This paper is designed to study the effect of motivation, family
environment, and student characteristics on academic achievement. The
study was conducted on 388 high school students (193 males and 195
females) from Abu Dhabi District, United Arab Emirates (UAE). A
Likert-type instrument that consisted of three parts (scales) was used
to measure students' level of motivation, parental influences, and
students' characteristics, while academic achievement was measured
using student's GPA. Calculations were also breakdown by gender to
assess differences between male and female students. Students' mean
level of motivation was less than the means of parental influence and
student's characteristics. No gender differences were observed on
the variables measured by the instrument. Correlations between each of
motivation, family environment, student characteristics and academic
achievement were small and practically not significant. Remarkably high
correlation value was observed between motivation and students
characteristic. The highest correlation value was observed between
family environment and students' characteristics. Results were
discussed on the light of other studies' findings and results.
Intelligence is not the only determinant of academic achievement.
High motivation and engagement in learning have consistently been linked
to reduced dropout rates and increased levels of student success
(Kushman, Sieber, & Harold, 2000). Development of academic intrinsic
motivation in students is an important goal for educators because of its
inherent important for future motivation as well as for student's
effective school functioning (Gottfried, 1990). The few studies that
have examined motivation in young children have found that it is a week
predictor of achievement (Stipek & Ryan, 1997). The family is the
primary social system for children. Rollins and Thomas (1979) found that
high parental control were associated with high achievement. Cassidy and
Lynn (1991) included a specific factor of the family's
socioeconomic status, crowding, as an indicator of how being
disadvantaged affects educational attainment. They found that a less
physically crowded environment, along with motivation and parental
support, were associated with higher educational levels of children.
Religiosity as an aspect of the family environment is another
independent variable possibly influencing academic achievement (Bahr,
Hawks, & Wang, 1993). Cassidy and Lynn (1991) explored how family
environment impacts motivation and achievement. This means that
motivation served as a mediating variable between home background,
personal characteristics, and educational attainment.
Higher-achieving students are likely to have the following
characteristics: positive feelings about their school experiences;
attribute their success in high school to such things as hard work,
self-discipline, organization, ability, and high motivation; tend to
watch relatively little television during the school week; tend to
associate with students who also were successful in school; and avid
readers (WEAC, 2005).
This paper is designed to study the effect of motivation, family
environment, and student characteristics on academic achievement.
Research in this area should increase the awareness to concentrate on
student's motivation in an effort to increase effective school
functioning in the later years and eventually improve our educational
Review of the Literature
Early motivational theorists in psychology attempted to explain
motivation in many different settings and for many kinds of behaviors
(Weiner, 1990). Motivation is referred to as multidimensional: it
measures impulsive and deliberate action, is concerned with the internal
and external factors, and observes causes for behavior. Harter (1983)
proposed a model of mastery or effectance motivation, describing the
effects of both success and failure experiences on mastery motivation.
The goals of effectance motivation are acquiring competence and
influencing one's environment (Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele,
1998). Mastery motivation is defined as a general tendency to interact
with and to express influence over the environment.
According to Goldberg (1994), children with intrinsic motivation in
academic would have higher self-perceptions of competence in academics
and that children who are extrinsically motivated would have lower
perceived academic competence. Harter's effectance motivation
theory is important because it includes the effects of both success and
failure on subsequent motivation (Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele,
Student's motivation for learning is generally regarded as on
of the most critical determinants, if not the premier determinant, of
the success and quality of any learning outcome (Mitchell, 1992).
Examining the construct of intrinsic motivation in elementary school
students is significant and important, because academic intrinsic
motivation in the elementary years may have profound implications for
initial and future school success. Students who are more intrinsically
than extrinsically motivated fare better and students who are not
motivated to engage in learning are unlikely to succeed (Gottfried,
Intrinsic motivational patterns have been associated with
high-perceived ability and control, realistic task analysis and
planning, and the belief that effort increases one's ability and
control (Fincham & Cain, 1986). An extrinsic orientation toward
learning is characterized by a concern with external reasons for
working, such as the judgment of others regarding one's
performance, grades, or some anticipated reward. Intrinsic motivation is
attenuated by the use of extrinsic rewards and tends to change or
decrease as the age of the child increases (Goldberg, 1994).
Academic achievement is accomplished by the actual execution of
class work in the school setting. It is typically assessed by the use of
teacher ratings, tests, and exams (Howse, 1999). Research shows that
student' perceptions of academic competency decline as they advance
in school (Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998). Schunk and Pajares
(2002) attribute this decline to various factors, including greater
competition, less teacher attention to individual student progress, and
stresses associated with school transitions. Students were motivated by
teachers who cared about student learning and showed enthusiasm. These
teachers introduced topics in an interesting and challenging way, used
varied teaching strategies, and promoted student involvement by allowing
participation in the selection of learning activities (Cothran &
Gottfried found positive correlations between motivation and
achievement. Specifically, young students with higher academic intrinsic
motivation had significantly higher achievement and intellectual
performance. She also found that early intrinsic motivation correlates
with later motivation and achievement and that later motivation is
predictable from early achievement (Gottfried, 1990). It was also found
that perceived academic competence was positively related to intrinsic
motivation. It seems that students who feel competent and
self-determined in the school context develop an autonomous motivational
profile toward education, which in turn leads them to obtain higher
school grades. Perceived academic competence and perceived academic
self-determination positively influenced autonomous academic motivation,
which in turn had a positive impact on school performance (Fortier,
Vallerand, & Guay, 1995).
Some studies have found little or no significant relationship
between motivation and academic achievement. A study by Niebuhr (1995)
examined relationships between several variables and student academic
achievement. The study included an investigation of the relationship of
individual motivation and its effect on academic achievement. Findings
indicate that student motivation showed no significant effect on the
relationship with academic achievement. Niebuhr's (1995) findings
suggest that the elements of both school climate and family environment
have a stronger direct on academic achievement. Another study by
Boggiano, Main, and Katz (1991), regarding differences in gender in
motivation, found that females were significantly more extrinsic than
males. Male students' performance accords their interest level more
than is the case for female students. Specifically, female
students' academic performance is less associated with their
interests than male students' academic performance (Schiefele,
Krapp, & Winteler, 1992).
The literature reviewed showed that most elementary students begin
their academic career with a desire to learn and with an intrinsic
approach to achievement (Entwisle & others, 1986). It has been
revealed that an intrinsic orientation toward education switches to a
more extrinsic orientation as students increase in age (Goldberg, 1994).
Often educators complain that students are unmotivated to learn; parents
echo this cry and each blame the other for the students' apathetic
response to learning. If schools and parents focused on the different
parts of academic motivation and developed meaningful programs, across
the home and classroom, possible gains could result (Niebuhr, 1995).
According to Hammer (2003) the home environment is as important as
what goes on in the school. Important factors include parental
involvement in their children's education, how much parents read to
young children, how much TV children are allowed to watch and how often
students change schools. Achievement gab is not only about what goes on
once students get into the classroom. It's also about what happens
to them before and after school. Parents and teachers have a crucial
role to play to make sure that every child becomes a high achiever.
Parental influence has been identified as an important factor affecting
student achievement. Results indicate that parent education and
encouragement are strongly related to improved student achievement
(Wang, Wildman, & Calhoun, 1996).
Phillips (1998) also found that parental education and social
economic status have an impact on student achievement. Students with
parents who were both college-educated tended to achieve at the highest
levels. Income and family size were modestly related to achievement
(Ferguson, 1991). Peng and Wright's (1994) analysis of academic
achievement, home environment (including family income) and educational
activities, concluded that home environment and educational activities
explained the greatest amount of variance. In conclusion denying the
role of the impact of a student's home circumstances will not help
to endow teachers and schools with the capacity to reduce achievement
gaps (Hammer, 2003).
Allen and Kickbusch (1992), cited in WEAC, 2005, found that the
higher-achieving students plan to continue their education after
graduation from high school, participate extensively in extracurricular
activities, have a few absences each school year, more likely to engage
in recreational reading and to check books out of the school or public
library on a regular basis, watch less television, spend more time each
evening doing their home work, have friend who have positive attitudes
toward school and who rarely cut classes or skip school, have positive
feelings about their teachers and about specific courses they take and
attribute success in school to hard work rather than ability. This study
attempted to reveal the relationship between motivation, family
environment, student characteristics and academic achievement.
Instrument and Variables
An instrument consists of three parts (scales) was used to measure
the variables of this study (see Appendix). The first part, which
consists of 10 items (items 1 to 10), was used to measure students'
level of motivation (Broussard, 2002). Examples from this part are:
"I like hard work because it is a challenge", Item 2, and
"I like to go on to new work that's at a more difficult
level", Item 8. The second part, which has 10 items too (items 11
to 20), was used to measure parental influences (Wang, Wildman, &
Calhoun, 1996). Two examples from this part are: "Parents insist on
homework and help me with it" Item 11, and "Parents question
my performance in school" Item 18. The third part was used to
determine students' characteristics (Cathryn & Linda, 2004).
Fifteen items (items 21 to 35) were used in this part. Two examples from
this part are: "I can finish assignments by deadlines", Item
21, and "I arrange a place to study without distractions" Item
33. Each item was measured using a Likert scale that ranged from
"strongly disagree" (1 point) to "strongly agree" (5
points). In addition, the questionnaire requested demographic
information such as age, gender, GPA, mother's and father's
highest education. Academic achievement was measured using
The study was conducted at Abu Dhabi District, United Arab Emirates
(UAE). There are 23 high schools in Abu Dhabi District (11 for males and
12 for females). Eight schools were selected randomly (four males and
four females) to participate in this study. A total of 388 students (193
males and 195 females) with average age of 16.5 years responded to the
items of the instrument. Respondents were guaranteed confidentiality,
and the instrument was filled in anonymously with no identification
Reliability of each part of the instrument was assessed through
calculating both the internal and the split-half reliability. An
independent t-test was used to compare results between male and female
on each variable. Relationship between motivation, family environment,
student characteristics, and academic achievement were assessed by
calculating simple correlations among these variables.
Results and Discussion
The internal reliability of each of the three scales in the
instrument was estimated. Table 1 shows number of items, Cronbach's
alpha, and split-half reliability for each scale. Considering that
reliability is a function of number of items in an instrument and that
number of items is relatively small, the three scales were considered
The information provided about the highest education of
students' parents indicates that the majority of fathers (64.2%)
and the majority of mothers (40.0%) have at least university degrees. As
expected, fathers have higher education than mothers. The least
percentage in both genders was in the College category. Table 2
summarizes parents' education in four categories. Research shows
that parents can play an important role in strengthening their
children's education. Wang, Wildman, & Calhoun (1996) indicate
that parent education and encouragement are strongly related to improved
student achievement. A study by Grissmer (1994), cited in WEAC, 2005,
also found that parents' level of education was important factor
affecting student achievement.
Student's level of motivation was assessed by averaging the
responses of students on the items that make the scale after recoding
negative items. The same was done to estimate parental influence and
students' characteristics. Calculations were also breakdown by
gender to assess differences between male and female students. Means and
standard deviations of the students' responses on the three scales
are shown in Table 3. All mean values for the three scales were above
the theoretical average of each scale. Students' mean level of
motivation (3.85) was less than the means of the other two scales:
parental influence (4.23) and student's characteristics (4.16).
Academic achievement was assessed using students GPA. The overall
average of students GPA was 81.66% and the standard deviation (SD) was
11.00. The average GPA for male students was 82.37% (SD = 10.86), while
that of males was 80.95% (SD = 11.09).
Using independent t-test, the difference between males and females
on achievement was not statistically significant ([t.sub.(380)] = 1.36,
p = .21).
Results for male students on the three scales were similar to those
of female students. To statistically check whether the differences
between males and females are significant, an independent-test was used
on each scale using (.01) level of significance. Differences on
motivation and parental influence were found to be statistically not
significant, while the difference between males and females on
student's characteristics was significant (t= 2.91, p< .001).
However, practically, this small difference could not be counted. Based
on that, one can conclude that there are no gender differences on the
three variables measured by the instrument. This result is not
surprising given that students in both genders have come from the same
culture and similar backgrounds. This could explain why students have
the same perspective in viewing the questionnaire items regardless of
their gender. Although potential gender differences in motivational
orientation have been observed in several studies (e.g., Boggiano, Main,
& Katz, 1991), in this study males and females are similar in all
variables and especially achievement. This similarity made differences
between males and females on the other variables very minor.
The relationship between motivation, family environment, student
characteristics, and academic achievement were assessed by calculating
simple correlations among these variables. Results are summarized in
Student's motivation for learning is generally regarded as one
of the most critical determinants of the success and quality of any
learning outcome (Mitchell, 1992). In this study, the correlation
between achievement and motivation was very small (.07). This result is
consists with a study by Stipek and Ryan (1997) in which a weak
relationship was observed between motivation and achievement. The
researchers found that student's cognitive skills were far better
predictors of end-of-the year achievement than motivation. In another
study, Niehbur (1995) found that student motivation showed no
significant effect on the relationship with academic achievement. He
suggested that the elements of both school climate and family
environment have a stronger direct impact on academic achievement.
Although the correlations between achievement and family
environment (.15) and between achievement and student's
characteristics (.16) were statically significant, these values were
still practically small. Motivation and family environment were not
highly correlated (.19). Cassidy and Lynn (1991) included a specific
factor of the family's socioeconomic status, crowding, as an
indicator of how being disadvantaged. They found that a less physically
crowded environment, along with motivation and parental support, were
associated with higher educational levels of children. Remarkably high
correlation value (.34) was observed between motivation and students
characteristic. Allen and Kickbush (1992) found that higher achieving
students have high motivation characteristics. The highest correlation
value (.59) was observed between family environment and students'
characteristics. This result is on the line of a study of more than
twelve hundred public school students in Wisconsin showed that students
who are most successful academically tend to have parents who are
demanding and who are actively involved in the education of their
children (WEAC, 2005).
1. I like hard work because it is a challenge
2. I work on problems to learn how to solve them
3. I like difficult problems because I enjoy trying to figure them
4. When I make a mistake I would rather figure out the right answer
5. I know whether or not I am doing well in school without grades
6. I would rather just learn what I have to in school
7. I like to learn things on my own that interest me
8. I like to go on to new work that's at a more difficult
9. I ask questions in class because I want to learn new things
10. I think I should have a say in what work I do in school Family
11. Parents insist on homework and help me with it
12. Parents proud of good grade
13. Parents find time to talk
14. Parents expect college degree
15. Parents reward good grades
16. Parents too busy to spend time with me
17. Parents understand my feelings
18. Parents question my performance in school
19. Parents enjoy doing things with me
20. Parents confident in my ability Student characteristics
21. I can finish assignments by deadlines
22. I can prepare for courses when there are other interesting
things to do
23. I can concentrate on school subjects
24. I use appropriate resources to get information for class
25. I can plan and organize my class work
26. I motivate my self to do my assignments
27. I can prioritize my time to complete my work for my classes
28. I reread the textbook when preparing for a test
29. I plan what I am doing to do before beginning a class project
30. I can summarize course content in my own words
31. I reread my summaries of course material when preparing for a
32. I reread the notes I took in class when preparing for a test
33. I arrange a place to study without distractions
34. I fail to isolate myself from anything that distracts me
35. I study for my courses in a quiet room or area
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Ibtesam Halawah, Ph.D., Ajman University of Science &
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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr.
Ibtesam Halawah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Internal Reliability of the Three Scales Used in the Instrument
Number of reliability Split-half
Scale items (alpha) reliability
Motivation 10 .52 .47
Parental Influences 10 .81 .76
Students' Characteristics 15 .78 .70
Highest education Fathers Mothers
Bachelor degree or higher 64.2% 40.6%
College 2.3% 7.1%
High school 12.6% 23.5%
Less than high school 19.1% 28.8%
Means and Standard Deviations of Motivations, Parental Influence,
and Students' Characteristics
Scale Total Males Females
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Motivation 3.85 .42 3.90 .38 3.80 .44
Parental Influences 4.23 .58 4.24 .62 4.22 .54
Student's Characteristics 4.16 .47 4.11 .52 4.26 .40
Pearson Product Moment Correlations among Achievement,
Motivation, Family Environment, and Student Characteristics
Motivation .07 1:00
Family environment .15 * .19 *
Students' .16 * .34 **
Family environment 1:00
Students' .59 ** 1:00
*: significant at .05, **: significant at .01