Tracking the longitudinal effects of student-teacher trust on mathematics self-efficacy for high school students
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A current national priority is improving secondary school mathematics performance. National initiatives have attempted to help improve student achievement through curricular changes and stringent testing requirements; yet, these initiatives fail to consider the importance of student-teacher relationships in student motivation and achievement. High school students' trust in their mathematics teachers can lead to better relationships and increased feelings of competence, or mathematics self-efficacy, which is consistently linked to achievement. Student trust is based on perceptions of a teacher's competence, benevolence, openness, reliability, and honesty. The aim of my study is to determine the effect of trust in a teacher on student mathematics self-efficacy over the course of a school year, accounting for differences between individual students. The sample consisted of 230 ninth through twelfth grade students (57% girls) from a large high school in central Texas. Students reported their trust in their math teachers and their math self-efficacy at 4 time points. Growth curve modeling was utilized to model the effect of trust on self-efficacy over time. The results indicate that trust predicted self-efficacy over the course of the school year such that for a one point change in trust there was a corresponding .4 point change in self-efficacy. Gender was also a significant predictor of self-efficacy, with girls reporting lower self-efficacy on average. However, girls did not report lower trust, and the relation between trust and self-efficacy was not moderated by gender. Inasmuch as future studies should seek to expand on these findings, this study is an important first step into investigating the link between trust in teachers and self-efficacy. The results of this study serve to inform teachers, researchers, and policy makers of the importance of recognizing student-teacher relationships as an important factor in building student confidence and motivation.