Motivation, NAEP Performance, and Choice of a STEM Major: The Role of Domain-Specific Academic Identity, Self-Efficacy, and Interest: A Synthesis Report

Mengyi Li

Students’ academic motivation has been highlighted as one of the most significant and malleable factors that influence their academic behaviors, college major and career choices, and academic performance. The AIR National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) research team has conducted four studies focused on the role of motivation, relating motivation to NAEP achievement in reading, mathematics, and science across different grade levels in three of the studies and exploring its relationship to students’ choice of a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) major in college in the fourth study.

This paper is part of a series of AIR-NAEP working papers that showcase AIR’s expertise and experience not only with NAEP but with other large-scale assessments and survey-based longitudinal studies. Explore all the AIR-NAEP working papers.

The current summary report provides a synthesis of these four NAEP studies focused on the role of motivation. First, the reading motivation study analyzed the 2015 grade 8 NAEP reading data to identify the unique effects of student-level reading motivation and aggregated school-level mean reading motivation on reading achievement. Second, the science motivation study used 2015 grade 8 NAEP science assessment data to examine whether student-level science motivation measured by science self-efficacy and science interest, and aggregated school-level science motivation are associated with student science achievement. Both studies applied Hierarchical Linear Modeling techniques to partition variability in student academic achievement (i.e., reading and science) into within- and between-school components after student- and school-level demographic variables are taken into account.

Third, the mathematics motivation study used the overlap sample of about 3,500 students who participated both in the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) and the 2013 grade 12 NAEP mathematics assessment to investigate whether mathematics motivation (mathematics identity, self-efficacy, and interest) at grades 9 and 11 is related to grade 12 NAEP mathematics performance, simultaneously taking into account grade 9 mathematics achievement, family and school background factors, and grade 11 educational expectations and high school mathematics course-taking.

The fourth study built on the mathematics motivation study to develop a comprehensive conceptual framework that describes how high school STEM course-taking, STEM GPA, and STEM motivational beliefs (mathematics identity, science identity, mathematics self-efficacy, and science self-efficacy) are related to students’ decision to choose a STEM major at 4-year colleges, taking into consideration student, family, and school background factors. This study used a nationally representative sample of data from HSLS:09 and the 2013 NAEP grade 12 mathematics assessment.