Bias and teacher perceptions

Research has shown that teacher expectations frequently influence student outcomes. American University, The Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany, and Johns Hopkins University recently collaborated on a study to determine if teachers’ perceptions of their students’ future educational attainment could be correlated with their ethnicity or gender. In other words, would teachers predict brighter futures for students who shared their race or gender than for students of other races and genders?

Researchers examined data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which followed 16,810 US tenth graders (age 15-16). The ELS contained predictions from each student’s maths and English teacher about how far they expected them to go in school.

No correlations were found for factors such as their grades in ninth grade, socio-economic status, or mother’s education. However, non-African-American teachers had lower expectations than did African-American teachers for African-American students, with larger effects for male students and maths teachers.

By conducting this study, researchers hoped to encourage teacher training and professional development to include discussions about expectations and bias, to provide evidence that a more diverse teaching force is needed, and to inform other researchers who look at teacher predictions.

Source: Who believes in me? The effect of student–teacher demographic match on teacher expectations (2016), Economics of Education Review.

Raising the BARR

A comprehensive programme to reduce the risks of transition to secondary school has been successful in a scale-up study.

The year-long randomised controlled trial in California of the Building Assets–Reducing Risks (BARR) programme involved 555 ninth graders (Year 10) randomly assigned to BARR or non-BARR conditions. It showed that pupils who participated in the programme demonstrated improved academic achievement compared to peers who did not.

The programme uses eight strategies. These include dividing pupils into cohorts to allow teachers to know them better, regularly scheduled teacher-cohort meetings addressing pupil progress, risk-review meetings, classes for pupils addressing life skills and challenges, and increased family involvement.

At the end of the trial, pupils assigned to BARR achieved higher standardised test scores in reading and maths. Furthermore, the programme was rolled out to all ninth grade pupils for a second and third year. At the end of year three the course failure rate was 18.5%, a 42% decrease from the year before BARR was introduced. The failure rates for the Hispanic subgroup had decreased from 41% in the year-one non-BARR condition to 21%.

Source: Building Assets Reducing Risks – The Building Assets-Reducing Risks Program: Replication and Expansion of an Effective Strategy to Turn Around Low-Achieving Schools (2015), BARR Center.

Teenage onset obesity linked to school dropout

A new article in the Journal of School Health has shown that becoming obese during early adolescence increases the risk of school dropout.

Data on 5,066 children was obtained from the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, a longitudinal project that follows a sample of people in the US born between 1957 and 1964. Each wave of assessment included participants’ obesity status (BMI) and school enrollment status.

The study identified four trajectories of obesity from ages 6 to 18: (1) A non-obese group, (2) a chronically obese group with individuals who were obese in both childhood and adolescence, (3) decreasing trajectory (childhood-only obesity), and (4) increasing trajectory (adolescent-onset obesity). Adolescents belonging to the increasing trajectory group (adolescent-onset obesity) had a higher likelihood of dropping out of high school compared with those belonging to the other three groups.

The authors conclude that adolescent-onset obesity is a unique contributor to school failure. Although the reasons for this are unknown, they suggest that the high significance placed on social status during early adolescence combined with significant physiological changes as a result of puberty may have an especially adverse impact on those becoming obese during this transitional period. They also suggest that becoming obese during adolescence (as opposed to childhood) may be a disadvantage due to having less time to develop adaptive coping strategies.

The study also showed ethnicity playing a significant role, with white teenagers who become obese during adolescence particularly vulnerable to school dropout. The report suggests this may be explained by greater social stigma being placed on white versus African-American or Latino adolescents becoming obese.

Source: Is Obesity Associated With School Dropout? Key Developmental and Ethnic Differences (2015), Journal of School Health, 85(10).

Do teachers show bias when gauging pupil ability?

New research from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands has analysed teachers’ opinions of the academic abilities of their pupils at the end of primary school to see whether these were accurate, inaccurate, or showed bias.

The research was based on a sample of 7,550 pupils in 500 classes in their final year of Dutch primary school (aged approximately 12 years). In the Netherlands, pupils are placed in various “tracks” when they start secondary school based on their scores on a standardised test at the end of primary school and their primary teacher’s track recommendation. This study explored whether teachers’ recommendations were fair reflections of pupils’ previous performance.

The authors found that for more than 70% of the teachers the average observed expectation did not differ significantly from the average expected expectation based on the performance records of the pupils in their classes. However, the differences among teachers in expectations for Turkish, Moroccan, and other ethnic minority pupils with low-educated parents were larger than the average teacher expectation bias for these groups in the sample. Teacher expectation bias for demographic groups was found to be independent of the class population.

The authors found that the teachers in the sample had higher expectations for pupils in high-performing classes or classes with only a small proportion of pupils from underprivileged families.

Similar bias was found among UK teachers in a study we featured in Best Evidence in Brief in June.

Source: Accurate, Inaccurate, or Biased Teacher Expectations: Do Dutch Teachers Differ in their Expectations at the End of Primary Education? (2015), British Journal of Educational Psychology.

First-year effects of the Communities in Schools programme

MDRC has released a report describing the first-year results of a randomised study of the Communities in Schools (CIS) programme. This is a programme designed to prevent at-risk middle and high school pupils in the US from dropping out by providing them with academic, behavioural, and emotional supports through an organised, in-school, case-managed system.

The study took place in 28 schools during the 2012-2013 school year. The sample included 2,230 pupils, of which 1,140 were assigned to the CIS group, and 1,090 were assigned to receive the regular support services provided by their schools. Both groups were predominantly ethnic minority and low income, and similar in terms of attendance rate, academic achievement, and EAL status, the only difference being that the experimental group was 2.8% more likely to receive free- or reduced-price lunches.

Following one year of services, CIS pupils were more likely than the controls to report having positive relationships with adults outside the home or school setting, to report positive peer relations, and to view education as valuable. However, the case-managed group did not demonstrate more gains in attendance, academics, or discipline than the control group.

The authors discuss areas for improving the programme and will examine the second year of data to continue to assess findings.

Source: Case Management for Students at Risk of Dropping Out: Implementation and Interim Impact Findings from the Communities In Schools Evaluation (2015), MDRC.

Ethnic composition and the London Effect

The London Effect describes the significantly higher scores of students in the capital compared with those who study elsewhere in England. A report from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), University of Bristol, examines the effect by looking at the progress and attainment of students in secondary schools, using data from the National Pupil Database.

The CMPO analysis confirms that student progress on standardized measures is significantly higher in London than in the rest of England (9.7 percentage points of a standard deviation higher in London). It also finds that an even greater effect can be found in Birmingham (13.4 percentage points higher), but not in Manchester or Newcastle.

Much of the effect is explained by ethnic composition. Throughout England, White British pupils have the lowest progress measure, while Chinese and Black African students have the highest. London has a higher proportion of high-performing groups and a lower proportion of low-performing groups, principally White British students. There is also a positive effect for recent immigrants, although this is difficult to untangle from ethnic status.

The report concludes with two lessons for policymakers – that multi-ethnic school systems can be very productive and that in areas without recent immigrants a focus on encouraging pupils’ engagement with school, hard work, and aspiration may bear fruit.

Source: Understanding the Success of London’s Schools (2014), CMPO Working Paper 14/333