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.

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