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African American Boys' and Girls' Causal Attributions about Math, English, and Science are Shaped by Gender Stereotypes, Influence Classroom Engagement, and Change across the High School Years

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Akilah D Swinton
Abstract:
This doctoral dissertation investigates developmental, gender, and academic domain differences in causal attributions; the influence of perceptions of gender group competence on attributions; and the impact of attributions on classroom engagement in a sample of African American adolescents ( N = 381). Two studies were conducted using attribution theory as the guiding framework. The first study utilized a variable-centered approach to assess attributions, while the second study utilized a person-centered clustering approach. Data for the study were drawn from the Youth Identity Project, a longitudinal project with measurement waves in Grades 5, 7 and 10. In the first study, results from the latent curve models accounting for the influence of gender and achievement indicated that there was no significant decline over time in ability attributions. There were some gender-stereotypic differences in the intercepts of math and science attributions, with boys having more adaptive math and science ability attributions than girls in Grades 7 and 10. Results from the path models demonstrated that Grade 7 math and science ability attributions influenced domain-specific classroom engagement in Grade 10, while Grade 7 English ability attributions were not related to Grade 10 English engagement. Lastly, accounting for domain-specific achievement, seventh grade boys' perception of the competence of boys in math and science was related to their endorsement of ability in explaining math success and science failure. In addition, girls' perception of girls' math competence was negatively related to their math failure ability attributions. In the second study, results from the latent profile models indicated that at least two clusters of attributions emerged within each academic domain. The "adaptive" clusters were characterized by high levels of success ability and success effort attributions, and the "maladaptive" clusters were characterized by relatively low levels of success ability attributions and high levels of failure ability attributions. Significant gender differences for the math and English clusters emerged, with boys more likely to be in the adaptive math clusters in Grade 5 and Grade 7 and girls more likely to be in the adaptive English cluster in Grade 5. Higher classroom engagement in all domains was typically associated with membership in the adaptive clusters compared to the maladaptive clusters.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF TABLES ………………………………………..………..……………………...v

LIST OF FIGURES .……………………..……………….………………….………......vii

INTRODUCTION.. …………………………………..……………………………...........1

Hypotheses………..……………………………………………………………...20

Method……………………………………………………………………….......23

RESULTS ……………..…………… ….. ………………………………………………..28

Study 1 Results…………………………………………………………………..3 3

Study 2 Results

... ..………………… ………………… …… ... ………………... . .4 8

DISCUSSION … …...……... ………………………………………… …………………..5 8

APPENDIX…. …………………… ……………………………………………….…....10 6

REFERENCES ………………………………………………………………..………..1 10

v

LIST OF TABLES

Table

1.1

Descriptive Data for Key Study 1 and 2

Variables, by Gender and Grade.. . ……………………….…….…….………...7 9

1.2

Unconditional Latent Growth Models for Math,

English ,

a nd Science Success Ability

Attributions….…………………… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … ….... 81

1.3

Unconditional Latent Growth Models for Math,

English ,

and Science Success Abil ity Attributions.…… ………….…...……82

1.4 Conditional Latent Growth Models for Math,

English ,

and S cience Success Ability

Attributions with Gender as a Covariate……………………………………..... 83

1.5 Conditional Latent Growth Models for Math,

English ,

and Science Failure

Ability

Attributions with Gender as a Covariate……………………………………..... 84

1.6 Final Path Mo dels for Grade 7 Attributions

Predicting Tenth Grade Classroom

Engagement in M ath, English ,

and Science….……………… ... ...…………..... 85

1.7 Final Path Model for Grade 7 Perceptions

o f Gender Group

Competence Predicting

Grade 10 Ability Attributions for Boys….… .…………………...………….....8 6

1.8 Final Path Model for Grade 7 Perceptions

o f Gender Group

Competence Predicting

Grade 10 Ability Attributions for Girls….….…………………...………….....8 7

2.1 Model Fit Indices for Math Latent Profile Models……………...…………......8 8

2. 2 Model Fit Indices for English Latent Profile Models……………...………......8 9

2.3 Model Fit Indices for Science Latent Profile Models…………...…………...... 90

2.4 Means, Standard Errors and Proportions for

Math Clusters………………………………..…… ……………...…………..... 91

2.5 Means, Standard Errors and Proportions for

English Clusters……………………………..…………………...…………..... 92

vi

2.6 Means, Standard Errors and Proportions for

Science Clusters……………………………..…………………...… ………..... 93

2.7 Latent Profile Models with Gender as a

Covariate using the Adaptive Class as

the Comparison Group..……………………..…………………...…………..... 94

2.8 Comparisons of Domain - Specific Student and

Teacher - Reported Classroom Engagement Means

Based on Cluster Membership…..…………..…………………...…………..... 95

vii

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure

1.1

Changes in means for math, English ,

and science

success ability attributions fr om Grade 5 to Grade 10.………………...……....9 6

1.2

Changes in means for math, English ,

and science

failure ability attributions from Grade 5 to Grade 10.………………...…….....9 7

1.3

Hypothesized latent growth curve model for

success ability attributions………………………………...…………. ..……....9 8

1.4

Hypothesized latent growth curve model for

failure ability attributions.…….…………………………...…………...……....9 9

1.5

Hypothesized multiple - group

path model for the

relations of Grade 7 math, English ,

and science

success and failure ability attributions w ith Grade 10

math, English

and science

class room engagement…..…...…………...…... ... 100

1.6

Hypothesized

path model for the relations of Grace 7

math,

English ,

and science

perceptions of gender group

competence and Grade 10 math, English ,

and science

success and

failure ability attri butions………………..…...…………...……..101

2.1 Hypothesized latent profile class model of success ability,

success effort, and failure ability a ttributions………...…...…………...……..102

2.2 Estimated attribution mean s for Grade 5, Grade 7

and Grade 10 math three - cluster

LPA models……......…...…………...… ... .. . 103

2.3 Estimated attribution means for Grade 5, Grade 7

and Grade 10 English two - cluster LPA models……. .....…...…………...… .. 104

2.4 Estimated attribution means for Grade 5, Grade 7

and Grade 10 science three - cluste r LPA models……......…...………..…... .... 105

INTRODUCTION

Research has consistently documented develop mental, domain and gender differences in achievement outcomes and motivation. Specifically, previous research has reported that

there is a decline in achievement motivation occurring throughout adolescence, particularly for math and science

(Jacobs, Lanza,

Osgood, Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002). In addition, boys tend to rate their math and science abilities more positively than girls, who rate their verbal abilities more positively

(Fredricks & Eccles, 2002; Jacobs et al., 2002). However, this research has typi cally been conducted with predominantly European American samples and few longitudinal projects have examined developmental, domain, and gender differences in the achievement motivation of African American adolescents. Studies that have examined gender dif ferences within African American samples (e.g., Graham, Taylor & Hudley, 1998; Saunders , Davis, Williams, & Williams, 2004) have

not considered how gender differences may emerge for domain - specific motivation or how this motivation changes over time.

Gain ing a more nuanced understanding of the achievement motivation of African American youth may be helpful in identifying factors that positively influence the educational outcomes of African American youth. Furthermore, attribution theory has proven to be a useful framework for understanding the achievement motivation of African American youth (Graham, 1988).Thus,

the primary goal of the present research was to better understand the attributional beliefs of African American youth by conducting two studies. Se veral models, all grounded in attributional theory of motivation (Weiner, 1985, 1992), were tested. The models were aimed at explaining the developmental trajectory of ability

2

attributions, determining clusters of participants based on their endorsement of

multiple causal categories, as well as examining predictors and outcomes of these attributions.

In the sections that follow, I will explain how the present research tested and expanded attribution theory in significant ways. First, I will provide a brie f overview of attribution theory, discuss attribution measurement issues, and summarize prior attribution research conducted with African American youth. Next, I will discuss what prior research suggests about developmental differences in achievement attri butions and why changes in attributions would be expected across the transitions to middle school and high school. I will then summarize prior research on gender and domain differences in motivation and how research and theory led to my hypotheses about ge nder differences in domain - specific attributions among African American youth. Lastly, I will discuss the theory and research regarding the relationships among motivation, perceptions of the in - group and classroom engagement that guided my hypotheses regar ding the influences and outcomes of attributional beliefs.

Attribution Theory

A central assumption of attribution theory (Weiner, 1985, 1992) is that individuals try to master their environment by understanding the causal determinants of their behavior. Furthermore, the theory explains how individuals’ interpretations of their successes and failures influence their subsequent motivation. The locus, stability, and controllability of the causes attributed to successes and failures (e.g., luck, low ability, high effort) determine the psychological and behavioral consequences of attributions (Weiner, 1985, 1992).

Locus refers to whether or not a cause is internal or external to the individual, while stability refers to whether or not a cause is stable or unstab le. Lastly, a cause may either be controllable or

3

uncontrollable. For example, effort is often considered an internal, unstable, and controllable cause while luck is considered to be an external, unstable, and uncontrollable cause (Weiner, 1985, 1992). Be cause expectancies in achievement - related contexts are often determined by perceived ability and planned effort expenditure, ability and effort are the most salient and dominant causes of success and failure endorsed within the achievement domain (Weiner, 1985).

According to attribution theory, perceptions of the causes of successes and failures are influenced by environmental factors as well as personal factors. Environmental influences can include factors such as teacher feedback and social norms (Schun k, Pintrich, & Meece, 2002). Teacher feedback influences students’ perceptions of their ability and effort. For example, Pintrich and Blumenfeld (1985) found that teachers’ praise for work positively affected both effort and ability perceptions. In additio n, information about task difficulty is a common way that individuals use social norms to make attributions, as individuals’ knowledge about the relative success of others on a certain task influences whether or not personal success or failure for that tas k is attributed to internal causes or to external causes. For instance, for tasks that most people find difficult, personal failure is typically attributed to the task being difficult, while personal success is typically attributed to internal causes like effort or ability (Weiner, 1992). It is likely that other social norms such as those related to gender or race also influence attribution formation. Lastly, prior knowledge about specific tasks, domains, and the self can influence attribution formation (Sc hunk et al., 2002). For example, a student who believes he or she is very competent in math may be more likely to attribute math failure to a lack of effort than to a lack of ability compared to a student who believes he or she is not competent in math.

4

T he influence of attributions on an individual’s motivation and behavior is called the attributional process . Weiner (1985, 1992) posited that the stability of an attribution is most strongly linked to expectancy for future success, while the locus of an at tribution is linked to self - efficacy and esteem. These expectancies and perceptions of self, in turn, influence behavioral consequences such as persistence, choice, and engagement (Weiner, 1985, 1992). Attribution theorists argue that when explaining succe ss, internal and stable attributions (i.e., ability) promote future engagement because in that case individuals are more likely to anticipate future success compared to when success is attributed to an external, uncontrollable factor such as luck (Weiner, 1985, 1992). Thus, high achieving adolescents emphasize the contribution of their own ability in shaping their academic successes, while low achievers emphasize how variables external to themselves, such as luck, are instrumental to their academic successe s (O’Sullivan & Howe, 1996). When explaining failure, attributions to causes that are external and unstable (i.e., task difficulty or low effort) are considered to be the most adaptive (Weiner, 1985, 1992). Attributing failure to an internal, stable factor

such as low ability is posited to have detrimental effects on future behavior because individuals may assume that future effort is unlikely to result in success.

The research regarding the benefits of success effort attributions is mixed. There is some ev idence that attributing success to effort is positively linked to motivational outcomes (Georgiou, 1999; Graham & Long, 1986;

Schunk, 1982).

However, several factors may determine whether success effort attributions are adaptive. First, beliefs about effort

change over time. While younger children tend to view effort as just as important as ability for success, adolescents tend to perceive ability and effort as inversely related to each other (Nicholls, 1990). Adolescents may believe that if they have to put

forth high effort to succeed

5

this means they do not possess high ability. Dweck and Leggett (1988) argue that students’ views on effort differ depending on their theories of intelligence. Entity theorists, who view ability as innate and fixed, may believe

that exerting high effort for a task is an indication that they lack ability. Incremental theorists, who view intelligence as a malleable attribute that can be improved with effort, may benefit positively from attributing success to effort. Lastly, althou gh effort is typically considered unstable since individuals’ effort may vary from situation to situation, the stability of effort is variable. In fact, distinctions are often made between unstable effort and stable effort, with stable effort considered an

internal, stable cause like ability (Forsyth, Story, Kelley & McMillan, 2009; Russell, 1982). Therefore, attributing success to stable effort should be adaptive like attributing success to ability. Given that success effort attributions are not always cle arly adaptive, more research is needed to examine how success effort attributions influence motivation. The present research will explore whether success effort attributions positively benefit engagement in Study 2.

Measuring Attributions

Vispoel and Aus tin (1995) discuss three main approaches that have been used to assess attributions: situational, dispositional, and critical incident. In the situational approach, attributions are measured in one of two ways. Either participants are asked to make attribu tions about hypothetical others after reading a scenario, or participants engage in a laboratory task in which success/failure outcomes are manipulated, and their attributions for these outcomes are assessed. In the dispositional approach, participants ar e asked to rate the relative importance of various attributions for a hypothetical series of events that happen within an achievement domain. In the critical incident approach, participants evaluate successes or failures in naturally - occurring events or re call successes and failures for an

6

event and form attributions for those outcomes. Within each approach, attributions are typically measured with open - ended, ranking, and rating scales. Elig and Frieze (1979) demonstrated that rating scales were superior t o open - ended and ranking techniques in providing reliable and valid assessment of attributional response. For the present research, attributions were assessed using rating - scales within a dispositional approach by asking African American adolescents to rat e the importance of effort and ability in their successes and failures in math, English and science.

If rating scales are not forced - choice, respondents may endorse multiple causes for an outcome. For instance, individuals who strongly endorse ability for

their success might also strongly endorse effort as well. Maruyama (1982) argues that this may present a dilemma for researchers in that it may be difficult to interpret an individual’s response to a particular attribution category. However, endorsement o f multiple categories probably has greater external validity than forced - choice methods because students are likely to view outcomes as due to a combination of factors rather than a single cause (Forsyth et al., 2009). Consideration of the multiple causes that individuals endorse may provide us with a better understanding of how attributions influence later motivation. A latent profile model can be used to account for the multidimensionality of achievement attributions.

Latent profile analysis is a person - c entered analytic approach that allows for the identification of

clusters of observations that have similar values on cluster indicators

(Lubke & Muthén , 2005). I used this approach in Study 2 to examine common patterns in the ways that African American ado lescents endorse both ability and effort for success and failures.

7

Attributions of African American Youth

Little research has been conducted on the achievement attributions of African American adolescents. The race - comparative research that has been don e has shown that racial differences between White and African American students are not very large in regard to attribution endorsement and how attributions influence behavior (Graham, 1994; Graham & Long, 1986). Graham and Long (1986) found that both Afri can American and European American adolescents tended to rate causes similarly with regard to stability, locus, and controllability. For example, all viewed ability as an internal, stable and controllable cause. In addition, adolescents of both racial grou ps were more certain of future success when endorsing stable causes for success and failure; however, African Americans, especially those from a low SES background, tended to be more optimistic of future success even when the causes were unstable.

Van L aar (2000) found that African American college students were likely to make more external attributions over time, even though prior to college, their attributions and expectancies were very similar to those of White students. It was argued that this develo pmental change came as a result of academic disappointment and perhaps pessimism about the payoff of effort. Both White and African American students lowered their expectancies as their attributions became more external. However, African American students who made external attributions for failure tended to be higher in academic motivation and self - esteem than those African American students who endorsed internal attributions for failure.

Swinton, Kurtz - Costes, Okeke and Rowley et al. (in press) examined d evelopmental, gender, and domain differences in African American adolescents’ attributions and how these

8

attributions influenced later engagement. They found that African American adolescents experienced declines in adaptive ability attributions for math f rom eighth to eleventh grade. In addition, b oys were more likely than girls to attribute math successes to high ability and to attribute English failures to low ability. Lastly,

attributions of math failure to lack of ability in Grade 8 were negatively rel ated to Grade 11 teacher - rated math classroom engagement.

The majority of the achievement attribution research conducted on African Americans has focused on how African Americans compare to European Americans and has typically examined the psychological c onsequences of attributions by exploring the relationships of attributions to self - esteem and expectancies (Graham & Long, 1986; van Laar, 2000). The present studies extended attribution research and theory in several ways. The research examined within - gro up differences in attributions among African Americans and how these beliefs change over time. In addition, the present research tested hypotheses about linkages between academic domain - specific gender stereotypes and students' attributions about their own

successes and failures within domains where their gender group was positively or negatively stereotyped. Finally, the present research

tested a long - standing assumption of attribution theory: namely, that achievement attributions shape subsequent motivational behavi or.

In Study 1, I extended Swinton et al. (in press) by examining the developmental trajectories of African American adolescents’ ability attributions for math, English ,

and s cience

across three time points (Grade 5, Grade 7, and Grade 10) and gender diffe rences in these trajectories. I also examined the relationships between Grade 7 attributions and Grade 10 classroom engagement within the domains of math, English ,

and science . Lastly, I examined the relation between adolescents’ Grade 7 perceptions of the ir gender in - group’s

9

competence in math, English

and science

and Grade 10 math, English ,

and science

ability attributions, respectively.

In Study 2, I used a person - centered, latent variable approach to classify African American adolescents into clusters

on the basis of common patterns of attribution endorsement by examining whether or not adolescents’ endorsement of multiple causes for their successes and failu res

in math, English

and science

occur in meaningful clusters. After determining wheth er meaningful clusters exist for the youth for each domain, I examined whether these clusters differed by gender and Grade 10 math, English ,

and science

classroom engagement level.

Developmental Differences in Attributional Beliefs

Understanding achievemen t motivation during adolescence is important because adolescence is a key developmental period characterized by important psychological, cognitive, and physical changes (Erikson, 1968). During adolescence, the most important cognitive change is the increas ing ability of youth to think abstractly, engage in more complex information - processing strategies, and reflect on the self (Keating, 1990; Piaget, 1952). These cognitive changes also affect adolescents’ self - concepts, thoughts about

their future, and unde rstanding of others (Erikson, 1968). Therefore, as individuals begin to better understand themselves and their skills, attributions may become more closely related to future behavior.

For example, Nicholls (1979) found that the relationship between ability

attributions and actual performance was stronger among older children than younger children in a sample of 6 - , 8 - , 10 - , and 12 - year old children.

In addition to cognitive changes, age differences in attributions may result from developmental changes conce rning beliefs about the nature of ability and effort and the

10

relations between them. Research by Nicholls (1978, 1990) established that children’s understanding of the relations among ability, effort, and task difficulty changes across the primary school y ears. Before the age of 6, effort is equated with ability. After age 6, children are able to differentiate effort and outcome: Children are able to understand that more effort leads to better outcomes. Around age 8 or 9, children begin to understand that people who try equally hard may not get the same outcomes if they are at different ability levels. By about age 13, most youth view effort and ability as inversely related such that given equal performance outcomes, individuals who exert greater effort are

presumed to have less ability than individuals who exert less effort. There is also an understanding that low ability may limit the effect of high effort (Nicholls, 1990).

Changes in the environment may also influence developmental differences in the a ttributional process. The school context is particularly important during adolescence; the school setting is one of the more influential environments during this time period (Stevenson, 2001). The middle school transition is associated with mean - level dec lines in academic - motivational outcomes (Eccles & Midgley, 1989). Eccles and Midgley (1989) argue that the changes that typically occur with the middle school transition, including changes in task complexity, evaluation techniques, locus of responsibility for learning, and quality

of teacher - student and peer relationships, are developmentally inappropriate changes and thus contribute to the negative declines in motivation and achievement that many adolescents experience during early adolescence. These change s, according to Eccles and Midgley(1989),

do not meet young adolescents’ needs for autonomy and control, and this mismatch between the environment and adolescents’ psychological needs results in declines

in motivation and interest in school. In addition, mo st middle schools are substantially larger than elementary

11

schools and instruction is more likely

to be organized departmentally, such that middle school teachers are teaching several different groups of students

(Simmons & Blyth, 1987). This change in str ucture may result in a high likelihood that students who are struggling academically will begin negative motivational and performance

trajectories, as it may be harder for them to get individualized help and instruction.

Like the transition to middle schoo l, the transition to high school may negatively affect students’ achievement motivation. In comparison to middle schools, high schools typically have more academic tracking, greater visibility of class rank, and greater importance placed on academic perfor mance (Berkner & Chavez, 1997; Eccles & Midgley, 1989;

Lee & Bryk, 1989). Research on the transition to high school has found that students’ grade point

averages, attendance, and school engagement significantly decline from eighth

to ninth grade (Reyes, Gi llock, & Kobus, 1994; Roeser, Eccles, & Freedman - Doan, 1999). However, the high school transition appears to be less disruptive than the middle school transition (Barber & Olsen, 2004).

Other changes are also occurring during adolescence in addition to t he changes in cognition and in the school environment. Adolescents are often preoccupied with how others perceive them (Harter, 1990). This preoccupation may result in pressure to conform to traditional gender norms (Ruble, Martin, & Berenbaum, 2006), lead ing to

causal attributions that reflect traditional academic gender stereotypes. Adolescence is also a time when self - perceptions become more differentiated such that adolescents evaluate themselves along several distinct dimensions

(Harter, 1990; Marsh, 1 986; Marsh & Ayote, 2001). These developmental changes may lead to changes in attributions that are moderated by gender and academic domain.

12

With the exception of Swinton et al. (in press) and van Laar (2000), there is almost no research examining how the

achievement attributions of African Americans change over time. I addressed this gap in Study 1 by exploring changes in attributions across the middle school and high school transitions using latent growth modeling. I hypothesized that adaptive ability at tributions would decrease across time. I also hypothesized that these decreases would differ by gender and academic domains. The hypotheses related to gender and domain differences are discussed in the following section.

Domain and Gender Differences in At tributions

A great deal of research has distinguished

science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) academic domains from language arts (reading, writing) domains.

This

research suggests that students view STEM domains as more difficult than lan guage arts domains and experience motivational declines in mathematics and science, more than in language arts

(Chouinard & Roy, 2008; Jacobs et al., 2002; Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles, 1990; Osborne, Simon, & Collins, 2003). In addition to the general declin es that occur in motivational beliefs, research on youths’ perceptions of competence consistently shows gender differences in STEM and language arts domains. Compared to girls, boys tend to rate their math and science abilities more positively and their ve rbal abilities less positively (Andre, Whigham, Hendrickson, & Chambers, 1999; Eccles & Jacobs, 1986; Jacobs & Bleeker, 2004; Jacobs et al., 2002; Meece, Glienke, & Burg, 2006; Meece et al., 1990; Wigfield, Eccles, MacIver, Reuman, & Midgley, 1991). There is also some evidence that these gender differences do not increase over time but instead remain stable for English and decrease over time for math, almost disappearing by the high school years (i.e., Jacobs et al.,

13

2002).

However, most of this research has

been conducted with predominantly European American samples.

Research on the general achievement motivation of African American adolescents has shown that African American girls tend to report higher levels of academic self - efficacy and school valuing th an boys (Graham et al., 1998; Saunders et al. , 2004). Only limited research has examined domain - specific beliefs in African Americans, whether motivational beliefs change over time, and whether they differ by gender.

Swinton et al. (in press) found that Af rican American adolescents experienced declines in adaptive ability attributions for math from middle to high school, but did not experience declines in science and English. In addition, African American boys were more likely than girls to attribute math s uccess to high ability and English failure to low ability. The results of two studies examining academic gender stereotypes of African American youth reflect traditional gendered views, with children of both genders rating girls as more competent in litera cy than in math/science, and the opposite pattern in ratings for boys (Evans, Copping, Rowley, & Kurtz - Costes, 2011; Rowley, Kurtz - Costes, Mistry, & Feagans, 2007). Evans et al. (2011) also measured students' self - concepts, and found that whereas the acade mic self - concepts of boys did not differ across domains, girls had higher English self - concepts than math/science self - concepts. If ability attributions are consistent with perceptions of group competence, African American boys will be more likely than gir ls to endorse high ability when explaining math and science success and less likely than girls to endorse low ability when explaining math and science failure. African American girls, in turn, will be more likely than boys to endorse high ability when expl aining English success and less likely than boys to endorse low ability when explaining English failure. However, the results of Evans et al. (2011), like research with

14

White students, would indicate that gender differences in attributions might be more li kely to emerge in the domains of math and science than in the verbal domain.

In line with the results of Swinton et al. (in press) and traditional gender stereotypes, I hypothesized in Study 1 that African American boys would hold more adaptive ability attributions for math and science compared to African American girls, and that African American girls would hold more adaptive ability attributions for English compared to African American boys. I also hypothesized that while both boys and girls would expe rience declines in adaptive attributions for all three domains across time, boys would experience less decline compared to girls for math and science and girls would experience less decline compared to boys for English. In Study 2, I hypothesized that for English, girls would be more likely than boys to be in clusters that include the high endorsement of multiple adaptive attributions (i.e., high levels of success ability attributions; high levels of success effort attributions; low levels of failure abilit y attributions). Similarly, I hypothesized that for math and science, more boys than girls would be in clusters that include high endorsement of adaptive attributions (i.e., high levels of success ability attributions; high levels of success effort attribu tions; low levels of failure ability attributions).

Full document contains 127 pages
Abstract: This doctoral dissertation investigates developmental, gender, and academic domain differences in causal attributions; the influence of perceptions of gender group competence on attributions; and the impact of attributions on classroom engagement in a sample of African American adolescents ( N = 381). Two studies were conducted using attribution theory as the guiding framework. The first study utilized a variable-centered approach to assess attributions, while the second study utilized a person-centered clustering approach. Data for the study were drawn from the Youth Identity Project, a longitudinal project with measurement waves in Grades 5, 7 and 10. In the first study, results from the latent curve models accounting for the influence of gender and achievement indicated that there was no significant decline over time in ability attributions. There were some gender-stereotypic differences in the intercepts of math and science attributions, with boys having more adaptive math and science ability attributions than girls in Grades 7 and 10. Results from the path models demonstrated that Grade 7 math and science ability attributions influenced domain-specific classroom engagement in Grade 10, while Grade 7 English ability attributions were not related to Grade 10 English engagement. Lastly, accounting for domain-specific achievement, seventh grade boys' perception of the competence of boys in math and science was related to their endorsement of ability in explaining math success and science failure. In addition, girls' perception of girls' math competence was negatively related to their math failure ability attributions. In the second study, results from the latent profile models indicated that at least two clusters of attributions emerged within each academic domain. The "adaptive" clusters were characterized by high levels of success ability and success effort attributions, and the "maladaptive" clusters were characterized by relatively low levels of success ability attributions and high levels of failure ability attributions. Significant gender differences for the math and English clusters emerged, with boys more likely to be in the adaptive math clusters in Grade 5 and Grade 7 and girls more likely to be in the adaptive English cluster in Grade 5. Higher classroom engagement in all domains was typically associated with membership in the adaptive clusters compared to the maladaptive clusters.