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Teachers’ and students’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness as predictors of students’ achievement


Self-determination theory and research suggest that students are more motivated and have higher achievement when teachers support their psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. However, teachers might have difficulty supporting their students’ psychological needs if their own psychological needs are not met, which might affect students’ need satisfaction and ultimately their achievement. We explored this possibility by testing hierarchical models of the relationships of teachers’ and students’ psychological need satisfaction, and students’ reading achievement in third and fifth grades using multilevel analysis for complex survey data. Participants consisted of 10,395 third-grade students and their teachers, in the Educational Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten (ECLS-K) database. Results showed that teachers who report having low autonomy at work (i.e., those who report that they lack the autonomy to influence school policy and/or to choose how and what they teach, and/or those who perceive that administrative duties and paperwork interfere with their teaching) are less likely to support their students’ need for autonomy compared to teachers who report having higher autonomy at work. Also teachers’ support of their students’ autonomy and their students’ perceptions of academic competence were positively related to students’ reading achievement in both 3rd and 5th grades. In contrast, students’ relatedness to peers was negatively related to their reading achievement in both 3rd and 5th grades. This study provides evidence indicating the potential importance of supporting teachers’ autonomy to enable them to enhance the autonomy of their students and ultimately their students’ reading achievement.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Bandura (1997) defined perceived self-efficacy as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (p. 3). Although some researchers distinguish between perceived efficacy and perceived competence, given the overlap in their definitions and similarities in how they are measured, we use the terms synonymously here.

  2. 2.

    These data are available by request. Results indicated good fit.


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Marshik, T., Ashton, P.T. & Algina, J. Teachers’ and students’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness as predictors of students’ achievement. Soc Psychol Educ 20, 39–67 (2017).

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  • Self-determination theory
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Competence
  • Achievement