A recent study in the Social Science Research journal investigated teacher bias and its profound effects on student achievement. Many scholars have tackled this topic in various ways, but this study looks at subject-specific teacher bias, which manifests itself in terms of teacher perceptions and beliefs of student ability in math and English. It asks the question: How do math and English teacher perceptions of their students’ academic abilities vary by student race and ethnicity? Additionally, the study looks at teacher underestimations of student ability and its impact on students’ own expectations and achievement. Is there a significant causal-effect relationship between teachers’ low expectation of students and students’ own expectations and achievement? If so, do they vary by race or ethnicity of student?
The study uses data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS: 2002), a “nationally representative, longitudinal study of 10th graders in 2002 and 12th graders in 2004.” Selecting approximately twenty-six students from each high school, the study used a combined sample size of 12,500 students. To determine how teacher perceptions affected student outcomes, researchers used a propensity score matching method: For each student in the treatment group, there was a student in the control sample whose “propensity score”—a rating that encapsulates each students’ relevant characteristics—was closest. Then compare outcomes between these two groups.
Among the many conclusions, authors found that math teachers have less positive perceptions of the academic abilities of Latino and black students, compared to white students, even after accounting for all other variables such as family’s socioeconomic status, gender, age, standardized math and reading scores, parental involvement, and teacher demographics. Math teacher underestimations led to 0.20-point GPA drop. Similarly, English teachers are more likely to perceive that their classes are too difficult for black, Latino, and Asian students, than for white students. In fact, Latino, black, and Asian students have 66, 87, and 53 percent higher odds, respectively, of having English teachers report that the class is too difficult for them. As for the impact of teacher race (Asian, black, or Latino, using white as reference), the only statistically significant measure suggests that Asian-American math teachers, compared to white math teachers, are more likely to report that a class is too difficult for a student.
Being underestimated by English teachers in these analyses lowers student expected years of schooling by almost a third of a year less of schooling. Worse, underestimations of both math and English teachers lowered the tenth-grade GPAs for all students, with the effect being smaller for black students than white, Latino, or Asian students. In other words, teacher bias is detrimental to all students.
The study suggests that effective policies and teacher training programs ought to be put in place to quell conscious or unconscious teacher bias.
SOURCE: Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, “If they think I can: Teacher bias and youth of color expectations and achievement,” Social Science Research (April 2017).