Modelling mathematics achievement: an Australian study of learning environments in education
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This thesis describes a research study that investigated the relationships between school level environment and student outcomes. The study involved 620 teachers and 4645 students from 57 Australian secondary schools in all states and territories. Student outcome measures included mathematics achievement, attitudes and beliefs toward mathematics and were collected as part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Teachers perceptions of their school environment were measured using the School Level Environment Questionnaire and included variables such as student support, affiliation, professional interest, mission consensus, empowerment, innovation, resource adequacy and work pressure. Previous research has shown that factors at the school level, like environment, influence education at the classroom level and to further investigate this, data regarding the instructional practices of teachers was included in the analysis. The unique methodology used to investigate influences on student mathematics achievement is also described in this thesis. A two-step approach to modelling consisted of the analysis of two conceptually distinct models. The first was an analysis of the measurement model, which specifies the relationships between the observed variables and the latent variables. The second involved a structural equation model, which specifies the relationships among the latent variables as posited by theory and previous research. In addition, a multilevel analysis was included to further partition the variance in student outcomes between the student level, the classroom level and the school level. The results of these analysis linked particular variables of interest to improved student outcomes.For example, teachers who felt supported and empowered were more likely to employ student-centred instructional practices and that work pressure and resource adequacy influenced the instructional approaches in the classrooms. The success attribution of students determined which method of instruction promoted positive outcomes. Furthermore, these results indicate relationships between student outcomes, attitudes and achievement, and the relationships between attitude and achievement were recursive with influences from student background variables. The multilevel analysis demonstrated the importance of the influence of factors at the classroom level in influencing student outcomes and highlighted factors at the school level that explained differences in achievement. The significance of this study is in the provision of evidence that demonstrates the effects on student outcomes and not only supports, but significantly adds to previous research. This thesis provides practical implications for teaching and for school policy that can be implemented to promote positive student outcomes. The thesis also provides a rationale for further research that would involve an investigation of the effects of change as suggested from the results of these analysis reported from this study.
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