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Reciprocal associations between students’ mathematics anxiety and achievement: Can teacher sensitivity make a difference?
K. Aldrup, U. Klusmann, O. Lüdtke

Reciprocal associations between students’ mathematics anxiety and achievement: Can teacher sensitivity make a difference?

Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(4), 735-750. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000398

Mathematics anxiety is a problem for many secondary school students and the accompanying worries and unpleasant affective reactions threaten their well-being. An extensive body of studies has found a negative correlation between anxiety and concurrent mathematics achievement. However, prior research on their longitudinal interplay has yielded inconsistent results. Furthermore, the question of how teachers’ instructional behavior could reduce anxiety and its negative associations remains open. In this regard, especially teacher sensitivity, that is, teachers’ awareness of students’ academic difficulties and emotional needs, could be a resource. Therefore, the present study drew on longitudinal data from N = 1,559 secondary school students who completed standardized mathematics achievement tests, reported on their mathematics anxiety in terms of worry and emotionality, and on their mathematics teachers’ sensitivity in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. In order to obtain a comprehensive picture, parents also rated their children’s anxiety, and report card grades were included as an additional indicator of achievement. The results of latent cross-lagged panel analyses showed reciprocal links between students’ mathematics anxiety, in particular their worry, and achievement. Notably, the results were consistent regardless of whether students or parents reported on anxiety. Regarding the question of how to intervene in this process, we found some evidence that teacher sensitivity was associated with decreases in students’ mathematics anxiety. This study emphasizes that mathematics anxiety is an important factor for secondary school students’ educational pathways and that teacher sensitivity has the possibility to intervene in this process.