Does attitude toward school predict academic achievement?

The past week there was some discussion in my own region about the lack of ambition of our students – as described in PISA – while they do perform actually very well in the same international comparison. This study that I found via Paul Kirschner shed some light on another seemingly contradiction. Lee used the following items to measure the Attitude toward School which is actually a bit more about the perception of usefulness of school:

(a) school has done little to prepare me for adult life when I leave school;

(b) school has been a waste of time;

(c) school helped give me confidence to make decisions; and

(d) school has taught me things which could be useful in a job.

What are the results? In short:


  • No direct relationship was found between attitude and achievement.
  • It holds for student groups by gender, family SES, and ability levels.
  • It was consistent across countries except for Qatar, Iceland, and Australia.
  • The finding was well-replicated in the PISA 2003, 2009, and 2012 datasets.

A more elaborated version of the results:

The main findings of this study are as follows.

(a) There is virtually no direct relationship between attitude toward school and reading/mathematics achievement. This apparent lack of relationship was found when attitude toward school was measured by the unidimensional scale (i.e., asking respondents directly about their  school and not about potential factors that may/may not lead to attitude toward school, such as interactions with peers and teachers or learning outcomes).

(b) The lack of substantial relationships holds in general for various student subgroups, including country of residence, OECD membership, gender, family SES, and country modal grades. The finding also holds for the students who are at the ends of the attitude or achievement scores.

(c) Although non-negligible direct relationships between attitude toward school and other predictors in the model (i.e., teacher-student relations, school climate, enjoyment, and self-efficacy) made it possible to observe an indirect effect of attitude on achievement, the strength of this indirect relation was miniscule with almost zero in absolute value of indirect path coefficients.

On the other hand, (d) all the other variables employed in the study (teacher-student relations, school disciplinary climate, enjoyment, and self-efficacy) had direct links to achievement. Among these, the two student-personal variables (enjoyment and self-efficacy) were far stronger predictors of student achievement than attitude toward school or teacher-student relations.

So the answer on the question if attitude toward school can predict academic achievement seems to be: no.

Abstract of the study:

This study, by analyzing the PISA 2003, 2009, and 2012 datasets, finds virtually no direct relationships between students’ general attitude toward school and their academic achievement in reading and mathematics. The lack of substantial relation between attitude and achievement was found for the majority of 64 countries who participated in the PISA 2012 survey. The finding was also consistent across subgroups of students, by gender, family SES, countries’ OECD membership, and variations in the within-country modal grades, as well as for students at the lower and higher levels of attitude or achievement. A moderately strong relationship between attitude and achievement was shown only among students at the highest end of the SES spectrum and in a handful of countries (i.e., Qatar, Iceland, and Australia). Structural equation modeling shows that attitude toward school is at best indirectly related to achievement but the strength of that indirect link is rather small as well.


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