Methods: A structural equation modeling strategy was utilized to analyze data about 933 students in sixth (337), seventh (160), or eighth (436) grades, including 521 girls and 410 boys. Students completed a survey in their mathematics class; items assessed aspects of motivation and perceptions of the teacher. Teacher-student relationship and motivation variables were scale measures and all items were used in SEM models to represent those latent variables. Student outcomes variables were either single survey item indicators (hours studying, expected grade) or nationally standardized test scores (SAT-10).
Results: The model revealed good fit with the data (CFI = .939, IFI = .940, RMSEA = .046, 95% ci = .042-.050). As anticipated student perceptions of the teacher-student relationship revealed direct effects on student motivation, and student motivation revealed direct effects on academic outcomes. We hypothesized that student motivation would mediate the influence of the teacher-student relationship variables on student outcomes. We tested that mediation effect in SEM with that analysis supporting a partially mediated model. Higher teacher expectations were associated with increases in both confidence and interest in math while a decrease in anxiety. Higher teacher standards revealed a trend (p<.10) toward increasing student confidence while predicting an increase in anxiety. Student confidence was strongly connected to increases in both expected grade and SAT-10 scores. Student interest showed a trend toward increases in both the SAT-10 and hours studying, and was significantly associated with students' higher expectations for their math grade. Finally, higher levels of student anxiety were associated with decreases in SAT-10 score and expected grade.
Conclusions and Implications: African American middle school students who reported high teacher expectations and standards, showed higher levels of motivation to learn. Further, students with higher levels of motivation, performed better in both subjective and objective measures of academic outcomes. Our results further emphasize the critical role of the relationship a student has with the teacher. However, relationships skills are not typically taught to future teachers. Therefore these findings have implications for school practice in that social workers are uniquely skilled to engage teachers in professional development activities about the critical role of their relationship with students in student outcomes, and further to teach teachers skills to communicate high expectations to students.