Causal attributions for success or failure by passing and failing students in College Algebra

Georgina Cortes-Suarez, Florida International University


Success in mathematics has been identified as a predictor of baccalaureate degree completion. Within the coursework of college mathematics, College Algebra has been identified as a high-risk course due to its low success rates. Research in the field of attribution theory and academic achievement suggests a relationship between a student's attributional style and achievement. Theorists and researchers contend that attributions influence individual reactions to success and failure. They also report that individuals use attributions to explain and justify their performance. Studies in mathematics education identify attribution theory as the theoretical orientation most suited to explain academic performance in mathematics. This study focused on the relationship among a high risk course, low success rates, and attribution by examining the difference in the attributions passing and failing students gave for their performance in College Algebra. The methods for the study included a pilot administration of the Causal Dimension Scale (CDSII) which was used to conduct reliability and principal component analyses. Then, students (n = 410) self-reported their performance on an in-class test and attributed their performance along the dimensions of locus of causality, stability, personal controllability, and external controllability. They also provided open-ended attribution statements to explain the cause of their performance. The quantitative data compared the passing and failing groups and their attributions for performance on a test using One-Way ANOVA and Pearson chi square procedures. The open-ended attribution statements were coded in relation to ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck and compared using a Pearson chi square procedure. The results of the quantitative data comparing passing and failing groups and their attributions along the dimensions measured by the CDSII indicated statistical significance in locus of causality, stability, and personal controllability. The results comparing the open-ended attribution statements indicated statistical significance in the categories of effort and task difficulty.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Higher education|Mathematics education

Recommended Citation

Cortes-Suarez, Georgina, "Causal attributions for success or failure by passing and failing students in College Algebra" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3165146.