Editor’s note: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently launched “The Acceleration Imperative,” an open-source, evidence-based resource designed to aid instructional leaders’ efforts to address the enormous challenges faced by their students, families, teachers, and staff over the past year. It comprises four chapters split into nineteen individual topics. Over the coming weeks, we will publish each of these as a standalone blog post. This is the second. Read the first here.
Student outcomes are strongly linked to adult mindsets, and teachers and leaders at high-performing schools tend to share a common set of high expectations for success. That’s always been true, but it may be more important than ever given the challenges created by the pandemic. Many students are contending with massive learning losses and emotional trauma, and caring adults may be inclined, even in subtle ways, to lower the bar and shield students from challenging work.
Educators should certainly demonstrate empathy, but it’s essential that adult expectations for student progress remain high—among educators and parents alike. Instructional materials, teaching methods, teacher-student interactions, grading practices, and professional learning experiences should express high expectations for student achievement. School culture should push back against the soft bigotry of low expectations—including biases related to race and class—and help students set and achieve ambitious goals.
- Articulate shared high expectations for student engagement, work, and mastery across the school, district, or network. Use Professional Learning Community time to address current mindsets, assumptions, beliefs, biases, and prejudices that may influence staff's ability to set and hold students to high expectations as the school focuses on recovery.
- Select rigorous high-quality instructional materials.
- Use effective whole-group instruction instead of ability grouping as much as possible, so that lower-performing students are exposed to rigorous, grade-level content.
- Implement a schoolwide approach to grading student work with high standards, including rubrics, grading scales, and common policies for accepting late assignments.
- Implement a schoolwide approach to managing student behavior.
- Survey students on whether they believe that teachers hold high academic expectations for them. Survey instruments to consider include those from Tripod or Panorama Education.
- When hiring for teacher vacancies, look for candidates with a record of high expectations for children, and especially children of color.
Teachers often hold unspoken beliefs about what their students can achieve, and research shows that those mindsets matter. Several studies have found that students recognize when teachers hold high expectations for them and perform better academically when educators do so. Conversely, when teachers hold lower expectations for some students, these are correlated with lower academic achievement. Tragically, some studies have found that teachers tend to have lower expectations for students of color. Helping teachers see their own implicit racial biases and working to counteract them is therefore essential.
One of the best ways to create a culture of high expectations is to adopt and faithfully implement high-quality instructional materials. The best are designed to give all students access to the same challenging content, including through robust scaffolds that support student learning for students who do not possess the prerequisite concepts or skills.
Connecting mindsets and materials to classroom practice is the next step. High-performing charter networks call this “intellectual preparation.” They use teachers’ common planning time to review curricula and evidence of student progress, establish common expectations and grading norms, and ensure lessons leave the heavy lifting to students, through “productive struggle” with rigorous, grade-level content.
Finally, many of the highest-performing, high-poverty schools embrace specific pedagogical practices that convey high expectations, such as those identified by Doug Lemov in his highly influential book, Teach Like A Champion. These include four major techniques.
How it promotes high expectations
No Opt Out
Students are held accountable to always make an effort.
Students practice answering challenging questions and know that their teachers are not giving up on them.
Right is Right
Partially correct answers from students are not “rounded up” to fully correct.
Students receive the message that they are capable of getting an answer completely right.
OK/good verbal and written answers from students are pushed to be more robust.
Students are pushed to expand on “B” answers to make them “A” answers.
The teacher does not ever apologize for the material being challenging.
The students never hear from the teacher that something is too hard for them.
Andrews, D., and Gutwein, M. (2017). “ ‘Maybe that concept is still with us’: Adolescents' racialized and classed perceptions of teachers' expectations.” Multicultural Perspectives, 19(1), 5-15.
- Demonstrates the baseline principle that teachers’ expectations for students have a significant effect on academic achievement.
Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: the indirect role of parental expectations and the home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19(2), 294.
De Boer, H., Timmermans, A., and Van Der Werf, M. (2018). The effects of teacher expectation interventions on teachers’ expectations and student achievement: narrative review and meta-analysis. Educational Research and Evaluation, 24(3-5), 180-200.
- Clarifies the concept of high expectations, specifically that students recognize when teachers have high expectations for them, which relates to stronger performance.
Lemov, Doug. (2014). Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.
Papageorge, N., Gershenson, S., and Kang, K. (2020). Teacher Expectations Matter. Review of Economics and Statistics. 102(2). 234-251
Same, M., Guarino, N., Pardo, M., Benson, D., Fagan, K., and Lindsay, J. (2018). “Evidence-supported interventions associated with Black students’ education outcomes: Findings from a systematic review of research.” U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest: Washington, D.C.
- There is promising evidence for the role that high expectations play in all students’ academic outcomes, and particularly so for African-American students.
Timmermans, A., and Rubie-Davies, C. (2018). Do teachers differ in the level of expectations or in the extent to which they differentiate in expectations? Relations between teacher-level expectations, teacher background and beliefs, and subsequent student performance. Educational Research and Evaluation, 24(3-5), 241-263.
- When teachers hold differentiated expectations for students in their classrooms, this can be related to lower academic achievement. This speaks to the need to norm all teachers on a culture of high expectations before the school year even starts.
TNTP. (2018). The Opportunity Myth. New York, NY.
- Finds a larger effect size for adult expectations than other major factors, with the most pronounced impacts on students of color or from low-income families.
Trinidad, J. E. (2019). Collective expectations protecting and preventing academic achievement. Education & Urban Society, 51(9), 1147–1171.
- All adults in a school holding high expectations for students is correlated with positive academic outcomes.
Uchida, A., Michael, R., and Mori, K. (2018). An Induced Successful Performance Enhances Student Self-Efficacy and Boosts Academic Achievement. AERA Open, 4(4), 1-9.
- If students believe that they can do something, they experience more academic success.
Zhan, M. (2006). Assets, parental expectations and involvement, and children's educational performance. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(8), 961-975.