First Advisor

Ellen Skinner

Date of Publication

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology






Academic achievement -- Education (Middle school) -- Cross-cultural studies, Motivation in education -- Cross-cultural studies, Middle school education -- Social aspects, Minorities -- Education (Middle school) -- Social aspects



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 98 p.) : ill.


Guided by a motivational framework derived from self-determination theory, a study was conducted to examine the role of academic engagement in helping to explain and ameliorate ethnic differences in school achievement. Building on decades of research that documents both the importance of engagement to learning in European American students as well as its malleability, this study relied on an ethnically diverse sample of 6th and 7th grade students to examine three questions (1) Are achievement differences across ethnic groups due to differences in engagement? (2) Does engagement predict achievement similarly or differently across ethnic groups? and (3) Are the predictors of engagement suggested by the motivational model the same or different for students from different ethnic groups? Participants were 194 African-American, Hispanic/Latino/a, Asian/Pacific Islander, and European American middle school students who provided information about their engagement, self-system processes (SSPs) of relatedness, competence, and autonomy, and their experiences with teachers in school; information about students' cumulative achievement (GPA) was extracted from school records. First, analyses revealed few ethnic differences in achievement (only Asian/Pacific Islander students' levels of achievement were higher than students from other ethnic groups), and no ethnic differences in engagement. In analyses designed to examine if controlling for variations in engagement would cause achievement differences between ethnic groups to disappear, a test of the simple main effects demonstrated that ethnic differences in achievement were found only at the lowest level of engagement (again Asian/Pacific Islander students outperformed all other student groups). However, at medium and high levels of engagement, there were no significant differences in achievement across the four ethnic groups. Second, analyses designed to examine whether engagement predicts achievement differently across ethnic groups, revealed that although engagement was an important predictor of achievement for all students, it was even more important for non-European American (compared to European-American) students. Third, analyses designed to examine whether potential facilitators (SSPs and contextual constructs) predicted students' engagement similarly or differently across ethnic groups revealed no group differences: All predictors were positively and significantly associated with engagement for students from all four ethnic groups. These findings are considered in the context of the study's strengths and limitations and the larger literatures on engagement and achievement in ethnic minority students. A important implication of the current study is that with a more comprehensive understanding of how to support the engagement of students from ethnic minority backgrounds, schools and teachers will be better equipped to address the engagement gap, and in so doing also eliminate the achievement gap.


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