Stereotypes and Learning

by NYC Firm Schools on November 23, 2009

The National Association of Independent Schools has many online resources available for educators, students and families involved in independent schools.

A recent article written for the Online NAIS site focused on stereotypes and how they affect the lifelong learning habits of kids.

The phenomenon is known in the research as “stereotype threat” — and it poses a very real threat to many independent school students. In 2008, researchers Kelly Danaher and Christian S. Crandall demonstrated that stereotype threat casts a long shadow on the Calculus AP exam. In fact, if the students taking the test were asked to fill out the demographic information identifying themselves as male or female at the end of the exam, rather than the typical placement just before the exam beings), an additional 4,700 girls would receive AP calculus credit each year! The simple act of identifying oneself as a female in advance of taking the mathematics test was enough to trigger sufficient anxiety to suppress the scores of the female test-takers

There are a number of ways to alleviate pre-test anxieties, some more complex and others just an easy switch proctor gender.

Putting students into different groups often calls for more than one test proctor. Find a colleague or another adult, preferably a female, to proctor the female students.

Most standardized tests require students to complete several demographics questions. While educators may not have the authority to change such requirements, they may be able to ask students to fill in their demographic information after they have completed the test.

A phenomenon on a national level was experienced and studied after President Obama was inaugurated into the White House.

Interestingly, two days after President Obama was inaugurated, The New York Times printed an article referring to what researchers were calling “the Obama effect.” Simply put, the deficit that had repeatedly been found in African-American students’ standardized test scores (as a result of stereotype threat) was poignantly absent in the days immediately following the inauguration (Dillon, 2009). Similarly, for girls and mathematics, researchers have found that exposing girls to talented female mathematicians reduces the negative effects of stereotype threat. Ideally, schools should aim to have female mathematics teachers who can serve as role models for female students. All schools should work to maintain a balanced ratio of male and female mathematics teachers so that female students will have female teachers at some point in their mathematics careers

What we expect from our children and what we expect from our students may be worlds away from what they may expect from themselves without our interference.

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