Quantifying Relevance: The Development and Validation of an Initial Scale to Measure Secondary Students' Perceptions of the Relevance of Mathematics Content



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AbstractQUANTIFYING RELEVANCE: THE DEVELOPMENT AND VALIDATION OF AN INITIAL SCALE TO MEASURE SECONDARY STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS OF THE RELEVANCE OF MATHEMATICS CONTENT Monique Apollon Williams, Ph.D. George Mason University, 2021 Dissertation Director: Dr. Toya Frank, Ph.D. Learning mathematics content is often portrayed as being irrelevant and not useful in secondary students’ lives. The literature suggests that making mathematics content relevant to students’ lives, their community, and society plays a vital role in their academic motivation, attitudes toward mathematics, engagement, academic achievement, and future course selection and careers. Furthermore, there has been a call to shift the direction of research on students of color and mathematics, given that research has highlighted the nature of their underachievement and failure in the subject over their successes and motivations for learning mathematics. Thus, this study is committed to understanding what it means to learn relevant mathematics while being Black and Hispanic. By learning through research what Black and Hispanic secondary students perceive as mathematically relevant to their lives, we can then tailor curriculum to strengthen positive student perceptions of mathematics. We can learn how Black and Hispanic students can best attain and maintain excellence when learning mathematics. This dissertation details the development of a scale that measures secondary students’ perceptions of their mathematics content as being relevant to their lives. A scale of this nature is needed given that mathematics relevance research is typically explored through qualitative methodologies, and the voices of secondary students of color who will be first-generation college students have largely been ignored in empirical research on achievement motivation. Thus, this study weaves together expectancy-value theory and teaching for social justice pedagogy to create a scale that will provide feedback on how understudied student populations—academically successful Black and Hispanic students—perceive the relevance of mathematics content. I conducted a literature review of expectancy value theory, social justice pedagogy, and existing measurement. I also interviewed students about their perceptions of mathematical relevance. I validated the instrument via expert validation and then engaged in item development and exploratory factor analysis. This study suggests how students respond to items measuring their perceptions of mathematics content as being relevant to their lives is directly related to the lived experiences of those students. This study will help increase our understanding of high-ability students from economically vulnerable families and their perceptions of mathematics content to help identify factors associated with their academic success.Keywords: relevance; mathematics relevance; academic motivation; expectancy value theory; social justice pedagogy; scale development; measurement