Gender stereotypes about intelligence begin early

Girls as young as six years old associate high-level academic ability with men more than women, according to a report published in the journal Science. The study also found that although girls aged five to seven were more likely than boys to associate their own gender with good grades, they did not link these achievements to innate abilities of “brilliance”.

Lin Bian and colleagues carried out a number of tests with children, half of whom were girls, to test the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s ideas of intellectual ability. In the first test, boys and girls aged five, six, and seven were read a story about a highly intelligent person and then asked to guess the person’s gender. Next, they were shown pictures of pairs of adults, some same-sex, some opposite sex, and asked to pick which they thought were highly intelligent. Finally, the children were asked to match objects and traits, such as “being smart”, to pictures of men and women.

The results revealed that at age five, girls are just as likely as boys to associate intelligence with their own gender. However, by ages six and seven, girls were less likely than boys to make this association, with girls identifying their own gender as “really, really smart” 48% of the time compared to 65% of the time for boys.

Source: Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests (January 2017), Science Vol. 335 (6323) pp.389-391

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.

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.

Teachers stereotype pupils from poor homes

A study published in the Journal of Social Policy has found that teachers stereotype pupils according to their level of poverty, gender, and ethnicity.

The study used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which followed almost 12,000 children born in the year 2000 in England. At age 7, for almost 5,000 children, teacher judgements on whether a child was “well above average/above average/average/below average/well below average” at maths and reading were collected. The children also completed tests in Word Reading and Progress in Mathematics. Results from the two assessments were then compared.

Children from low-income families, boys, pupils with any recognised diagnosis of special educational needs (SEN), and children who speak other languages in addition to English were less likely to be judged ‘above average’ at reading by their teacher – despite performing equivalently to their counterparts on the reading test. In maths there were fewer differences, although boys were more likely than girls to be judged relatively highly at maths. Black Caribbean pupils were significantly less likely than their equivalently performing White counterparts to be judged ‘above average’ – along with children from low-income families, and those with any recognised SEN.

The report suggests that efforts should be made to develop relevant interventions and strategies within teacher training and professional development; and avoid the reinforcement of stereotypes during policy intervention and associated publicity.

Source: Stereotyped at Seven? Biases in Teacher Judgement of Pupils’ Ability and Attainment (2015), Journal of Social Policy, 44(3).