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Teacher Bias and Student Achievement

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

When discussing inequality in the classroom, it’s tempting to focus on external factors like socioeconomic status or educational tools like rubrics; it’s more uncomfortable to tackle a topic like teacher bias. After all, no one wants to think they are biased, particularly not people who devote their time, money, and energy to teaching the next generation. However, even the most dedicated and well-meaning teacher holds stereotypes and beliefs that affect their students. Unfortunately, these beliefs can be as harmful as they are inevitable—at least when unexamined.


Implicit bias, also known as implicit social cognition, is influenced by attitudes and stereotypes that we all hold based on our experiences. Implicit bias influences how we act subconsciously, even if we renounce prejudices or stereotypes in our daily lives. Implicit biases are favorable and unfavorable assessments deep in our subconscious, and we tend to favor our ingroup—the social group to which we psychologically identify as belonging—though some research indicates that we can disfavor our ingroup instead.


As much as societal beliefs influence teachers about gender, racial bias in education is arguably an even more significant problem in the average American classroom. Teachers’ belief in their students’ academic skills and potential is critical for student success because it is linked to students’ beliefs about “how far they will progress in school, their attitudes toward school, and their academic achievement.”


When teachers underestimate their students, it affects not just that one student-teacher relationship but the student’s entire self-concept as well as more tangible measures like their GPA. In fact, the 2002 Education Longitudinal Study found that “Teacher expectations were more predictive of college success than most major factors, including student motivation and student effort.” Examining unconscious bias is imperative to improving educational outcomes, particularly for low-income students, minorities, and women in STEM, but the only way to do that is first to understand what biases exist for most teachers.


The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center’s annual Diplomas Count report found that, while each major racial and ethnic group had more students graduate as of the class of 2008, massive gaps remained between different groups of students. While 82.7 percent of Asian students and 78.4 percent of white students in the class of 2008 graduated on time, that was the case for only 57.6 percent of Hispanic, 57 percent of black and 53.9 percent of American Indian students. Likewise, only 68 percent of male students graduated on time in 2008, compared with 75 percent of female students. Over the long term, only about one-half of male students from minority backgrounds graduate on time (Education Week, 2011).


According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2011 Condition of Education report, about 68 percent of 12th-graders in high-poverty schools graduated with a diploma in 2008, compared with 91 percent of 12th-graders in low-poverty schools (NCES, 2011). A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children whom both live in poverty and read below grade level by 3rd grade are three times as likely to not graduate from high school as students who have never been poor (Hernandez, 2011).


The problem does not lie in the fact that we all have implicit biases. Instead, the struggle lies in how one overcomes and prevents discrimination or discriminatory practices. IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.


Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your student community, visit our website at www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.org or 1800-507-2502.






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