social messages can encourage people to exert the extra effort to succeed,
resulting in further development of skills and personal efficacy. According to Bandura (1986),
however, these persuasions can also work to undermine efficacy beliefs when used to convince
people that they lack capabilities. Derogatory statements about one’s competence in a particular
area are believed to have the most detrimental effect on the confidence judgments of those who
already lack confidence in their capabilities. For example, when women receive social messages
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 36
that they do not belong in male-dominated fields, they may be especially vulnerable to believing
that they are not and cannot be competent in that area.
Physiological Indexes
People look to their physical and emotional states as a fourth source of information about
their capabilities. Powerful emotional arousal, such as anxiety, can effectively alter individuals’
beliefs about their capabilities. People may view a state of arousal as an energizing factor that
can contribute to a successful performance, or they may view arousal as completely disabling.
Thus, individuals construct their self-efficacy beliefs through the interpretation and integration of
information from these four sources.
The potential of self-efficacy and its antecedents to influence how people select or
eliminate future activities has been used as a heuristic model in understanding career decisions
(Zeldin, Britner, & Pajares, 2008). Hackett and Betz (1981) first applied the self-efficacy
construct in the area of career choice and adjustment in an effort to explain the
underrepresentation of women in higher status and male-dominated fields. They postulated that
self-efficacy beliefs played an important role in the gender differences typically found in career-
related behaviors and occupational goals, suggesting that women limited their career options in
part as a result of their lack of strong self-efficacy beliefs in relation to career-related behaviors
(Zeldin et al., 2008). Hackett and Betz (1981) also contended that men were more likely than
were women to be exposed to models relevant to career-related efficacy. As a result, women
were less likely to experience the vicarious learning that could help them to develop efficacy
expectations for nontraditional careers. These socialization-based differences between the
genders worked to lower women’s self-efficacy for success in traditionally male careers and
contributed to their failure to realize their full capabilities, talent, and potential in career-related
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 37
pursuits (Zeldin et al., 2008). This suggests that women’s confidence, created from social
sources and maintained within relational contexts, may differ fundamentally from that of men
(Hackett et al., 1981). Erikson (1980) argued that men form their identity primarily from
independent, work-related achievements, whereas women rely for their identity formation on the
intimacy of the relationships in their lives. It is possible then that men’s and women’s confidence
travels along two developmentally different roads: one developed by mastery experiences, and
the other by relational episodes.
The most important finding of Erikson’s (1980) investigation was that men highlighted
their mastery experiences as the most significant source of self-efficacy development. This
finding is in keeping with the theoretical framework of Bandura (1986, 1997), who suggested
that enactive mastery is the most important and influential self-efficacy source because it
provides the most authentic evidence of information about success in a specific domain. Bandura
(1997) also argued that mastery experiences produce stronger and more generalized self-efficacy
beliefs than do other modes of influence such as vicarious experiences, cognitive simulations, or
verbal instruction. The manner in which people create and alter their self-efficacy expectations
through mastery experiences depends on various factors. These include their preconceptions of
their capabilities, the perceived difficulty of the tasks, the amount of effort expended, the amount
of aid received from others, the circumstances under which they perform, the chronological
pattern of their successes and failures, and the manner in which these mastery experiences are
cognitively organized (Bandura, 1997).
Zeldin and Pajares (2000) suggest that women form their self-efficacy perceptions
primarily from their vicarious experiences and the social and verbal persuasions they receive
from others. Seeing people similar to oneself perform successfully typically raises self-efficacy
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 38
beliefs in observers because they come to believe that they, themselves, also possess the
capabilities to successfully perform comparable activities (Bandura, 1997). Women were
persuaded that, if others could do it, so could they. Women experience vicarious learning from
their family members, teachers, supervisors, and peers. This is supported by the work of Beilock,
Gunderson, Ramirez and Levine (2010), who suggest that the two major environmental
influences on children’s academic attitudes are parents and teachers. Bandura (1997) contended
that it is easier to sustain a sense of self-efficacy, especially when struggling with challenges, if
significant others express faith in one’s abilities. Zeldin and Pajares provided evidence that the
persuasions of others were critical to the women selecting and continuing to pursue careers in
science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
Erikson (1968) argued that women form their identity while existing in their inner space.
Women more often rely on the intimacy of the relationships in their lives. As Zeldin et al.,
(2000) suggested, the idea that women form their self-efficacy beliefs as a result of their
relational experiences is also in keeping with the theoretical assumptions of Carol Gilligan
(1982), who argued that women use the relationships in their lives as a foundation on which to
ground their behavior. Gilligan (1982) also argued that the developmental order of identity
formation for women may differ from that of men.
According to Zeldin et al. (2000), as women develop their mathematical-related skills and
competencies, significant others in their lives help them appraise these competencies positively.
Because women perceive themselves at the center of an intricate relational web (Gilligan, 1982),
they used their relationships with family members, teachers, peers, and supervisors as identity
forming and enhancing. They believe they are competent in underrepresented domains through
the beliefs that others shared with them about their capabilities. Important relationships in
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 39
women’s lives served a function beyond merely reinforcing their confidence, as seemed to be the
case with men. Instead, these relationships were required for their perseverance, and they aided
in helping women define themselves as mathematicians and scientists (Zeldin & Pajares, 2000).
This construct is further supported in the works of Beilock et al. (2010), and Shapiro and
Williams (2011) who suggest that negative and positive stereotypes about women’s math
abilities are transmitted to girls by their immediate support systems including teachers, parents
and peers.
Some researchers suggested that gender differences in human motivation and behavior
may be more aptly explained by stereotypic beliefs about gender, or gender orientation, than by
gender itself (Pajares, 2005). These beliefs have powerful implications for science and
mathematics-related fields when combined with the model of academic choice developed by
Eccles and Meece (Eccles, 1987). They propose that academic choice and achievement is based
both on the expectations for success that individuals hold and the value they attribute to a task,
activity, or domain. In this example, both men and women consistently sex-type mathematics
and science as masculine domains (Eccles et al., 1984). Eccles et al. (1987) suggest that it is
likely that the gender differences they discuss regarding the manner in which men and women
attend to the sources of self-efficacy may be a result of their self-beliefs about gender—their
gender orientation—rather than of gender per se. What can be said with some degree of
certainty, however, is that both the men in the Eccles investigation and the women in Zeldin and
Pajares’ (2000) study persevered in a traditionally masculine domain and believed that they
belonged and deserved to be there due in large part to their strong self-efficacy beliefs. Thus, the
second finding of the Eccles investigation was that participant’s self-efficacy beliefs were
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 40
powerful contributors to their selection of and success in science- and mathematics-related
occupations.
Findings from the Eccles investigation lead to several research and educational
implications. First, they lend support to the contention that men and women base their
confidence on different sources of self-efficacy. Thus, a student’s gender must be considered
when designing interventions to address self-efficacy beliefs. Researchers created interventions
to raise self-efficacy for a given task or subject area focusing on one or two of the theorized self-
efficacy sources. Some of these interventions successfully increased the self-efficacy beliefs of
students (Hackett et al., 1995; Schunk, 1984, 1991, 1995; Schunk & Swartz, 1993). Given the
cumulative and developmental nature of career self-efficacy, however, lasting and robust self-
efficacy beliefs must be promoted. Including all four sources of self-efficacy beliefs—mastery
experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasions, and emotional arousal—in educational
and career choice interventions will provide the best opportunity to address the needs of all
students (Zeldin et al., 2008). As Hackett (1995, p. 248) suggested, “it is likely, for example, that
career-related modeling, encouragement, and lowered anxiety and arousal not only enhance
efficacy directly, but also facilitate successful performance attempts in occupationally related
areas.” It is critical that parents, teachers, counselors, school administrators, and policy makers
be aware of the self-efficacy beliefs, interests, and gender orientation beliefs that may be at work
as students select or reject academic paths and occupational domains. According to Betz (1992),
counselors serve important functions by identifying areas in which low perceptions of self-
efficacy serve as a barrier to individual career options. She argued that many women are
socialized in such a way that they do not have access to the information necessary to develop the
self-efficacy beliefs required to actively pursue male-dominated careers (Betz, 1992). In these
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 41
cases, this information must be provided. Clearly, students develop perceptions of capabilities
while they learn skills and select academic paths. Assessing these self-beliefs can provide
teachers and counselors with important information, and this information can help students make
informed choices about their future (Hackett & Betz, 1989; Pajares, 1997). This is especially
critical given the academic prerequisites required to develop the competencies needed for
challenging careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Individuals from ethnic and racial minorities continue to be underrepresented in science-
and mathematics-related occupations, and self-efficacy researchers should also focus
investigations on this issue. Lucas (1997) suggested that, for minority students growing up in a
majority culture, identity exploration and commitment may involve a different process than that
which students from the majority groups undergo. Research suggests that self-efficacy
development for these students may have much in common with the self-efficacy development
of the women participants in Zeldin and Pajares’ (2000) research. In both cases, confidence and
motivation may be supported by relationships with family members, peer groups, and significant
others.
There are few decisions as important to an individual’s well-being as the career that s/he
will select. It is clear, strong self-efficacy beliefs for occupational domains have significant
benefits both for men and for women. Strong career self-efficacy beliefs provide people with the
motivation needed to be persistent, resilient, and devoted to their academic and occupational
goals. Although people create and refine their beliefs about themselves and their capabilities
throughout their life, it seems crucial that self-beliefs be addressed early while they are
developing academically. Comprehensive career exploration should be a part of educational
systems at all academic levels so as to ensure that students do not foreclose on an occupational
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 42
identity prematurely (Zeldin et al., 2008). It is imperative that researchers, parents, and educators
have the responsibility to ensure that all young people with an interest in careers in science and
mathematics are equipped with the competence and confidence required to pursue meaningful
and worthwhile work.
Self-Efficacy implications
Although self-efficacy research has made notable contributions to the under-standing of
self-regulatory practices and academic motivation, the connection from theory to practice has
been slow. Classroom teachers and policymakers may well be impressed by the force of research
findings arguing that self-efficacy beliefs are important determinants of performance and
mediators of other self-beliefs, but they are apt to be more interested in useful educational
implications, sensible intervention strategies, and practical ways to alter self-efficacy beliefs
when they are inaccurate and debilitating to children (Pajares, 2010). Some self-efficacy
researchers suggested that teachers would be well served by paying as much attention to
students’ perceptions of competence as to actual competence, for it is the perceptions that may
more accurately predict students’ motivation and future academic choices (Hackett & Betz,
1989). Assessing students’ self-efficacy can provide teachers with important insights. Research
demonstrated that self-efficacy beliefs strongly influence the choices of majors and career
decisions of college students. In some cases, unrealistically low math self-efficacy perceptions,
not lack of capability or skill, may in part be responsible for avoidance of math-related courses
and careers, and this is more likely to be the case with women than with men (Hackett & Betz,
1989). If this is so, in addition to skill improvement, researchers must acquaint schools with
ways to identify these inaccurate judgments and must aid in designing and implementing
appropriate interventions to alter them (Pajares, 1996). School and teaching practices that foster
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 43
both competence and the necessary accompanying confidence should be identified, as well as
practices that “convert instructional experiences into education in inefficacy” (Bandura, 1997, p
175.). In addition, investigations of teacher efficacy and the influence such self-beliefs have on
teacher practices and student outcomes will help explain how teachers’ beliefs influence
students’ beliefs and achievement.
Expectancy-Value Theory
Social cognitive theory attempts to explain people’s choice of achievement task,
persistence on those tasks and the resiliency with which they will persevere in accomplishing
those tasks. Another perspective on motivation is expectancy-value theory. This perspective
argues that individuals’ choice, persistence and performance can be explained by their belief
about how well they will do on the activity and the extent to which they value the activity
(Eccles & Wigfield, 2000). Two main constructs proposed in the expectancy-value model are the
expectancy-related beliefs and subjective task value (Eccles et al., 2002; Eccles et al., 1983,
1998). Expectancy-related beliefs are assumed to be positively related to subjective task value,
and those two constructs directly influence children’s performance, effort, persistence, and task
choices. Expectancies are defined as the subjective probability that a person can succeed on a
task if a particular action is carried out (Meece et al., 1990).
For over 30 years, Jacquelynne Eccles and colleagues studied the motivational and social
factors influencing such long and short-range school-related goals and behaviors as school
grades, course selections, and high school graduation. They elaborated a comprehensive
theoretical model linking achievement-related choices to two sets of beliefs: the individual’s
expectations for success and the importance of value the individual attaches to the various
options perceived by the individual as available. In this model, they also specified the relation of
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 44
these beliefs to cultural norms, experiences, aptitudes, and to those personal belief attitudes that
are commonly assumed to be associated with achievement-related activities (Eccles et al., 2002).
In particular, they linked other meaning-making beliefs, outcomes, and goals to interpretive
systems such as casual attributions and other meaning-making beliefs linked to achievement-
related activities and events, to the input of parents, peers, and teachers, to various social roles
and other culturally based beliefs about both the nature of various tasks in a variety of
achievement domains and the appropriateness of participation in such tasks, to self-perceptions
and self-concepts, to perceptions of the task itself, and to the processes and consequences
associated with identity formation (Eccles et al., 2002). They believe people will most likely
engage fully in school if they have confidence in their ability to do well and place high value on
doing well in school. Confidence results from a history of doing well as well as from getting
positive feedback and reinforcements from parents, peers, and teachers.
In 1983, Eccles proposed an expectancy-value model of achievement performance and
choice within the mathematics achievement domain. Eccles (1983) posits that expectancies and
values are assumed to influence directly achievement choices. They also influence performance,
effort, and persistence. Expectancies and values are assumed to be influenced by task-specific
beliefs such as ability beliefs, the perceived difficulty of different tasks, and individuals’ goals,
self-schema, and affective memories (Eccles et al., 1998; Wigfield & Eccles 1992). Modern
expectancy-value theories are based in Atkinson’s (1964) expectancy-value model in that they
link achievement performance, persistence, and choice most directly to individual’s expectancy-
related and task value beliefs. However, Eccles’ (2000) expectancy-value model suggests that
expectancies and values are positively related to each other, rather than inversely related as
Atkinson suggested in 1964. Expectancies and values are assumed to directly influence
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 45
performance, persistence and choice. Expectancies and values are influenced by task-specific
beliefs such as perceptions of competence, perceptions of other people’s attitudes and
expectations for them, by their affective memories, and by their own interpretations of their
previous achievement outcomes. Eccles (2000) defined expectancy for success as an individual’s
belief about how well they will do on a task. These expectancy beliefs are measured in a manner
analogous to measures of Bandura’s (1997) personal efficacy expectations. Eccles et al. (1983)
defined beliefs about ability as individuals’ evaluations of their competence in different areas. In
the expectancy-value model, ability beliefs are conceived as broad beliefs about competence in a
specific domain. As a result, Eccles (1983) outlined four components of task-value: attainment
value, intrinsic value, utility value and cost.
Attainment Value
Attainment value is the importance to the individual of achievement in a given task and
should determine the length of his or her persistence in working at it. It commonly refers to the
importance of doing well on a given task. Attainment value refers to individuals ’ beliefs about
how important it is for them to perform well on a task in terms of their value.
Intrinsic Value
Intrinsic value is the enjoyment the individual gets from performing the activity or the
subjective interest the individual has in the subject. This component of value is similar to the
construct of intrinsic motivation by Deci and Ryan (1985).
Utility Value
Utility value is determined by how well a task relates to current or future goals, such as
career goals. A task can have positive value to a person because it facilitates important future
goals.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 46
Cost
Cost is conceptualized in terms of the negative aspects of engaging in the task, such as
performance anxiety and fear of both failure and success, as well as the amount of effort needed
to succeed and the lost opportunities that result from making the choice rather than another.
Theories Focused on Expectancy
According to Eccles et al. (2002), several theories focus on an individual’s belief about
competence and efficacy, expectancies for success or failure, and a sense of control over
outcomes. These beliefs are directly related to whether or not an individual can do the task.
When people believe that they can accomplish the task and have some control over their own
success, they perform better and are motivated to select more challenging tasks (Eccles et al.,
2002).
Locus of control. Locus of control is another type of expectancy-based theory. Along
with self-efficacy, locus of control theory suggests that one should expect to succeed to the
extent that one feels in control of one’s successes and failures, that is one has an internal locus of
control (Eccles et al., 2002). Locus of control theorizes that individuals who believe they control
their achievement outcomes should feel more competent and confident. Conversely, Connell
(1985) suggested that not knowing the cause of one’s successes and failures undermines one’s
motivation to work on associated tasks. Students who feel that they are in control of their success
have repeatedly demonstrated higher academic achievement and developed a more positive sense
of their control over outcomes (Skinner, 1998).
Theories Focused on Engagement
Theories that deal with competence, expectancy and control provide powerful
explanations of individuals’ performance on different kinds of tasks, but do not systematically
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 47
deal with the reasons individuals have for engaging in different achievement tasks. Even if
people are confident they can perform the task, they may not have a compelling reason to
complete the task. Engagement theories provide the “why we do it” necessary to explain and
understand expectancy-value theory.
Interest theories and goal theories. Individual interest is a stable evaluative orientation
towards certain domains, and situational interest is an emotional state aroused by specific
features of an activity or task (Eccles et al., 2002). Both suggest that interest is based on feelings
and personal significance. The more significance a task has to an individual, the more interest
and relevance the individual feels towards completing the task successfully.
Goal theory suggests that specific, proximal and somewhat challenging goals promote
both self-efficacy and improved performance (Bandura, 1997). Research shows that two major
kinds of motivationally relevant goal patterns exist: ego-involved goals and task-involved goals.
Individuals with ego-involved goals seek to maximize favorable evaluations of their competence
and minimize negative evaluations of their competence. These individuals are concerned with
whether they will look smart or can outperform others. Individuals are more likely to perform
tasks that they know they can complete successfully. In contrast, task-involved goals suggest that
individuals focus on mastering tasks and increasing their competence. These individuals are
concerned with how they can complete the task and what they will learn from performing it.
Task-involved individuals choose challenging tasks and are more concerned with their own
progress than with outperforming others (Eccles, 2002).
Attribution theory. Attribution models include beliefs about ability and expectancies for
success along with incentives for engaging in different activities. Attribution theorists emphasize
that an individual’s interpretation of his/her achievement outcomes, rather than motivational
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 48
dispositions or actual outcomes, determine subsequent achievement strivings. Wiener (1992)
suggests that an individual’s causal attributions for achievement are key motivational beliefs.
There are three causal dimensions of attribution: locus of control, stability and controllability.
The locus of control dimension has two poles: internal and external. The stability dimension
captures whether causes change over time or not. Controllability discerns between what one can
control, such as skill/efficacy, and what one cannot control, such as aptitude or luck. Each of
these dimensions has a unique influence on various aspects of achievement behavior. For
instance, the stability dimension influences individuals’ expectancies for success: attribution of
an outcome to a stable cause, such as ability or skill, has a stronger influence on expectancies for
future success than attributing an outcome to an unstable cause, such as effort (Wiener, 1992).
The locus of control dimension is linked more strongly to affective reactions. For instance,
attributing success to an internal cause enhances one’s pride or self-esteem, but attributing that
success to an external cause enhances one’s gratitude; attributing failure to internal causes is
linked to shame, but attributing it to an external cause is linked to anger (Eccles, 2002).
Self-worth theory. Covington (1998) defined the motive for self-worth as the tendency
to establish and maintain a positive self-image or sense of self-worth. He argued that a key way
to maintain a sense of self-worth is to protect one’s sense of academic competence. That is to say
that students need to believe they are academically competent in order to think they have worth
as a person within the school context. As a result, students will try to maximize, or at least
protect, their sense of academic competence in order to maintain their self-worth.
Expectancy-Value Implications
Focusing on individuals’ beliefs, values and goals, motivation researchers learned much
about the reasons why individuals choose to engage or disengage in different activities, and how
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 49
individual’s beliefs, values and goals related to their achievement behaviors (Eccles et al., 2002).
Expectancy-value theory sheds some light on how an individual’s expectancy for success and the
value they place on that task influence their achievement choices. Achievement-related behaviors
such as educational and career choice are most directly related to expectations for success and
the value attached to the various options perceived as available (Wang, 2013). As children
develop into adolescents, their competence, efficacy and beliefs are influenced by their
experiences, role models, cultural norms and social experiences (Eccles et al., 2002). As
adolescence gives way to adulthood, these experiences and beliefs influence academic and career
choices in students. If a student has high expectancy for success and places a high value on the
specific task, he/she will be more motivated to persist in that task. The more motivated and
persistent an individual is on a task, the greater the chance for success. Conversely, if a student
expects to fail or places little value on the task because of a negative experience, motivation
suffers, and these experiences begin to shape decisions about specific tasks or choices.
Expectancy-value theory provides insight into the effects of social cognitive theory on student
achievement and motivation. Furthermore, it adds to the research on student motivation and
interest in STEM fields.
Effects of Anxiety, Low Efficacy and Expectancies on Stem Interest and Choice
Self-efficacy, math anxiety and expectancy have all been linked to career choice and
interest in STEM domains. Lent (1994) developed a model to predict interest and intent to pursue
academic choices and careers called the social cognitive career theory. This model allows
researchers to use measures of an individual’s self-efficacy, outcome expectations and
psychological barriers (math anxiety, avoidance, fear) to explain reasoning behind students’
academic or career choices. According to Jennings (2015), students’ interest and self-concept are
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 50
contributing factors in participation of STEM activities. Jennings (2015) further adds that the
constructs of personal interest, value, and self-appraisals influence interest in STEM activities
and careers. In addition, Gottfredson (2005) suggests that parental stereotypes about different
cognitive abilities of males and females as they match particular careers have long-lasting effects
on children’s consideration of careers. According to Wang et al. (2013) motivational beliefs,
which are informed by aptitudes in math and science, competence beliefs, interest and
occupational and life values clearly play a role in the decision to pursue STEM versus non-
STEM careers. As the research suggests, an individual’s self-efficacy, expectancy and level of
anxiety play a pivotal role in their interest in STEM fields. In addition, the influence of parents,
teachers and cultural factors contribute to the beliefs that students have about their abilities and
expectancy for success.
Pre-Service Teacher Anxiety
Much research focuses on teachers’ and parents’ influence on math anxiety and
stereotype threats. According to Beilock et al. (2009), female elementary teachers’ math anxiety
carries negative consequences for their female students’ math achievement. According to Bursal
et al. (2006), a common finding in research is that pre-service elementary teachers lack the
knowledge in mathematics and science, which results in negative attitudes towards these areas.
The results of the R-MANX study reveal that math anxiety was reported as a cause of the lack of
pre-service teacher’s confidence in educational activities. These results suggest that pre-service
teachers who are severely anxious about math believe that they will not be able to teach
mathematics effectively (Bursal et al., 2006).
According to Swars, Daane and Giesen (2002), there is a particular concern among pre-
service elementary teachers, as, among this population, math anxiety is prevalent. Ma (1999)
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 51
suggested that such a prevalence causes concerns regarding their teaching effectiveness in
mathematics as well as the potential for passing this anxiety to their students. Swars et al., (2002)
also suggest that teachers with high math anxiety use more traditional teaching methods, such as
lecture, and concentrate on teaching basic skills rather than concepts in mathematics. These
teachers devote more time to seatwork and whole class instruction and less time to playing
games, problem solving and individualized instruction. In addition, Swetman (1994), suggests
that teachers with high math anxiety avoid teaching mathematics and perpetuate this negative
attitude towards mathematics among their students. Furthermore, such negative attitudes towards
mathematics affect student performances in mathematics (Hembree, 1990).
Jensen and Sjaastad (2013) found that when students are taught by individuals that
possess strong mathematical content knowledge and develop interpersonal relationships with
students that foster self confidence in math, the persistence and motivation of their students
increased. Study participants in the ENT3R after-school mathematics program reported that their
efficacy and motivation to participate increased as a result of their instructor’s strong mathematic
content knowledge and their strong pedagogical skills. Participants’ reports about how
encouraging instructors helped them increase their beliefs and self-confidence in doing
mathematics point to an important aspect of ENT3R. The participants had someone who knew
them personally and who had competence in mathematics to help them build self-efficacy in the
subject (Jensen & Sjaastad, 2013).
Although this literature review focused on math anxiety and students’ efficacy, it is clear
that teachers’ beliefs and anxieties of also influence students’ efficacy and anxiety levels. As a
result, interest in STEM fields can be greatly affected by their teachers’ attitudes and beliefs of.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 52
Conclusion
Research into the domain of math anxiety revealed a plethora of barriers and potential
challenges to increasing participation in STEM education. As the research shows, self-efficacy
and self-belief form the basis for motivational theory and can work against efforts to expand
STEM education in America. Research demonstrated that math anxiety does influence choice
and persistence and can be influenced by teachers who have negative perceptions of math and
who suffer from math anxiety as well. More importantly, research uncovered that the decline in
interest in STEM fields is far more complicated than previously expected. Stereotype threats,
low expectancy and low utility value create a framework of challenges that undermine the efforts
of policy makers and educators worldwide.
In order to move forward with a national agenda, it is clear that researchers must examine
the underlying psychological effects of self-efficacy, math anxiety and expectancy-value theory
to develop a more coherent understanding of the barriers that exist in advancing STEM
education. Simple policy shifts or curriculum strategies will neither fix the leaky pipeline nor
create a sustainable supply of confident and capable STEM students.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 53
CHAPTER THREE: METHODOLOGY
Framework
Bandura’s (1986, 1997) social cognitive theory of learning provides the underlying
framework and predictive model on efficacy and motivation. Eccles et al.’s (2007) expectancy-
value theory provides a deeper explanation of how outcome expectancies affect interest. The
math anxiety construct links the two theoretical perspectives and describes how a mediating
factor such as anxiety can affect efficacy, motivation and expectancy for success. For example, if
a student with low math anxiety believes that she can earn a good grade in her math class, her
efficacy will influence her choice to study and persist in studying, which will improve her
chances of positive outcome expectancies. Conversely, students with high math anxiety and low
math-efficacy are discouraged by past experiences, which results in avoidance behaviors and
ultimately influences their choice to study or try to achieve a positive outcome. Math anxiety
influences an individual’s motivation and expectancy for success and will lead to a lack of
interest in specific math oriented pathways. Lent’s (2000) social cognitive career theory connects
social cognitive theory and expectancy-value theory to explain how individuals make career
related decisions. Lent (2000) suggests that contextual supports and barriers are external factors
that either facilitate or impede high self-efficacy or setting academic or career goals. Math
anxiety theory suggests that high math anxiety has a negative impact on self-efficacy, which
influences outcome expectancies and, ultimately, influences academic or career goals. The goal
of this study is to demonstrate the negative effects of math anxiety as a barrier to enrollment in
STEM pathways and careers.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 54
Research Questions
1. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in current middle school students?
2. To what extent does math anxiety and low math expectancy affect enrollment in high
school STEM courses?
3. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in pre-service teacher candidates?
Research Design
This study consisted of a three-phase quantitative analysis measuring math anxiety and
career interest in students and pre-service teachers. The study was non-experimental research
utilizing a correlational approach with an explanatory design. The purpose of the research design
was to identify students’ and teachers’ math anxiety levels and then correlate this data to the
STEM Career Interest Survey findings. Investigating the math anxiety of students and their
interest in STEM careers, aids in beginning to measure the effects that social cognitive theory,
expectancy-value theory and math anxiety theory have on students’ course selection prior to
enrollment in high school. Furthermore, this research begins to illuminate the impact that math
anxious teachers have on student math anxiety and on student career and course enrollment
choices.
Phase I included the Math Anxiety Questionnaire (MAQ) developed by Allan Wigfield
and Judith Meece to measure math anxiety in students from 6th grade to 12th grade. Phase I was
administered to over 500 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at a suburban middle school. The MAQ
was administered utilizing school computers and survey software that will allow students to
remain anonymous. The survey was web-based and did not require a login or any other
identifiable registration information. The school computers, IP addresses and other electronic
data were not be assigned to a student and allowed the student to remain unidentifiable for the
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 55
purposes of this study. The survey software was set so that IP addresses were not collected. The
survey was administered in the fall of the first semester. The purpose of measuring math anxiety
in middle school students was to identify relationships between math anxiety and other key math
attitudes such as beliefs, values and expectancies as a way of assessing the distinctiveness of
math anxiety as a construct.
Phase II included the administration of the Revised Mathematics Anxiety Survey (R-
MANX) developed by Bursal and Paznokas (2006) to measure math anxiety and confidence to
teach math and science at the elementary level. The survey was administered to pre-service
elementary teacher candidates currently enrolled at several large U.S. urban universities. The
purpose of this phase of the study was to investigate the impact that math anxiety has on teacher
confidence to teach mathematics in the elementary setting.
Finally, Phase III includes administration of the STEM Career Interest Survey (CIS) to
the same 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in Phase I. The survey was administered utilizing
computers and survey software that allowed students to remain anonymous. IP addresses and
other electronic data were not associated or assigned with specific students. The school computer
lab was utilized to administer the survey in the same manner as Phase I. The purpose of
administering the STEM CIS was to investigate student’s interest and attitudes towards STEM
careers and to correlate that data with the math anxiety results of phase I.
Hypothesis
According to Salkind (2014), a good hypothesis translates the problem statement or a
research question into a form that is more amenable to testing. The purpose of this dissertation
was to understand the effects of math anxiety and low self-efficacy on interest in STEM
pathways. Therefore, the hypothesis reflects the research questions.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 56
H
1
: Students with high math anxiety will be less interested in STEM pathways and
careers as measured by the Math Anxiety Questionnaire and the STEM CIS, than
students with low math anxiety.
H
0
: There is no relationship between high math anxiety and interest in STEM pathways
and careers.
Participants
The research population consists of five hundred 6
t
h, 7th and 8th grade students at Smith
Middle School (a pseudonym) and Jones Middle School (a pseudonym) in the middle class urban
school district of ABC Unified (a pseudonym) in California. The surveys were administered
during science class time. Classrooms were chosen randomly from among the classrooms whose
teachers volunteered to participate in this study. Within each classroom, all students were asked
to participate and allowed to submit a blank survey if they felt uneasy about participation. The
opt out sampling process served to reduce bias and ensure that the sample size was
representative. All questionnaires were administered during February 2016.
Access
There is no official process for gaining access to researching ABC schools listed on their
website. However, the researcher negotiated access through the district superintendent, Dr.
Brown (a pseudonym). In the capacity of superintendent, Dr. Brown oversees the entire district.
Additionally, he manages all principals and schools within ABC Unified. This position in the
organization makes Dr. Brown an initial gatekeeper for the organization (Maxwell, 2009). He
was the best first point of contact because of his position within the organization. His approval
was critical to gaining access to the schools and participants. In addition, the director of
assessment and accountability reviews all requests for conducting research within the school
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 57
district and makes recommendations to the Superintendent to approve or deny access for
research.
Dr. Brown and the researcher worked together in the past, as the researcher is a former
ABC Unified employee. Dr. Brown was instrumental in the pursuit of the doctorate and
supportive of this research. The two have a close and collegial relationship and often discuss
progress in the program. The researcher informally mentioned interest in studying the schools in
ABC Unified for this dissertation and was encouraged by Dr. Brown to submit a proposal to
conduct research at ABC Unified.
The institutional review board (IRB) proposal identified the purpose of the study,
participant selection and the process of obtaining informed consent. Upon IRB clearance, the
researcher contacted Dr. Brown to access and select the actual setting and participants for this
research.
Dr. Brown was instrumental in selecting teachers willing to participate in the study and
who would allow the research during their class time. The selection process occurred in late
October. Upon receipt of permission from the schools and their principals, the researcher
emailed the identified teachers to explain the purpose of the study and to provide a timeline for
the research. Teachers’ and students’ informed consent was gained from those who agreed to
participate in the study.
Instrumentation
This study gathered data from three distinct data sources: the Wigfield and Meece Math
Anxiety Questionnaire, the Bursal and Paznokas Revised Math Anxiety Rating Survey and the
Keir et al. (2014) STEM CIS. The surveys were generated in Survey Monkey or Qualtrics, as
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 58
both are online survey applications for administering professional surveys. The data were
collected by Survey Monkey/Qualtrics and imported to SPSS statistical software for analysis.
Math Anxiety Questionnaire (MAQ)
The MAQ was developed to analyze six possible dimensions of anxious or negative
reactions to mathematics for assessment: dislike, lack of confidence, discomfort, worry, fear and
dread, and confusion/frustration. The items were constructed or adapted from existing math
anxiety scales to assess these different dimensions. The MAQ is an 11-item survey that focuses
on the negative affective reactions to doing math activities in school and on student’s concerns
about their performance in mathematics (Wigfield & Meece, 1988). Each item in the survey was
rated by the respondent on a 1 (no anxiety) to 7 (high anxiety) Likert Scale.
Revised Math Anxiety Rating Scale (R-MANX)
The R-MANX (Appendix A) contains 30 statements, each to be rated by the respondent
on a 1 (no anxiety) to 5 (high anxiety) Likert scale. The statements describe everyday life and
academic situations requiring mathematical thought or tasks and are rated as to the degree of
anxiety that respondents perceived they would experience in the given situations. Possible scores
range from 30 to 150, and, the higher the score, the higher the level of mathematics anxiety. The
test items were developed by Bursal et al. (2006) from the 45-item Mathematics Anxiety Survey
(MANX).
STEM Career Interest Survey (CIS)
The STEM-CIS contains 30 items, each to be rated by the respondent on a 1 (disagree) to
5 (strongly agree) Likert scale. This instrument measures student interest and self-efficacy for
mathematics, science, engineering and technology. This measurement tool is a strong single
factor instrument with four strong discipline specific subscales which allows the science,
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 59
technology, engineering and math subscales to be analyzed separately or in combination. The
CIS was developed to measure the effects of strategies intended to promote the awareness of,
interest in, and intent to pursue STEM careers with middle school students (Keir et al., 2013).
Validity and Reliability
Math Anxiety Questionnaire
Wigfield and Meece (1988) reported a statistically significant (p < .001) gender effect for
scores on the negative affective reactions scale and a statistically significant (p < .01) grade level
by gender interaction for the worry scale, raising some concern about gender differences on the
two dimensions. Alpha coefficients of .76 for the worry scale and .80 for the negative affective
reactions scale were found (Wigfield & Meece, 1988)
Revised Math Anxiety Survey
According to Bursal et al. (2006), the reliability coefficient of the parent instrument is
reported at .91. In an effort to investigate the validity of the instrument, Erktin and Oner (1990)
conducted a study of 119 students and found a Pearson product moment correlation coefficient of
.45 (p < .0001) between student scores from the MANX and the original Richardson and Suinn’s
(1972) 98-item Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS). Cronbach’s alpha for the Revised
Mathematics Anxiety Survey was calculated at .90.
STEM Career Interest Survey (STEM-CIS)
According to Tyler-Wood, Knezek and Christensen (2010), the STEM-CIS was found to
have respectable to excellent internal consistency reliability as well as good content, construct,
and criterion-related validity for the areas assessed. Cronbach’s Alpha for the individual scales
on the STEM-CIS was .94 across the five constructs represented.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 60
Data Collection
According to Creswell (2003, p. 153), “A survey design provides a quantitative or
numeric description of trends, attitudes or behaviors of a population by studying a sample of that
population.” From this sample, findings can begin to be generalized to the larger population. In
this study, data will be collected by self-administered surveys using an online survey application.
Data were stored online and imported into SPSS statistical software. The instrumentation used
was determined to be valid and reliable. The steps for data collection include are outlined below.
Step 1: Identify the number of PE sections at each school and create a schedule to access the
computer lab to survey each class based on grade.
Step 2: Secure opt-in consent. Describe the survey process and importance and explain
that students do not have to participate in the survey.
Step 3: Administer the MAQ questionnaire to students
Step 4: Administer the STEM-CIS survey to all participants and subsequently analyze the
results controlling for high math anxiety and low math anxiety
Step 5: Randomly select students to participate in the research ensuring that stratification
is consistent and proportionate with the population. Stratification will be based on gender
and demographic characteristics.
Step 6: Administer the R-MANX survey to pre-service teachers using the survey
software
Step 7: Identify and cluster students, through statistical analysis, who are math anxious
and not math anxious
Step 8: Randomly select pre-service teachers from the teacher preparation program at the
selected urban university to analyze.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 61
Step 9: Download the survey data to SPSS to begin data analysis of the research.
Data Analysis
Descriptive statistical analyses were performed on the sample groups to obtain a clear
understanding of the population. Measures of central tendency and dispersion were computed.
An analysis of variation (ANOVA) and bivariate correlational analysis were completed to
determine the strength of direction of the relationship between math anxiety and interest in
STEM pathways.
The research utilized a simple random sampling procedure to identify participants in the
study. Each grade level had N of students and n participants were randomly selected. The sample
was coded into three categories, or stratifications, which include low, mild and high math
anxiety. Once the samples were identified, an ANOVA test was conducted to determine the
variance or differences between the three population groups’ math anxiety levels. The ANOVA
test allowed the research to determine the math anxiety differences within each group, the
differences in STEM interest within each group and the level of math anxiety difference in pre-
service teachers.
Once the research identified the variances within the groups, a bivariate correlational
analysis was conducted to determine the relationship between the level of math anxiety and the
interest in STEM pathways and careers. The research utilized a Pearson product moment
correlation analysis to identify possible relationships within each group.
Limitations
There are several limitations that affected the research in this study. First, the sample was
taken from only one middle school in a suburban school district in Southern California. Although
the population as representative of the rest of California, there may have been variances in the
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 62
results due to the instruments utilized. Additionally, the number of students in each grade level
who participated may have varied greatly based on the opt-in methodology for consent. This
could have affected the sample size needed to properly analyze the sample population. Finally,
the two measures utilized for this study do not suggest causation, as they link to distinctly
different populations. Rather, these measures simply infer a connection between the two
populations in an epidemiological perspective. That is to ask if the data suggest that both
populations experience similar characteristics pertaining to math anxiety and interest in STEM.
Summary
This study sought to understand the relationship between math anxiety and interest in
STEM pathways. The research questions were designed to explore the factors that contribute to
math anxiety level and the effect of math anxiety level on student choice and interest.
Furthermore, this study sought to explore pre-service teachers’ math anxiety as a potential cause
of math anxiety in students. Although this study cannot conclude causation, it did seek to
identify and infer math anxiety and lack of career interest in STEM pathways in both
populations. This chapter describes the methodological approach for this quantitative analysis. It
clearly identifies the framework and research design, which includes the sample population,
reliability and validity of the instrumentation and the data collection and analysis procedures.
This study aims to contribute to the literature on the effects of Math anxiety on student interest in
STEM pathways and careers.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 63
CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS
This chapter presents the quantitative results to address the research questions:
1. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in current middle school students?
2. To what extent does math anxiety and low math expectancy affect enrollment in high
school STEM courses?
3. To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in pre-service teacher candidates?
Preliminary Analysis
The purpose of this study was to explore the math anxiety levels of middle school
students and its relationship with attitudes and interests in STEM education as well as the math
anxiety levels of pre-service teachers. Specifically, the current study utilized the MAQ to
determine middle school student’s math anxiety levels and the STEM-CIS to examine middle
school students’ interest in STEM education. The study also utilized the R-MANX to measure
the math anxiety levels of pre-service teachers. This chapter presents the data analyses and
findings from the study. Descriptive statistics, such as means and standard deviations, were used
to summarize and present results based on the quantitative data, while inferential statistics, such
as Pearsons product moment correlation, ANOVA and linear regressions were used to determine
the relationship between participants’ anxiety levels and their interest and attitudes in STEM as
well as to establish whether there are statistically significant differences between sample groups
(e.g., males, females, grade level). The dependent variables for the study were STEM fields and
math anxiety levels. The independent variables were gender, grade level for middle schools
students and pedagogy courses taken, math instruction courses taken, and ethnicity for pre-
service teachers.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 64
Participant Population
The populations for this study consisted of middle school students at a suburban middle
school in Southern California and pre-service teachers who attended an identified preservice
teacher education program at a major urban university in Southern California.
Students
For the MAQ, 845 middle school students were solicited to participate in the study, with
290 students responding (64.83% female, 33.45% male and 1.72% unidentified) for a 34%
response rate. Of the 290 participants, 30% were 6th graders, 45.86% were 7th graders and
24.14% were 8th graders. Although the elementary school attended by the students was widely
distributed, a majority of them attended one of three elementary schools: Benson Elementary
(13.8%), Nelson Elementary (27.6%) and Veeh Elementary (16.2%). These demographics are
presented in Table 1.
Table 1
Demographic Variables for Participants in the MAQ-CIS Survey
Variable n %
Gender 97 33.4%
Male 188 64.8%
Female 5 1.7%
Unidentified
Grade
6th Grade 87 30.0%
7th Grade 133 45.9%
8th Grade 70 24.1%
Elementary School
Arroyo Elementary 1 .3%
Benson Elementary 40 13.8%
Beswick Elementary 19 6.6%
Estock Elementary 0 0.0%
Guin Foss Elementary 1 .3%
Heidemen Elementary 7 2.4%
Lambert Elementary 6 2.1%
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 65
Table 1, continued
Ladera Ranch Elementary 0 0.0%
Hick Canyon Elementary 0 0.0%
Loma Vista Elementary 1 .3%
Myford Elementary 0 0.0%
Orchard Hills Elementary 0 0.0%
Red Hill Elementary 15 5.2%
Thorman Elementary 3 1.0%
Nelson Elementary 80 27.6%
Tustin Memorial Elementary 28 9.7%
Tustin Ranch Elementary 11 3.8%
Veeh Elementary 47 16.2%
Peters Canyon Elementary 0 0.0%
Outside ABC School District 31 10.7%
Teachers
Ninety-two preservice teachers were solicited to participate in the study and were asked
to take the R-MANX survey. Of those, 35 pre-service teachers responded (88.57% female,
11.43% male) for a 38% response rate. The majority (68.57%) of the participants were
Caucasian; other races include Asian (11.43%), Hispanic (14.27%) and other (5.71%). Their
demographics are presented in Table 2.
Table 2
Demographic Variables for Participants in the R-MANX Survey
Variable n %
Gender
Male 4 11.4%
Female 31 88.6%
Ethnicity
Caucasian 24 68.6%
Hispanic 5 14.3%
Asian 4 11.4%
Other 2 5.7%
Preferred Not to Answer 1 2.9%
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 66
Approximately 57.1% of the pre-service teachers were education majors, with the
remaining pre-service teachers majoring in art history, international relations, business, public
administration, fine art, liberal studies, sociology, accounting, communications, physical
education, biology and global studies. The majority (68.6%) of pre-service participants
completed only one course in math instruction, 14.3% completed two and 17.1% completed three
or more courses in math instruction. In addition, the majority (67.6%) had not completed a math
pedagogy class while 32.4% had completed a math pedagogy course. These statistics are
presented in Table 3.
Table 3
Percentages and Frequencies for Major, Math Instruction Courses and Pedagogy Courses R-
MANX Survey Participants
Variable n %
Major
Accounting 1 2.8%
Art History 1 2.8%
Biology 1 2.8%
Business 1 2.8%
Communication Studies 1 2.8%
Education 20 57.1%
English Literature 1 2.8%
Fine Art 1 2.8%
Global Studies 1 2.8%
International Development 1 2.8%
International Relations 1 2.8%
Liberal Studies 2 5.7%
Public Administration 1 2.8%
Physical Education 1 2.8%
Sociology 1 2.8%
Math Instruction Course
1 Course 24 68.6%
2 Courses 5 14.3%
3+ Courses 6 17.1%
Taken a Pedagogy Course
Have Taken 11 32.4%
Have Not Taken 23 67.6
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 67
Research Question 1
Regarding research question one (“To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in current
middle school students?”) descriptive statistics for math anxiety level are summarized in Table 4.
Eighty-six students reported low math anxiety levels while seventy-one student exhibited
moderate math anxiety levels and one hundred sixteen exhibited high math anxiety on the MAQ.
The MAQ is an 11-item survey with responses that range from 1 to 7, with an individual item
score of 1 representing low anxiety and a score of 7 being high anxiety. Scores were examined
and placed into three categories based on breaks in the data. Category 1 (low anxiety) ranged
from 0 to 2, category 2 (moderate anxiety) ranged from 2 to 4, and category 3 (high anxiety) was
4 and above.
Table 4
Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety Expereinced by Participants (MAQ)
MA Level n M SD
Low 86 3.87 .556
Moderate 71 3.59 .560
High 116 3.66 .568
Total 273 3.71 .572
Note: MA = mathematics anxiety. Low scores on MAQ scale are indicative of low math anxiety.
Descriptive statistics for the MAQ, by grade and gender, are summarized in Table 5. An
ANOVA was conducted to measure differences in math anxiety by gender and grade level. The
results indicate a significant difference in math anxiety levels by gender F(1,263) = 14.675, p <
.001 and are summarized in Table 6. Tukey post hoc comparisons indicated that there was a
significant difference between 6th grade female students (M = 2.60, SD = 1.302) and 7th grade
female students (M = 2.93, SD = 1.063), as well as, between 7th grade female students (M =
2.93, SD = 1.063) and 8th grade female students (M = 3.52, SD = 1.316). The results indicate that
the greatest difference in math anxiety levels is between 6th grade females and 8th grade
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 68
females. In the male population, there was no significant difference in math anxiety levels by
grade. However, when math anxiety levels are measured by gender and grade, the results were
borderline significant at the p = .05 level, suggesting that math anxiety differences between male
and female students are significant and in female students, math anxiety increases from 6th grade
to 8th grade.
Table 5
Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety by Grade and Gender
MA Level n M SD
Male
6th grade 28 2.33 1.004
7th grade 43 2.60 1.022
8th grade 20 2.37 .893
Total 91 2.47 .974
Female
6th grade 57 2.60 1.302
7th grade 79 2.93 1.063
8th grade 42 3.52 1.316
Total 178 2.97 1.245
Figure 2 illustrates the differences in math anxiety level by grade and gender. In addition,
the results indicated that math anxiety by gender and grade is borderline significant, which
suggests that, potentially, an interaction exists, as the analysis had sufficient power.
Table 6
ANOVA Analysis of Math Anxiety by Grade and Gender
Source SS df MS F p Partial η
2
Corrected
Model
36.90 5 7.38 5.70 0.000 0.098
Intercept 1647.13 1 1647.13 1271.89 0.000 0.829
Gender * Grade 7.47 2 3.73 2.88 0.058 0.021
Gender 19.00 1 19 14.68 0.000 0.053
Grade 7.68 2 3.84 2.96 0.053 0.022
Error 340.59 263 1.3
Total 2489.60 269
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 69
Figure 2. Profile Plot of Math Anxiety by Grade and Gender
In order to examine math anxiety in the student population further, the present study
examined math anxiety by grade level in additional detail. Descriptive statistics, including means
and standard deviations for the independent variable of grade, is summarized in Table 7.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 70
Table 7
Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety Expereinced by Participants by Grade Level (MAQ)
Grade Level n M SD
6 85 2.5197 1.2134
7 123 2.8167 1.0542
8 65 3.1527 1.2977
Total 273 2.8042 1.1848
An ANOVA was conducted to measure differences between grade level on math anxiety.
The results indicate a significant difference in math anxiety levels by grade F(2,270) = 5.442, p <
.005 and are summarized in Table 8. There was no significant difference in math anxiety levels
between 6th grade (M = 2.51, SD = 1.213) and 7th grade (M = 2.81, SD = 1.054) nor was there a
significant difference between 7th (M =2.81, SD = 1.054) and 8th grade (M = 3.15, SD = 1.297).
However, the results do indicate a significant difference in math anxiety levels between 6
th
graders and 8th graders, suggesting that as grade level increases, math anxiety also increases.
Post Hoc comparisons using Tukey HSD tests indicate a significant difference in math anxiety
levels between 6th and 8th graders and are summarized in Table 9.
Table 8
ANOVA Analysis of Math Anxiety by Grade
Source SS df MS F p Partial η
2
Corrected
Model
14.79 2 7.39 5.44 0.005 0.039
Intercept 2042.68 1 2042.68 1502.58 0.000 0.848
Grade 14.79 2 7.39 5.44 0.005 0.039
Error 367.05 270 1.35
Total 2528.63 273
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 71
Table 9
Tukey HSD Comparison for Grade Level
95% Confidence Interval
(I) (J) Mean Std. Sig. Lower Upper
Grade Grade
Difference
(I-J)
Error
Bound Bound
6 7 -0.297 0.16446 0.17 -0.6846 0.0906
8 -.6330
*
0.19212 0.003 -1.0858 -0.1803
7 6 0.297 0.16446 0.17 -0.0906 0.6846
8 -0.336 0.17879 0.147 -0.7574 0.0853
8 6 .6330
*
0.19212 0.003 0.1803 1.0858
7 0.336 0.17879 0.147 -0.0853 0.7574
Research Question 2
Regarding research question two (“To what extent does math anxiety and low math
expectancy affect interest in enrollment of high school STEM courses?”), a correlational analysis
was conducted to examine the relationship between student math anxiety and their interest in
STEM. Results indicate a negative relationship between math anxiety and career interest in
overall STEM, r = -.324, p < .001suggesting that student’s perceptions of STEM courses are
largely math-based.
The correlational analyses also examined the relationship between math anxiety and the
individual STEM fields. The results indicate a strong negative inverse relationship between math
anxiety and mathematics r = -.530, p < .001. The results also indicate a negative inverse
relationship between math anxiety and Science r = -.125, p = .039, between math anxiety and
Technology r = -.189, p = .002, and between math anxiety and Engineering r = -.206, p = .001.
This suggests that, as math anxiety increases, the interest in mathematics decreases. It also
suggests that, as math anxiety increases, the student’s interest in science, engineering and
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 72
technology decreases, but at lower overall levels. This suggests that math anxiety influences
individual STEM fields differently. The data are summarized in Table 10. A simple linear
regression was run to determine if math anxiety could be used to predict interest in STEM. The
overall model was significant F(1,271) = 31.892, p < .001, with an R
2
of .105. This suggests that
for every one-unit increase in the MAQ, interest in STEM decreased by -.157 units.
Table 10
Correlation Analysis of Math Anxiety by Individual STEM Fields
MAQ SCIENCE MATH TECH
SCIENCE -0.125
(0.039)
MATH -0.53 0.517
(.001) (.001)
TECH -0.189 0.514 0.579
(.002) (.001) (.001)
ENG -0.206 0.481 0.548 0.577
(.001) (.001) (.001) (.001)
An analysis of variance showed that the effect of math anxiety on STEM fields was
significant F (2, 270) = 5.691, p=.004. The results are summarized in Table 11. Post hoc
analyses were conducted given the statistically significant omnibus ANOVA F test. Specifically,
Tukey HSD tests were conducted on all possible pairwise contrasts. All of the groups were found
to be significantly different (α <.05). The results are summarized in Table 12. In other words, all
middle school students exhibit math anxiety and, as their math anxiety increases, their interest in
STEM decreases. Math and engineering held the highest effect size with science having the
lowest effect size. In line with social cognitive theory and math anxiety theory, students who
exhibit math anxiety are less likely to engage in activities or have an interest in a class that
increases their math anxiety levels.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 73
Table 11
ANOVA Analysis of Math Anxiety Level and Interest in STEM
Source SS df MS F p Partial η
2
Corrected
Model
3.60
a
2 1.80 5.69 0.004 0.040
Intercept 3610.33 1 3610.33 11404.58 0.000 0.977
MAQ_Cat 3.60 2 1.802 5.69 0.004 0.040
Error 85.47 270 .317
Total 3851.14 273
Self-efficacy beliefs also play a mediating role in that they serve as filters between prior
achievements or abilities and subsequent behavior (Bandura, 1997). Researchers have also
demonstrated that math anxiety leads to avoidance behaviors and creates psychological barriers
to enrollment in science and mathematics courses (Kier et al., 2014).
Table 12
Tukey HSD Comparison for Math Anxiety Level
MAQ_Cat(I) MAQ_Cat(J) Diff (I-J) SE p Lower Upper
Low Med .282
*
0.0902 0.005 0.069 0.495
High .214
*
0.0800 0.021 0.025 0.403
Med Low -.282
*
0.0902 0.005 -0.495 -0.069
High -.068 0.0847 0.702 -0.267 0.131
High Low -.214
*
0.0800 0.021 -0.403 -0.025
Med .068 0.0847 0.702 -0.131 0.267
This suggests that interest in science and technology is affected less by math anxiety than
is interested in engineering and mathematics. In other words, math anxiety’s influence on
students’ interests in STEM varies depending on the STEM field, which has some very
interesting implications for this research.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 74
Research Question 3
Regarding research question 3 (“To what extent is math anxiety prevalent in pre-service
teacher candidates?”) descriptive statistics for the independent variables of gender are
summarized in Table 13. The results suggest that female pre-service teachers experience greater
math anxiety (M = 2.70, SD = .703) than do their male peers (M = 1.73, SD = .665). A one factor
ANOVA was conducted to measure the effect of gender on math anxiety. The results indicated
no significant difference in math anxiety level by gender F(4,29) = 1.874, p = .181. The ANOVA
also compared difference in math anxiety level if the pre-service teacher completed a pedagogy
course or math instruction courses. Again, the analysis found no significant difference in math
anxiety levels based on completion of a pedagogy course F(4,29) = 1.256, p = .272 or in
completion of math instruction courses F(4,29) = 1.119, p = .340. This indicates that none of
these variables influenced pre-service teachers’ math anxiety levels.
Table 13
Results on Levels of Mathematics Anxiety by Gender (R-MANX)
Gender n M SD
Male 3 1.7333 .6655
Female 31 2.7064 .7035
Total 34 2.6205 .7452
The lack of significance in the findings may be attributed to a lack of statistical power in
the sample size. The present study collected responses from only 34 pre-service teachers. The
small sample size may have contributed to the lack of significant findings in the underpowered
analysis. A power analyses revealed that the ANOVA was unable to determine significance
because of a lack of statistical power in the sample size. The results of the power analysis are
summarized in Table 14.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 75
Table 14
Power Analysis of RMANX
Noncent. Parameter Observed Power
b
Corrected Model 9.002 0.584
Intercept 109.276 1
Gender 1.874 0.263
Math_Instruct 2.238 0.227
Math_Pedegogy 1.256 0.192
a. R Squared = .237 (Adjusted R Squared = .132)
b. Computed using alpha = .05
Chapter Summary
Results of the correlation analyses suggest that a student’s math anxiety level is
influenced by his/her gender and grade in school. Specifically, 8th grade students exhibited
higher levels of math anxiety than did their 6th grade peers and female students exhibited the
highest level of math anxiety. Although all students exhibited math anxiety, the greatest
difference was observed between 6th grade and 8th grade female students. Furthermore, math
anxiety levels were also influenced by a student’s gender. Female students exhibited higher math
anxiety levels than did their male peers.
Results from the correlation analyses also suggest that there is a negative inverse
relationship between math anxiety levels and interest in STEM. Specifically, as math anxiety
increases, interest in individual STEM fields decreases. However, the magnitude of the influence
was observed to be less for science and technology than for mathematics and engineering.
Finally, the data from the one-way ANOVA yielded a significant effect between math anxiety
level and interest in STEM fields at the .05 level of significance. Therefore, the null hypothesis is
rejected. There is a significant difference between math anxiety and interest in STEM. The
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 76
results of the post hoc analysis found that students with low math anxiety and high math anxiety
were significantly different.
Results from the correlation analysis of math anxiety and pre-service teachers indicated
no significance in math anxiety levels by gender. In addition, the ANOVA results indicated that
there was no significant difference in math anxiety levels for teachers who completed a
pedagogy course or multiple math instruction courses. However, the present study was unable to
secure a large enough sample size to determine significance. As a result, the findings were
inconclusive due to a possible lack of statistical power of the survey.
The researcher drew several conclusions from the present study. First, correlational data
revealed a negative inverse correlation; that is, as anxiety increased, interest in STEM decreased.
Second, math anxiety was influenced by grade level and gender. Third, math anxiety increased
from 6th grade to 8th grade. Lastly, math anxiety levels varied in magnitude between individual
STEM fields.
Previous research on math anxiety and interest in STEM was supported by the present
study. Research showed that students with math anxiety exhibit avoidance behaviors and create
psychological barriers to enrollment in STEM courses. Research also showed that, when students
expect to do poorly in a subject or experienced failure in a subject, they expect to continue to
perform poorly, which leads to greater anxiety and lower interest in pursuing the course
pathways (Eccles et al., 1994). The research also suggests that stereotype threats and teacher
math anxiety levels affect students’ math anxiety levels in. The present study was able to support
the research regarding stereotype threats but was unable to support the findings of pre-service
math anxiety levels influencing math anxiety levels in students.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 77
CHAPTER FIVE: FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
This study examined the math anxiety levels of middle school students and their interest
in STEM careers and course work. The study also examined the math anxiety levels of pre-
service teachers to determine if math anxiety is prevalent in both populations. This chapter
provides an overview of the study, a review of the findings, conclusions based on the findings,
implications regarding the issues raised in the research, limitations of the study and suggestions
for future research.
Summary of the Study
Improving STEM education is an urgent priority in the United States. However, much of
the investment made by the U.S. focuses on strategies that will fix the leaky pipeline in
elementary and secondary education, since many American students are simply not being
prepared to succeed in math and science (Lips et al., 2009). Despite the United States’ significant
investment in STEM education, the size and the composition of the STEM workforce continue to
fail to meet the growing demand. It is clear that something else, a hidden barrier(s), is/are
affecting student interest and attitudes towards STEM education.
While conventional wisdom would focus on curricular programs and teacher training,
research demonstrated that additional barriers exist that may have a greater impact on attitudes
and interests in STEM. People’s fear and anxiety about doing math, despite their actual ability,
can be a major impediment to their math achievement (Beilock et al., 2010). Highly math-
anxious individuals are characterized by a strong tendency to avoid math, which, ultimately,
undercuts their math competence and restricts important career paths. Highly math-anxious
people also embrace negative attitudes toward math, and hold negative self-beliefs about their
math abilities (Ashcraft, 2002). According to social cognitive theory, people are more likely to
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 78
perform tasks they believe they are capable of accomplishing and less likely to engage in tasks
about which they feel less competent (Bandura, 1987). In an effort to explore the social cognitive
effects of self-efficacy and math anxiety on student interest in STEM, the present study is an
attempt to determine if math anxiety existed in both a middle school student population and a
pre-service teacher population and if math anxiety had an impact on STEM interest. Math
anxiety levels were extrapolated from student surveys and regression analyses were conducted
between math anxiety level and individual STEM variables in order to identify relationships. In
addition, math anxiety levels were collected from pre-service teachers in an effort to determine if
math anxiety was prevalent in this population in order to draw inferences between both
populations.
Findings
Results from the analyses demonstrated that math anxiety is prevalent in middle school
students and is affected by gender and grade level. An ANOVA analysis revealed statistically
significant differences in math anxiety levels of male and females as well as by grade level. The
results suggest that math anxiety levels are higher in females, which supports current research on
stereotype threats and math anxiety, than in their male peers. The results also suggest that math
anxiety increases from 6th grade to 8th grade.
Regarding student interest in STEM fields, a correlation analysis revealed that math
anxiety is significantly negatively correlated with interest in STEM fields. A linear regression
revealed that math anxiety could be used as a predictor of interest in STEM. However, math
anxiety levels vary by individual STEM fields. An ANOVA test was conducted and verified that
math anxiety does, in fact, negatively influence interest in STEM courses.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 79
Results from the analyses on whether or not math anxiety levels in pre-service teachers
are affected by pedagogy courses, math instruction and major in school indicated that none of
these independent variables were mitigating measures for math anxiety. However, the study
lacked the observable power necessary to draw a conclusion.
Finally, ANOVA results indicated no significant difference between students who had
taken a pedagogy course or math instruction course. Again, the present study lacked the
observable power to determine if pedagogy course or math instruction course were mitigating
factor for math anxiety.
Conclusions
The primary purpose of this study was to determine if math anxiety was prevalent in
middle school students and if their math anxiety influenced their attitudes and interests in
pursuing courses in STEM education. This exploratory study found that middle school students
do exhibit high levels of math anxiety and their math anxiety level is a significant predictor of
attitudes and interest in STEM. The study found that, as math anxiety increases in students, their
attitudes regarding and interests in STEM decreases. The study also confirmed that female
middle school students experience math anxiety at higher levels than do their male peers and that
8th grade students experience higher levels of math anxiety than do 6th graders. No significant
mean differences were found in the math anxiety levels of pre-service teachers.
As discussed in Chapter Two, math anxiety leads to avoidance behaviors and creates
psychological barriers to enrollment in science and mathematics courses (Keir et al., 2014). The
findings of this study are consistent with the relevant research that suggests that highly math
anxious individuals are characterized by a strong tendency to avoid math, which, ultimately,
undercuts their math competence and restricts important career paths (Ashcraft, 2002). The
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 80
participants in this study demonstrated high levels of math anxiety, which increased by grade
level. One assumption that can be inferred is that mathematics courses in the 6th grade are still
highly computational. Once a student matriculates to 7th grade, s/he is exposed to pre-algebra
and abstract math. In 8th grade, most students are exposed to Algebra 1, an abstract mathematics
course. Research showed that students’ mathematics performance drops at 3rd grade and then
again in 7th/8th grade. The 3rd grade drop is attributed to the introduction of computation math
from memorization. The drop in 7th and 8th grade is attributed to the move from computational
math to abstract math. The drop in academic performance can affect a student’s self-efficacy
and, ultimately, increase math anxiety. If a student experiences failure during this change in
mathematics, it undermines their self-efficacy. If a student begins to believe that they cannot
produce the desired outcome, they will have little incentive to continue. With no incentive to
pursue mathematics, the value that students place on mathematics diminishes. If a student
expects to fail at mathematics, s/he will have little incentive to continue as well. According to
Eccles (2002), if a student does not expect to do well at something and s/he holds little value for
the task, s/he will not participate in and/or avoid the opportunity all together. As self-efficacy
diminishes for the task, and students expect to fail, psychological states such as anxiety, distress
and fatigue begin to manifest. The increase in anxiety undermines one’s self-efficacy. Students
who experience feelings of dread when going to a particular class each day likely interpret their
apprehension as evidence of lack of skill in that area (Bandura, 1997). As their dread increases,
their anxiety increases and their motivation to complete the tasks diminishes.
Female students experience math anxiety at higher rates than their male peers. As
discussed in Chapter Two, stereotype threats and low self-efficacy contribute to a lack of belief
in one’s ability to achieve desire outcomes in mathematics. Females, according to Zeldin (2000),
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 81
form their self-efficacy beliefs as a result of their relational experiences. Bandura (1997),
suggests that social and verbal persuasions can reinforce self-efficacy beliefs or work to
undermine efficacy beliefs when used to convince people they lack the capability. Gunderson
(2011) details how negative stereotypes about women’s math abilities are transmitted to girls by
their parents, teachers and peers, thus shaping girls’ math attitudes and, ultimately, undermining
performance and interest in math and STEM fields. If female students form their self-efficacy
beliefs from social persuasions and from their parents, teachers and peers, and these individuals
also experience math anxiety themselves, the logical conclusion is that female students will
exhibit higher levels of math anxiety, which is consistent with the findings of this study. As
female students matriculate through middle school, mathematics changes from computational to
abstract. Almost all students experience anxiety as a result of this change. However, female
efficacy beliefs are formed more by relationships with other females and parents and teachers,
who are also experiencing math anxiety. The result is an increase in math anxiety. Unlike
females, males tend to develop efficacy beliefs from authentic mastery experiences and less from
social persuasions (Bandura, 1997). As a result, males are less dependent on peer influences to
form their efficacy beliefs. If female students’ efficacy beliefs are formed by their relationships
with other females, all of whom are experiencing math anxiety, then the result would be
increased math anxiety levels for all female students. The cyclical effect is consistent with the
results from this study. As female student moves from 6th grade to 8th grade her math anxiety
levels continue to increase.
Math anxiety was also a predictor of attitudes and interests in STEM. The findings of this
study confirm that, as math anxiety increases, interest in STEM decreases. This negative inverse
relationship supports current literature that suggests that highly math anxious individuals avoid
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 82
taking math-related classes (Ashcraft, 2002). The conceptual framework of social cognitive
theory and expectancy-value theory suggests that low efficacy contributes to higher levels of
anxiety, which creates psychological barriers and increases avoidance behaviors (Bandura, 1997,
Meece et al., 1990). According to Bandura (1997), those who perceive themselves to be
inefficacious when coping with potential threats will be prone to anxiety. As a result, individuals
with high levels of math anxiety will avoid taking math class, both in high school and in college,
more so than people with low math anxiety do.
In regards to the problem of fewer students pursuing majors in STEM, two assumptions
can be made from the results of this study. First, despite the investment in curriculum and
training by the U.S. government, interest in STEM will continue to decrease if math anxiety is
not mitigated. Math anxiety was shown to have a negative impact on interest in STEM. More
importantly, this study revealed that math anxiety is prevalent in middle school students. If math
anxiety continues to plague students, interest in STEM will continue to decrease despite the
government’s efforts to increase interest in STEM fields. Second, math anxiety is formed early in
a student’s educational career and, once it takes hold, it is difficult to mitigate. Teacher
preparation programs must begin to examine self-efficacy and motivation training in an effort to
increase student confidence and build positive attitudes towards mathematics. Increasing math
self-efficacy was found to be a mediating influence in performance as well as motivation.
Increasing a student’s math self-efficacy should be a priority for teachers and teacher preparation
programs. By improving authentic mastery experiences and social/professional relationships with
students, teachers can begin to mitigate the negative influence of math anxiety.
Finally, this study explored the math anxiety levels of pre-service teachers in an effort to
examine if it exists in this population. Literature suggests that math anxiety can be passed on to
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 83
students from their teachers and their parents. With math anxiety being prevalent in middle
school students, especially among females who form their efficacy beliefs from teachers and
peers, it is logical to examine pre-service teachers in an effort to understand possible future
interactions. No significant mean differences were found between math anxiety levels and pre-
service teachers. And no significant differences were found between math anxiety and teachers
who completed a pedagogy class or math instruction classes.
As discussed in Chapter Two, most elementary teachers are female and report the highest
levels of math anxiety (Bielock et al., 2010). It is logical to infer that, if most teachers are
female, females exhibit the highest levels of math anxiety and female students form their
efficacy beliefs from teacher and peer relationships, then the relationship between math anxiety
and pre-service teachers is very important to the mitigation of math anxiety. However, the
findings of this study did not support the literature regarding math anxiety levels.
One assumption is that the current study lacked sufficient power to produce a significant
finding. The sample size for this study was small, 35 students. Although the study illustrated that
the pre-service teachers did have high levels of math anxiety, it lacked sufficient power to
generate any statistical significance.
Implications
Several implications arise from this study. First, the existence of math anxiety in both the
student population and the pre-service population undermines the current strategies associated
with curriculum development and professional development programs. This hidden barrier (math
anxiety) suggests that current practices to address the shortage in STEM majors are focused on
the wrong drivers. The negative beliefs held by both middle school students and pre-service
teachers reveal a much more complex set of challenges facing policy makers. The constructs of
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 84
self-efficacy and self-belief have been shown in this study to work against the efforts of the
government to expand STEM education in America.
Secondly, math anxiety is correlated differently with the individual variables of the
STEM fields. That is to say the negative correlations found in this study suggest that math
anxiety’s influence varies by subject matter. This reveals an interesting paradox. Math anxiety
held the strongest negative correlation with mathematics. This finding is consistent with existing
research on math anxiety. However, the negative correlation diminishes when math anxiety is
examined by science, technology and engineering. The results would suggest that perceptions
and beliefs might be changed if mathematics was removed from the acronym. The math anxiety
results in this study highlight the importance of how STEM is perceived by individual students
and teachers. If mathematics were removed from the acronym, would students and teachers
perceive STEM differently? Would their math anxiety lessen as a result of the removal of the
subject that causes the avoidance behaviors and psychological barriers to exist in the study
populations? The findings from this study suggest that students do exhibit math anxiety and
those feelings do have an impact on choice to pursue an interest in STEM education. The varying
results by individual stem field suggest that students with math anxiety do not view all STEM
fields equally. That is, they have very different perceptions about science, technology and
engineering.
Third, the finding that female students exhibit high math anxiety and low interest in
STEM supports the research that stereotype threats continue to undermine female math abilities
and impede enrollment in STEM related fields. Any effort to increase female participation in
STEM fields must include an examination of efficacy beliefs and math anxiety. This study
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 85
highlights the importance that math anxiety plays in attitudes and interests in STEM fields and
the need to mitigate the hidden barriers to enrollment in STEM.
The fourth implication of this study is that teacher preparation programs are focused on
the wrong drivers with regards to teaching mathematics. The results suggest that pedagogy and
math instruction courses that focus on curriculum development and delivery do not have an
impact on math anxiety levels in pre-service teachers, and, thus, fail to address the hidden
barriers that have a negative impact on interest in STEM. The findings from this study support
the literature that suggests that teacher preparation programs should include courses in
educational psychology that focus on social cognitive theory, expectancy-value theory and
motivational theory. By addressing these hidden barriers, teachers can begin to develop methods
that increase student self-efficacy in mathematics and other subjects in an attempt to improve
interest and attitudes towards STEM.
The findings in this study suggest that students do exhibit math anxiety, and those math
anxiety feelings do negatively impact student interest and choice to pursue STEM education. As
a result, simply increasing math instruction training does not adequately address the self-efficacy
and math anxiety issues that drive student interest and attitudes toward STEM. Unless educators
begin to examine the hidden psychological barriers that influence interest in STEM, we will
continue to underperform in mathematics and fail to meet the demand for STEM-related
professionals.
Limitations
Based on the findings and conclusions of this study, the following limitations should be
considered. First, the student population and the pre-service populations were not related or
connected in any way. This study did not focus on causation, but, rather sought to find similar
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 86
math anxiety levels in both populations. As a result, the study could not establish a correlation
between the two populations. Another limitation of the study is that the R-MANX survey lacked
sufficient power to determine significance between math anxiety levels and gender, pedagogy
training or math instruction courses. The small sample sized did not reveal if there was a direct
correlation between the amount of training the pre-service teachers received and their perceived
math anxiety level. It is, therefore, not possible to generalize the findings of this study to that
population. Finally, the MAQ-CIS survey did not collect data about the ethnicity of the
participants, therefore, the findings of the study are not generalizable beyond the participants in
the study.
Future Research
The present study provides a starting point in the study of math anxiety and its influence
on attitudes and interest in STEM. Several barriers were not addressed, and several topics could
be addressed in response to the findings.
First, the investigation of math anxiety in pre-service teachers was loosely examined. The
survey identified if respondents had math anxiety but lacked the power to determine if gender,
major, math instructional courses and math pedagogy courses were correlated with math anxiety.
In order to make a tighter connection with student math anxiety, future research should widen the
scope of the investigation and include participants from multiple pre-service education programs.
By including participants from multiple education programs, the survey will increase in power
and correlations can be conducted to determine if training courses, major or gender are
influenced by math anxiety.
Second, the data collected on middle school students and their level of math anxiety
should include an investigation of the math anxiety levels of the students’ elementary teachers.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 87
In the existing study, this variable was not considered due to the constraints of the study. Future
research should examine if the students’ teachers also exhibit math anxiety to determine the
correlation between teacher math anxiety and its influence on student math anxiety.
Third, a deeper exploration of math anxiety in primary students should be conducted to
determine when math anxiety becomes prevalent. The investigation should include the math
anxiety level of the teachers at the same school to determine a correlation between grade level,
gender, and teacher relative to math anxiety. Although the current analysis concluded that math
anxiety does negatively correlate with interest in STEM, it is important to determine when
students’ math anxiety begins in order to develop strategies and plans to mitigate the influence of
math anxiety on future STEM interest and attitudes.
Fourth, there is need for an examination of whether increasing expectancy for success
and increasing a student’s self-efficacy can mitigate the negative influence that math anxiety has
on student’s attitudes and interest in STEM. This further study should analyze the impact that
increasing self-efficacy and expectancy-value in students has on decreasing math anxiety. This
analysis would begin to unlock the hidden barriers that currently have an impact on students’
attitudes and interest in STEM.
Finally, additional research related to the findings of this study would be valuable. The
results clearly indicate that math anxiety has a negative influence on interest in STEM. An
examination of rebranding the field of STEM by removing the mathematics term from the
acronym could shed light on the influence of math anxiety on the other three subject areas. It
would be informative to determine if researchers could increase interest in science, technology or
engineering by simply removing the powerful emotional arousal effects of anxiety. According to
Zeldin et al. (2008), people may view a state of arousal as an energizing factor that can
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 88
contribute to a successful outcome, or they may view arousal as completely disabling. It would
be valuable to determine if the removal of the term mathematics can effectively alter individual’s
beliefs about his/her capabilities (Bandura, 1997).
Summary
In an effort to determine if math anxiety is prevalent in middle school students and if
math anxiety influences attitudes and interest in STEM education, this study conducted an
exploratory analysis of math anxiety levels in students and its influence on student choice and
interest to pursue future courses in STEM education. Results indicate that math anxiety is indeed
prevalent in middle school students and that math anxiety increases by gender and grade level.
Specifically, females exhibited higher levels of math anxiety than did their male peers, and 8th
grade students exhibited higher levels of math anxiety than did 6th grade students. Results also
indicated that math anxiety had a negative inverse correlation with interest in STEM education.
Specifically, high math anxiety levels predicted low interest in STEM fields. However, interest
levels varied across subject matter domain in STEM. Pre-service teachers’ math anxiety levels
were also examined. However, the study lacked sufficient power to determine any statistical
significance. As a result, it was impossible to determine if pre-service teachers’ math anxiety
levels were mitigated by taking a pedagogy or math instruction course.
This study contributes to an existing body of research and generates ideas for future
research on the influences of math anxiety as a hidden barrier for enrollment in STEM. Highly
anxious students avoid taking math-related classes and math is a critical component in STEM
education. Therefore, identifying the hidden barriers and their influences on STEM enrollment
will inform policy makers in an effort to invest in the right drivers that will mitigate the growing
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 89
problem of underachievement in mathematics and the decline of professionals entering STEM-
related professions.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 90
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MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 103
Appendix A
Survey Monkey Surveys
Math Anxiety Questionnaire
1. When the teacher says he/she is going to ask you some questions to find out how much you
know about math, how much do you worry that you will do poorly? {not at all, very much)
2. When the teacher is showing the class how to do a problem, how much do you worry that
other students might understand the problem better than you? (not at all, very much)
3. When I am in math, I usually feel (not at all at ease and relaxed, very much at ease and
relaxed).
4. When I am taking math tests, I usually feel (not at all nervous and uneasy, very nervous and
uneasy).
5. Taking math tests scares me. ( never feel this way, I very often feel this way)
6. I dread having to do math. (never feel this way, I very often feel this way)
7. It scares me to think that I will be taking advanced high school math, (not at all, very much)
8. In general, how much do you worry about how well you are doing in school? (not at all, very
much)
9. If you are absent from school and you miss a math assignment, how much do you worry that
you will be behind the other students when you come back to school? (not at all, very much)
10. In general, how much do you worry about how well you are doing in math? (not at all, very
much)
11. Compared to other subjects, how much do you worry about how well you are doing in math?
(much less than other subjects, much more than other subjects)
Note, Scales for each item ranged from 1 to 7
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 104
Revised-Mathematics Anxiety Survey (R-MANX)
Please circle one of the 5 alternatives given below that best describes your feeling about each statement.
1. If one of my friends is chosen for answering a question in math class, I feel happy for not
being the chosen one. 1 2 3 4 5
2. I panic when I start the mathematical part of a standardized achievement test. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I cannot ask any question about what I did not understand in math class. 1 2 3 4 5
4. I like doing math homework 1 2 3 4 5
5. I do not like the equations in science courses. 1 2 3 4 5
6. I panic when I get math homework consisting of many problems. 1 2 3 4 5
7. When I hold a math textbook to study I start feeling stomach ache. 1 2 3 4 5
8. I cannot concentrate on anything before a math exam. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I want to be the treasurer of the school clubs which I participate in. 1 2 3 4 5
10. I am afraid of learning my math grade. 1 2 3 4 5
11. I am afraid of presenting the problems to the teacher which I can solve. 1 2 3 4 5
12. I can reject helping a child with his homework, because I am afraid of facing a question
which I cannot solve. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I am afraid of taking a math pop-quiz. 1 2 3 4 5
14. I come to the first day of math classes with hope every year. 1 2 3 4 5
15. I cannot study well for math exams because I worry about my grade. 1 2 3 4 5
16. When I open my math book and look at the pages, I fear I will fail the course. 1 2 3 4 5
17. I can ask my teacher about a concept, which I did not understand well, after a math class. 1 2 3 4 5
18. I feel anxious and pessimistic while waiting for the result of a math exam. 1 2 3 4 5
19. I would rather learn a subject presented with numbers or graphics than with words. 1 2 3 4 5
20. When I think about the subjects required for passing a math course, I feel I cannot
complete my school requirements. 1 2 3 4 5
21. I do not like dealing with numbers. 1 2 3 4 5
22. I feel nervous when one of my friends notices that I could not understand the solution
of a math question. 1 2 3 4 5
23. I have problems listening to my math teachers. 1 2 3 4 5
24. The best parts of the other courses are the parts dealing with mathematics. 1 2 3 4 5
25. I get nervous when I learn that the next lesson is mathematics. 1 2 3 4 5
26. I do not like making calculations in everyday life. 1 2 3 4 5
27. I misunderstand concepts in math courses. 1 2 3 4 5
28. I panic when I can not remember a required equation for a problem. 1 2 3 4 5
29. I like to look through mathematics books. 1 2 3 4 5
30. Even though I think a salesman made a mistake about the amount of my charge, I
cannot object, since I will not be able to make the calculations while somebody is
watching me. 1 2 3 4 5
1 Never – 5 Always
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 105
STEM Career Interest Survey (STEM-CIS)
Optional Demographic Questions
1. Date
2. Grade
3. Gender
4. Race
5. School
Directions: Students will complete the STEM-CIS online via iPads or computers.
Each question is a Likert scale with the following choices:
Strongly Disagree (1), Disagree (2), Neither Agree nor Disagree (3), Agree (4), Strongly Agree (5)
Science
S1 I am able to get a good grade in my science class.
S2 I am able to complete my science homework.
S3 I plan to use science in my future career.
S4 I will work hard in my science classes.
S5 If I do well in science classes, it will help me in my future career.
S6 My parents would like it if I choose a science career.
S7 I am interested in careers that use science.
S8 I like my science class.
S9 I have a role model in a science career.
S10 I would feel comfortable talking to people who work in science careers.
S11 I know of someone in my family who uses science in their career
Mathematics
M1 I am able to get a good grade in my math class.
M2 I am able to complete my math homework.
M3 I plan to use mathematics in my future career.
M4 I will work hard in my mathematics classes.
M5 If I do well in mathematics classes, it will help me in my future career.
M6 My parents would like it if I choose a mathematics career.
M7 I am interested in careers that use mathematics.
M8 I like my mathematics class.
M9 I have a role model in a mathematics career.
M10 I would feel comfortable talking to people who work in mathematics careers.
M11 I know someone in my family who uses mathematics in their career.
Technology
T1 I am able to do well in activities that involve technology.
T2 I am able to learn new technologies.
T3 I plan to use technology in my future career.
T4 I will learn about new technologies that will help me with school.
T5 If I learn a lot about technology, I will be able to do lots of different types of careers.
T6 My parents would like it if I choose a technology career.
T7 I like to use technology for class work.
T8 I am interested in careers that use technology.
T9 I have a role model who uses technology in their career.
T10 I would feel comfortable talking to people who work in technology careers.
T11 I know of someone in my family who uses technology in their career.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 106
Engineering
E1 I am able to do well in activities that involve engineering.
E2 I am able to complete activities that involve engineering.
E3 I plan to use engineering in my future career.
E4 I will work hard on activities at school that involve engineering.
E5 If I learn a lot about engineering, I will be able to do lots of different types of careers.
E6 My parents would like it if I choose an engineering career.
E7 I am interested in careers that involve engineering.
E8 I like activities that involve engineering.
E9 I have a role model in an engineering career.
E10 I would feel comfortable talking to people who are engineers.
E11 I know of someone in my family who is an engineer.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 107
Appendix B
Youth Assent and Parent Permission
University of Southern California
Rossier School of Education
1150 S Olive St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 740-0224
YOUTH ASSENT-PARENTAL PERMISSION FOR NON-MEDICAL RESEARCH
This form will also serve as the “Youth Assent” and “Consent/Permission form for the
Youth to Participate in Research. ” In this case, “You ” refers to “your child. ”
THE EFFECTS OF MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY ON STUDENT ’S
ATTITUDES AND INTEREST IN STEM
Your child is invited to participate in a research study conducted by Chad J. Smith, MPL and
Fredrick Freking, Ph.D, from the University of Southern California. Your child’s participation
is voluntary. You should read the information below, and ask questions about anything you do
not understand before deciding whether to allow your child to participate.
Please take as much time as you need to read the consent form. Your child will also be asked
his/her permission. Your child can decline to participate, even if you agree to allow participation.
You and/or your child may also decide to discuss it with your family or friends. You will be
given a copy of this form.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The purpose of this study is to measure and determine the math anxiety level of middle school
students and then measure their attitudes and interest in taking STEM classes that emphasize
science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles. This study hopes to identify how
math anxiety negatively influences student’s choices to pursue course work and careers in STEM
fields. There is a significant shortage of qualified and prepared workers in today’s increasingly
technological society. By understanding the impact of math anxiety on student choice, we hope
to provide a valuable perspective on how to mitigate the shortage of STEM majors in college and
STEM professionals that enter the workforce each year.
STUDY PROCEDURES
If you agree to allow your child to participate in this study, he/she will be asked to complete an
online survey. The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete. Your child does not have to
answer any questions he/she doesn’t want to. The survey will be administered in your student’s
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 108
science class using his/her iPad. Your student’s results will be completely anonymous and no
identifiable information will be collected.
POTENTIAL RISKS AND DISCOMFORTS
There are no anticipated risks to your child’s participation; however, your child may feel
uncomfortable answering some of the questions. Your child does not have to answer any
question he/she doesn’t want to. He/she can end his/her participation at any time.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS TO PARTICIPANTS AND/OR TO SOCIETY
It is hoped that you or your child will learn more about your child’s attitude and interest in
STEM education as a possible academic pathway in high school and beyond. Researchers hope
to help pre-service teaching programs better prepare their teaching candidates to teach
mathematics and STEM courses to support student’s love and interest in STEM fields. The
research is anticipated to advance the knowledge of math anxiety and its impact on career
attitudes and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.
CONFIDENTIALITY
We will keep your child’s records for this study confidential as far as permitted by law.
However, if we are required to do so by law, we will disclose confidential information about
your child. The members of the research team and the University of Southern California’s
Human Subjects Protection Program (HSPP) may access the data. The HSPP reviews and
monitors research studies to protect the rights and welfare of research subjects.
The data will be stored on a password protected computer and on a password protected back-up
drive which will be placed in a locked file cabinet in the researcher’s office. The data will be
kept for a period of three years. Upon completion of the data collection and data entry, all hard
copies (consent documents, survey instruments, etc.) will be destroyed. At the completion of the
study, the anonymous data may be used for future research studies. The results of this research
may be made public, shared with participating sites and quoted in professional journals and
meetings, but results from this study will only be reported as a group such that no individual
respondents can be identified. No identifiable information will be collected or included.
PARTICIPATION AND WITHDRAWAL
Your child’s participation is voluntary. Your child’s decision not to participate will not involve
any penalty or loss of benefits to which he/she is otherwise entitled. You and/or your child may
withdraw your consent at any time and discontinue participation without penalty. You and/or
your child are not waiving any legal claims, rights or remedies because of your child’s
participation in this research study.
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 109
ALTERNATIVES TO PARTICIPATION
If you and/or your child don’t want to participate in this study, your child will be asked to
participate in his/her regular class. Your student’s grades will not be affected if you or your child
chooses not to participate.
INVESTIGATOR ’S CONTACT INFORMATION
If you or your child have any questions or concerns about the research, please contact Chad
Smith, at 949-234-9330 or at chadjsmi@usc.edu; or Fredrick Freking, Ph.D at freking@usc.edu
or at 1150 S Olive St, Los Angeles, CA 90015, (213) 740-0224
RIGHTS OF RESEARCH PARTICIPANT – IRB CONTACT INFORMATION
If you or your child have questions, concerns, complaints about your child’s rights as a research
participant or the research in general and are unable to contact the research team, or if you want
to talk to someone independent of the research team, please contact the University Park
Institutional Review Board (UPIRB), 3720 South Flower Street #301, Los Angeles, CA 90089-
0702, (213) 821-5272 or upirb@usc.edu
SIGNATURE OF INVESTIGATOR
I have explained the research to the participant and his/her parent(s)/Legally Authorized
Representative, and answered all of their questions. I believe that the parent(s) understand the
information described in this document and freely consents to participate.
Chad J. Smith, MPL
Name of Person Obtaining Consent
Signature of Person Obtaining Consent Date
MATH ANXIETY AND LOW SELF-EFFICACY 110
SIGNATURE/CONSENT OF PARENT/GUARDIAN
I grant consent for my Child to participate in the research study. (Please Check)
Printed Name of Person Granting Consent
__________________________________________ _____________________
Parent Signature Granting Consent Date
Abstract (if available)
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The effects of math anxiety and low self-efficacy on students’ attitudes and interest in STEM
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Publication Date
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