Applied Psychology OPUS

The Relationship between Parental Involvement and Mathematics Achievement in Struggling Mathematics Learners

by Steven O. Roberts

             Parental involvement is typically classified as deliberate acts of engagement (i.e., overt involvement) (Jeynes, 2010). These acts are found to have a profound effect on children’s academic achievement (Davis-Kean & Sexton, 2009; Reynolds, 1992; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005; Topor, Keane, Shelton, & Calkin, 2010). Planty et al. (2009) has reflected on the value of parental involvement in a report for the National Center for Education Statistics. Planty et al. (2009) report that in 2007, roughly 89% of parents attended a general school or PTO/PTA meeting, 78% attended parent-teacher conferences, 65% participated in school fundraising events, and 46% volunteered/served on a school committee. However, these data do not capture the entire concept of parental involvement. Planty et al. (2009) report how many parents are overtly involved, but do not present data on how many parents are subtly involved (e.g., believe in a child’s ability, hold high expectations for the child). Reports on subtle parental involvement are highly important, especially for struggling math learners, as subtle parental involvement may contribute uniquely to mathematics achievement. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to show why researchers are in need of a clear definition of specific types of parental involvement. This will enable researchers to effectively examine the pathways under which the relationship between parental involvement and mathematics achievement exists. As of now, these pathways are not clear.

            Although parental involvement is clearly seen as a positive influence on academic achievement, there is ample research stating that the relation between parental involvement and mathematics achievement is either non-significant (El Nokali, Bachman, & Votruba-Drazl, 2010; Mattingly, Prislin, McKenzie, Rodriquez, & Kayzar, 2002) context driven (C.Okpala, A. Okpala, & Smith, 2001); or damaging (Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fendrich, 1999; Levpuscek & Zupancic, 2009). These conflicting findings may result from the researchers’ tendency to measure both overt and subtle parental involvement in the same measurement (see DePlantey, Coulter-Kern, & Duchane, 2007; Min, Mudrey-Camino, & Steiner, 2010; Nokali et al., 2010; Okpala et al., 2001; Reynolds, 1992; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005; Yinsqiu, Gauvain, & Zhengkui, 2006; Zhan, 2005). To further understand the relationship between parental involvement and academic achievement, researchers are looking at the different effects of overt and subtle parental involvement (Jeynes, 2005; 2007). Both subtle and overt forms of parental involvement are crucial in understanding the trajectories in which parental involvement affects mathematics achievement. Potential findings are especially important for children with math learning disability (MLD), as research has yet to examine the effects parental involvement has on children with the disability.

            Research shows that when children with MLD grow older they will experience little career advancement later in life (Jordan & Levine, 2009). A rigorous mathematics curriculum leads to mathematics competence, which is associated with entry to science, technological, engineering, and mathematics disciplines in higher education (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Students with strong mathematics backgrounds are more likely to employed and earn 38% more per hour than those lacking in algebra, geometry, measurement, and            probability skills (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). With these facts in mind, it is essential that methods in which mathematics achievement can be enhanced need to be thoroughly researched, so that children with MLD will be better prepared to meet the demands of our increasingly technological society (Council, 2001).

 Parental Involvement

 Involvement and academic achievement. Parental involvement is found to positively predict a child’s reading achievement (Min et al. 2010; Reynolds, 1992; Zhan, 2005), mathematics achievement (Gonzalez & Wolters, 2006; Reynolds, 1992; Yinsqiu, Gauvain, Zhengkui, & Li, 2006), vocabulary skills (Min et al., 2010), Social Studies achievement (Jeynes, 2005a; Niemeyer et al., 2009), and Science achievement (Jeynes, 2005a). Furthermore, parental involvement is associated with enhanced intrinsic motivation (Ames, Khoju, & Watkins, 1993; Fan & Williams, 2010), reduced dropout rates (Barnard, 2004), increased motivation (Gonzalez-DeHass, Willems, & Holbein, 2005; Grolnick, Ryan, & Detri, 1991), increased academic engagement (Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling 1992), less anxiety about school (Tan & Goldberg, 2009), increased self-concept (Senler & Sungur, 2009), and increased self-efficacy (Fan & Williams, 2010; Tan & Goldberg, 2009). However, the exact relationships between these constructs and specific types of parental involvement are not yet lucid.

            Overt and subtle involvement. The relationship between overt parental involvement and academic achievement has recently been called into question (Jeynes, 2005b; Jeynes, 2007). As a result of this, recent research has examined the effects of subtle parental involvement (Jeynes, 2010). These types of involvement include maintaining high expectations of one’s children, communicating with children, and parental style (Jeynes, 2005b; Jeynes 2007). Most research examined overt measures of parental involvement, rendering it difficult to properly understand the differences between overt and subtle types of parental involvement.

            Furthermore, a large body of research examines the differences between home-based involvement (e.g., providing a place and material for homework, visiting libraries) and school-based involvement (e.g., escorting children on trips, volunteering in classrooms) (Fantuzzo, Tighe, & Childs, 2000; Manz, Fantuzzo, & Power, 2004). These studies are important as they shift our understanding of parental involvement from a unidimensional perspective towards a multi- dimensional perspective. However, overt and subtle types of involvement seem to pervade both school-based and home-based involvement types. Therefore, it is crucial to examine the independent effects of overt and subtle involvement, so that researchers and policy makers may further their understanding on which types of involvement should be emphasized in schools and homes. Although studies have begun to examine these independent effects, findings are lacking in agreement.

            Numerous studies used exclusively overt parental involvement measurements and found its effect on academic achievement to be significant (DePlantey et al. 2007; Niemeyer, Wong, & Westerhaus, 2009; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005; Zhan, 2005). El Nokali et al. (2010) included both overt and subtle parental involvement items in the same measurement and found no relationship between either type of parental involvement and academic achievement (i.e., vocabulary skills, mathematics). Min et al. (2010) measured both overt and subtle types of parental involvement, but they were measured separately. The researchers found that certain types of overt parental involvement (e.g., helping with homework, TV rules) had a negative effect on academic achievement (i.e., reading achievement) while the measured subtle types of parental involvement (e.g., educational expectations) had a positive effect on academic achievement (i.e., reading achievement) (Min et al., 2010). Therefore, these varying findings suggest that the non- significant findings by El Nokali et al. (2010) were a result of overt and subtle types of involvement reacting upon one another. The meta-analysis conducted by Jeynes (2005b; 2007) shows that the interaction between overt and subtle parental involvement to be a possibility as subtle types of parental involvement had a greater influence on academic achievement than overt parental involvement. Topor, Keane, Shelton, and Calkins (2010) also conclude that subtle acts of parental involvement play a greater role in predicting children’s academic achievement.

Math Learning Disability

             Children with MLD are repeatedly found to perform poorly on mathematics related tasks (Geary, Bailey, & Hoard, 2009; Lackeye & Margalit, 2006; Lackeye et al., 2006; Räsänen, Salminen, Wilson, Aunio, & Dehaene, 2009; Vukovic & Siegel, 2010). These children have lower levels of effort investment, decreased self-efficacy, lower sense of coherence, less positive moods, and reduced hope in comparison to their high achieving peers (Lackeye & Margalit, 2006). Lackeye and Margalit (2006) also found these children to have higher levels of loneliness and negative moods (e.g., sad, worried). By the time children complete high school, roughly 5 to 10% will be diagnosed with MLD (Barbaresi, Katusic, Colligan, Weaver, & Jacobson, 2005; Gross-Tsur & Shalev, 1996; Ostad, 1998). A recent meta-analysis (Duncan et al., 2007) found school-entry mathematics to be the strongest predictor for later achievement in mathematics and reading. Thus, previous research shows that it is crucial to be able to predict, identify, and combat, MLD at an early age.

            Recent research examined the executive functioning of children with MLD and found that these individuals experience impairments on measures of working memory, processing speed, and phonological processing (Swanson, 2001; Swanson & Kim, 2006). Consequently, many researchers have implemented interventions which focused on increasing malleable aspects of executive functioning (e.g., attention), or by teaching children strategies to master intractable aspects of executive functioning (e.g., working memory) (Case, Harris, & Graham, 1992; Holmes, Gathercole, & Dunning, 2009; Olmstead, 2005; Räsänen et al., 2009). These types of interventions are dominant in attempting to enhance the academic skills of children with MLD. However, little research looks at the influence social interventions have on MLD children's academic achievement. Parental involvement seems to be a promising possibility.

Conclusion & Implications for Research

            Due to the differences in overt and subtle types of parental involvement, the relationship between these constructs and academic achievement should be examined. However, in order for this to occur, researchers must establish a concrete definition of parental involvement to ensure that the relationship is measured properly. The relationship between overt and subtle parental involvement has not yet been thoroughly examined. Research on this relationship can have a tremendous impact on struggling math learners as it will grant researchers a better understanding of how overt and subtle parental involvement affect mathematics achievement, and of the specific pathways under which these relationships exist. Potential findings may result in the creation of interventions and policies that are geared towards enhancing specific aspects of parental involvement, which would hopefully lead to enhancing mathematics achievement in children with MLD.


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