Preschool Math: Children's Performance in Relation to Teachers' Math Anxiety and Exposure to Math Content

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Smith, Kathryn, Clinical Psychology - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Downer, Jason, ED-EDHS Department, University of Virginia

Children’s early math performance is among the strongest indicators of students’ future achievement. Math skill development is impacted by a myriad of factors including individual child characteristics; environmental factors, including teacher characteristics; and interactions between children and their environments. Research with elementary, middle, and high school students consistently finds that students’ math performance is influenced by their teachers’ math anxiety, yet this relationship had not yet been deeply explored in preschool samples. In a sample of 369 students from low-income backgrounds and their 51 teachers, the present study investigated the relationships between preschool teachers’ math anxiety and young children’s math performance across the preschool year. Results demonstrated variability in preschool teachers’ reported math anxiety and revealed that teachers’ math anxiety was related to variability in their math teaching practices. Contrary to hypotheses, teachers’ math anxiety was not significantly related to children’s math performance, yet results demonstrated a slight trend of children with teachers who have higher math anxiety demonstrating greater increases in math skill development across the preschool year compared to peers in classrooms with teachers who had lower math anxiety (p =0.067). Child factors, including gender, engagement with tasks, and self-reliance were examined as potential moderators, yet yielded null results. Exposure to math content was also examined as a mediator in the relationship between teachers’ math anxiety and children’s math performance. Results indicated that exposure to math content does mediate the relationship between teachers’ math anxiety and children’s math performance, controlling for children’s incoming math performance, when no additional variables are included in the model; however, the mediation effect disappears when other covariates are included in the model. Interpretations, practical implications, and future research directions are discussed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
preschool math, teacher math anxiety, exposure to math content, gender, self-reliance, engagement with tasks
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