The Relationship of Science Motivation with Science Achievement: Evidence from the NAEP 2015 Science Assessment

Mengyi Li

This study aims to understand the role that science motivation plays in middle school science achievement by analyzing the 2015 grade 8 NAEP science data. The study focused on identifying the unique contributions of student-level science motivation and aggregated school-level mean science motivation on science achievement. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to partition variability in student science achievement into within- and between-school components after student- and school-level demographic variables had been taken into account. In addition, the study investigated whether the identified unique contributions of science motivation to science achievement varied by gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status groups (SES), and other demographic variables.

The results indicated that both science self-efficacy and science interest as measures of science motivation were significant positive predictors of science achievement after controlling for student background and other variables with self-efficacy having the larger effect of the two. This finding is consistent with results from other motivation studies conducted by the AIR ESSIN NAEP research team using the NAEP mathematics and reading data in that student subject specific motivation explains approximately one third of variance in NAEP performance.

In addition, the relationship between science interest and science achievement varies by gender, student SES, and individualized education program (IEP) status. The effect of science interest on science achievement is larger for male students compared to female students. Similarly, the science interest coefficient for students who are enrolled in an IEP program is estimated to be 2.62 points higher than for those who are not after controlling for all other variables. Finally, the relationship of science interest to science achievement is larger for students with a higher SES background compared to those from a lower SES background.

The study also found significantly random effects of science interest and self-efficacy on science achievement across schools. That is to say, the relationships between science interest and self-efficacy and science achievement are different across schools. For example, we found that the positive association between students’ science interest and NAEP science achievement was stronger for schools providing more advanced teaching and learning supplies for science instruction, although the size of the effect is not substantial.