News Release

Teenagers' perceptions of math and English

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Society for Research in Child Development

Teenagers' views of their abilities in math and English and the values they attach to math and English play an important role in their educational and occupational choices and achievement.

To explore students' beliefs about how good they thought they were in each subject, how hard they believed the subjects were, and how interesting and useful they considered the subjects, I followed 1,323 students from grades 7 through 11.

My goal was to see whether the initial beliefs the teens held in seventh grade deteriorated as they progressed through secondary school, to see whether there were different patterns of development for boys and girls and for math and English.

We found that students' perceptions about both subjects become more negative throughout secondary school. Specifically:

  • Girls perceived mathematics as more difficult than boys throughout most of secondary school.
  • Students' perception of the importance of math declined, especially during their senior years.
  • Boys were more interested in math than girls throughout grades 7 to 11, and both boys' and girls' interest in math declined through junior and middle grades, plateauing in senior years.

    Students' perceptions of their talent in math declined through secondary school, with boys maintaining consistently higher perceptions of their own abilities than girls throughout grades 7 to 11.

    Boys' expectations of their own success in math remained relatively stable over time, while girls' expectations of their abilities declined through the middle years, then 'recovered' in senior years, although not quite to the same level as in 7th grade.

    All students perceived mathematics as requiring slightly less effort during grade 7, with a slight increase in effort required from the end of grade 7 through to grade 10, and a slight reduction in effort between grades 10 and 11.

    Girls' perceptions of their ability in English declined through secondary school, but remained relatively stable for boys.

    Both boys' and girls' expectations of their success in English declined from the beginning to the end of grade 7, remained relatively stable until grade 10, then declined again from grades 10 to 11.

    Girls initially rated English as substantially less difficult than boys beginning in 7th grade. Both found it got more difficult throughout high school, girls more so than boys.

    Girls rated English as requiring less effort than boys throughout grades 7 to 11, and all students showed a slight increase in how much effort they believed was required through grades 7 to 11.

    Girls found English more interesting and believed it was more important than boys did throughout grades 7 to 11. Both boys' and girls' interest in and English and view of its importance declined through grade 7, and again from grades 10 to 11 We also found that gender differences remained remarkably stable over time, with boys favoring math and girls favoring English. This finding suggests that such impressions are formed early on in a child's education and remain in place throughout their development. Our findings provide information for educators, policymakers and parents to address declines in adolescents' math and English-related perceptions, and to attend to the robust gender gap that favors boys in math and girls in English throughout the secondary school years.


    Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 75, Issue 5, Development of Adolescents' Self Perceptions, Values and Task Perceptions According to Gender and Domain in 7th through 11th Grade Australian Students by H.M.G. Watt. Copyright 2004 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

    *Please contact Karen Melnyk at SRCD (see above) for author availability and contact information.

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