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Background. Extensive research suggests that negative academic outcomes can be mitigated when social environments match the needs of developing adolescents (Eccles et al., 1993). What is less clear from the extant research is whether Black and Latino adolescents’ positive experiences with STEM teachers can mimic low stereotype-threat conditions to promote academic motivation and achievement in middle school math and science classes, which are usually fraught with bias and stereotypes. The current study considers the role of teacher support and ethnic-racial identity (ERI) in informing academic success among Black and Latino middle school youth. More specifically, we investigated how students’ perceptions that their teacher cares about and will help them is related to the academic beliefs and achievement of Black and Latino youth in math and science classes and the extent to which this relation varied as a function of youths' ERI beliefs.
Method. Data were drawn from a larger longitudinal study of racially/ethnically diverse adolescents attending a middle school in the U.S. Midwest (N = 156; Black [69.9%] and Latino [30.1%]; 52.6% girls, 47.4% boys). We analyzed data for Black and Latino students who reported on their Math and Science class experiences during the fall and spring of the 2015-2016 school year. Adolescents self-reported on the following: perceived teacher academic support (T1-T2 α range = .88, .90), perceived teacher emotional support (T1-T2 α range = .89, .87) (Ryan & Patrick, 2001); ERI private regard (T1-T2 α range = .89, .85), ERI centrality (T1-T2 α range = .74, .72) (Scottham, Sellers, & Nguyên, 2008), academic self-efficacy (Patrick et al., 1997; T1-T2 α range = 0.85, 0.91), and school engagement (Fredricks et al., 2005; T1-T2 α range = 0.92, 0.91). STEM GPA was calculated using their Math and Science grades.
Results. See Table 1 and Figure 1 for all coefficients. Adjusting for adolescents’ grade and gender, hierarchical regression analyses results suggest a direct relationship between adolescents' perceived academic and emotional support and all academic outcomes observed. However, a significant interaction and test of simple slopes indicated that the association between academic support and STEM GPA was qualified by youths' level of ERI private regard. The slope for youth who reported higher levels of private regard was significantly different from zero, but that for youth with lower private regard was not. In addition, a significant interaction and simple slopes test indicated that the positive link between teacher academic support and school engagement was enhanced among youth with higher levels of private regard.
Discussion. Our findings suggest high academic support coupled with a positive ethnic-racial identity promotes better performance and higher engagement. Youth who have high private regard may be less likely to believe negative stereotypes about their group; however, they underperformed in comparison to their low-private regard counterparts in low academic support conditions. This could be because high-academic support conditions align with their group self-perceptions. Furthermore, our results suggest that even with high academic support, only youth who have a more positive ethnic-racial self-concept will be more engaged and perform better.