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Positive attitudes towards mathematics and science are mutually beneficial for student achievement: a latent profile analysis of TIMSS 2015


Australia has seen declining numbers of students choosing mathematics and science subjects in the senior secondary years, running counter to economic projections of an accelerating need for science and mathematics skills. Many students become less engaged with these subjects in the junior secondary years but attitudes such as self-concept, utility value, and intrinsic value are important for subject selection decisions. We used latent profile analysis to examine the relationship between attitudes towards both subjects using data from 10,051 Australian Grade 8 students sampled by TIMSS 2015 and revealed six discrete groupings. While most students were at least attitudinally receptive to both subjects, there were many students who either resisted both or expressed a strong preference for one over another. Positive attitudes towards both subjects were mutually beneficial—better attitudes towards both were associated with higher achievement in each—but boys tended to be more positive towards both subjects and so benefitted from this relationship more than girls. Implications for educational research and teachers’ practices are discussed.

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Items comprising each of the TIMSS attitudinal scales

Items reproduced from Martin et al. (2016). An asterisk (*) indicates a reverse-coded item.

Students like learning mathematics scale, eighth grade

  1. 1.

    I enjoy learning mathematics.

  2. 2.

    I wish I did not have to study mathematics*.

  3. 3.

    Mathematics is boring*.

  4. 4.

    I learn many interesting things in mathematics.

  5. 5.

    I like mathematics.

  6. 6.

    I like any schoolwork that involves numbers.

  7. 7.

    I like to solve mathematics problems.

  8. 8.

    I look forward to mathematics class.

  9. 9.

    Mathematics in one of my favourite subjects.

Students confident in mathematics scale, eighth grade

  1. 1.

    I usually do well in mathematics.

  2. 2.

    Mathematics is more difficult for me than for many of my classmates*.

  3. 3.

    Mathematics is not one of my strengths*.

  4. 4.

    I learn things quickly in mathematics.

  5. 5.

    Mathematics makes me nervous*.

  6. 6.

    I am good at working out difficult mathematics problems.

  7. 7.

    My teacher tells me I am good at mathematics.

  8. 8.

    Mathematics is harder for me than any other subject*.

  9. 9.

    Mathematics makes me confused*.

Students value mathematics scale, eighth grade

  1. 1.

    I think learning mathematics will help me in my daily life.

  2. 2.

    I need mathematics to learn other school subjects.

  3. 3.

    I need to do well in mathematics to get into the university of my choice.

  4. 4.

    I need to do well in mathematics to get the job I want.

  5. 5.

    I would like a job that uses mathematics.

  6. 6.

    It is important to learn about mathematics to get ahead in the world.

  7. 7.

    Learning mathematics will give me more job opportunities when I am an adult.

  8. 8.

    My parents think it is important that I do well in mathematics.

  9. 9.

    It is important to do well in mathematics.

Students like learning science scale, eighth grade

  1. 1.

    I enjoy learning science.

  2. 2.

    I wish I did not have to study science*.

  3. 3.

    Science is boring*.

  4. 4.

    I learn many interesting things in science.

  5. 5.

    I like science.

  6. 6.

    I look forward to learning science in school.

  7. 7.

    Science teaches me how things in the world work.

  8. 8.

    I like to conduct science experiments.

  9. 9.

    Science is one of my favourite subjects.

Students confident in science scale, eighth grade

  1. 1.

    I usually do well in science

  2. 2.

    Science is more difficult for me than for many of my classmates*.

  3. 3.

    Science is not one of my strengths*.

  4. 4.

    I learn things quickly in science.

  5. 5.

    I am good at working out difficult science problems.

  6. 6.

    My teacher tells me I am good at science.

  7. 7.

    Science is harder for me than any other subject*.

  8. 8.

    Science makes me confused*.

Students value science scale, eighth grade

  1. 1.

    I think learning science will help me in my daily life.

  2. 2.

    I need science to learn other school subjects.

  3. 3.

    I need to do well in science to get into the university of my choice.

  4. 4.

    I need to do well in science to get the job I want.

  5. 5.

    I would like a job that involves using science.

  6. 6.

    It is important to learn about science to get ahead in the world.

  7. 7.

    Learning science will give me more job opportunities when I am an adult.

  8. 8.

    My parents think that it is important that I do well in science.

  9. 9.

    It is important to do well in science.

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Berger, N., Mackenzie, E. & Holmes, K. Positive attitudes towards mathematics and science are mutually beneficial for student achievement: a latent profile analysis of TIMSS 2015. Aust. Educ. Res. (2020).

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  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Attitudes
  • Latent profile analysis