New research: Mentees’ academic self-belief linked to better academic performance

Posted by Jared Wadley

When kids believe they can achieve success in math and reading, they are more likely to achieve high test scores in those subjects, new research suggests.

Researchers used two US data sets—with one being a nationally represented study—and one UK data set to measure self-concept and standardized assessments of early and later academic achievement. Self-concept is how students perceive their capabilities to succeed on academic tasks.

The data involved youth ages 5 to 18—the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (13,901 British children), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (1,354 American children), and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics-Child Development Supplement (237 American children).

The study considered children’s earlier achievement and their characteristics and backgrounds, including birth weight, race/ethnicity, gender, age, and their mother’s education.

The researchers found that children’s self-concept of their ability in math predicted later math achievement, while their self-concept of their ability in reading predicted later reading achievement.

The finding suggests that the links between self-concept of ability and later achievement are specific to domains; that is, there is a link from students’ self-concept about reading to reading achievement, and from students’ self-concept about math to math achievement.

“It is not unusual to see standardized measures of achievement or cognition predict to achievement later in schooling, but finding a relation between more of a motivational measure like self-concept of ability shows that there is more to understanding how children achieve than just examining prior performance,” says study coauthor Pamela Davis-Kean, a professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The research also showed that success was not limited to students who perform at the top levels.

“It extends to students with different levels of achievement in math and reading,” says Maria Ines Susperreguy, an assistant professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, who led the study. “Even the lowest-performing students who had a more positive view of their math and reading abilities had higher levels of achievement in math and reading.”

Researchers say they don’t know what parents or students did to create these beliefs, but it’s an issue they will investigate further.


Bottom Line for Mentors

While it may not be clear yet, via the research, what prompted some students to develop more positive beliefs around their math and reading scores, there are still steps that mentors can take with their mentees to help. For example, providing positive attention, like saying, “I see you are confident in your reading skills, that’s great!”, can serve as a manner of positive reinforcement and help mentees maintain these attitudes over time.

Why is that important? Well, academic outcomes can have a major impact on the opportunities available to your mentee both now and in the future. While mindset and beliefs alone aren’t everything (beliefs aren’t going to fill out a quiz or a test on their own!), they can be a key part of creating an overall positive picture of a student’s academic life.


To read the original research, click here.