Keep it real

A new article published by the American Psychological Association used data on more than 3,500 German secondary pupils to explore the link between parental aspirations and their children’s maths achievement. It concludes that realistic aspirations are beneficial, but that unrealistic aspirations can be detrimental.

The authors used data from the Project for the Analysis of Learning and Achievement in Mathematics (PALMA), a longitudinal study investigating adolescents’ development in mathematics during the secondary school years (German grades 5 to 10; 2002 to 2007). Samples were drawn from schools in Bavaria and were representative of the child population and the three major school types within the German public school system. The project included assessments of children, teachers, and parents.

The study found that parental aspiration and children’s mathematical achievement were linked by positive reciprocal relations over time. However, the authors also found that parental over-aspiration can be detrimental to children’s maths achievement when aspiration exceeds expectation. These effects were robust across different types of analyses and after controlling for a variety of demographic and cognitive variables, including children’s gender, age, intelligence, school type, and family socio-economic status. The results were also replicated with an independent sample of US parents and children.

The authors conclude that their findings highlight the danger of simply raising parental aspirations to promote children’s academic achievement and behaviour. They suggest that educational interventions should not focus on changing aspirations of parents and children per se, but on facilitating opportunities and information for parents and children to develop realistic expectations.

Source: Don’t aim too high for your kids: Parental overaspiration undermines students’ learning in mathematics (2015), American Psychological Association.

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