Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Kelly A. Powell-Smith, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael Curtis, Ph.D.


Achievement, Attitude, Teacher factors, Excelling students, Struggling students


Several studies have provided evidence regarding factors that contribute to the mathematics achievement gap between African American and White students. Byrnes (2003) found that 45%-50% of the difference in White and African American students' performance in mathematics was associated with socioeconomic status, exposure to learning opportunities, and motivational aspects of math while 4.5% was explained by ethnicity. The goal in this mixed method study was to examine the mathematics attitude of African American (n = 22) and White (n = 10) high school students and to allow students to voice what practices and supports they perceived enabled them to learn mathematics. The students discussed practices and supports specific to their school, home, and community. The Attitudes Toward Mathematics Inventory data were examined across race and performance levels.

The performance levels, excelling and struggling, were based on each student's cumulative performance in mathematics. The attitude results yielded one positive significant differences between performance groups on the self-confidence construct. As for qualitative data, there were few differences across the racial groups. Unlike White excelling students (n=6), African-American excelling students (n=11) reported that they received limited encouragement from teachers to take advanced mathematics courses or to participate in extracurricular activities related to mathematics. In examining the students' responses, there were more similarities than differences across groups. Groups spoke of the need for teachers to be more patient and willing to provide additional support. Students reported that some teachers assumed something within them [students] was the reason that they had not grasped a concept (e.g., lack of attention during instruction).

The question of why African American students' mathematics performance lags behind their White counterparts remain pertinent. Many of the reasons for the achievement gap reported in the literature were not explicitly expressed by the students in this study. However, the intent to have students express their perspectives and needs related to mathematics was accomplished. Thus, this insight can only enhance our efforts to improve African American students' mathematical experiences and success.