Cognitive pretesting of goal statements in math: Responses from middle-school students

Julia Louise Carrell, Fordham University


Achievement goal theory is considered to be a well-researched field. However, this research has been primarily through surveys, and not enough attention has been paid to the cognitive aspects of how children perceive goals. Additionally, the mastery-avoidance construct is relatively new to the achievement goal literature, with little research to support that individuals understand this construct, or even endorse it. The present study explored the extent to which eighth-grade students from low-, average-, and high-achieving math classes could understand mastery-approach, mastery-avoidance, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance goals in relation to their own experience. Students' reasons for pursuing their goals were also explored. The sample consisted of 37 eighth-grade students from low-, average-, and high-achieving math classes (27 female, 10 male, mean age 13.81). Participants completed an informed assent, a cognitive pretesting interview with 18 goal statements from three different measures, and a follow-up interview to investigate students' most and least important goals. Results from t tests indicated that students displayed greater understanding of the mastery-approach, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance goal statements than the mastery-avoidance goal statements. For one of the mastery-avoidance statements, participants interpreted the statement as an approach goal. Results from MANOVAs found that student's achievement level did not affect the range of scores. Results from the follow-up interview revealed that students identified the mastery-approach statements as the most important goal statements. The participants endorsed understanding and future-oriented reasons in support of their selections. Participants chose performance-avoidance and performance-approach statements as the least important goals, and gave anti-comparison responses when explaining their choice. Throughout the interview, students' comments were often found to be both approach and avoidance in nature, which supported a multiple goals perspective. This study lends support for future study of mastery-avoidance goals, the importance of exploring students' reasons for pursuing goals, and the continued use of cognitive pretesting with children's surveys.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Educational tests & measurements|Middle School education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Carrell, Julia Louise, "Cognitive pretesting of goal statements in math: Responses from middle-school students" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3452783.