Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Widening of the Achievement Gap Due to Stereotypes

It has always been the case that no matter the situation, stereotypes have been ever precedent in our culture. From race to gender, it has always been a struggle to defeat those prejudices even in an age where there is such an emphasis to stop these types of patterns. With already so many pressures that one has to face, there is no doubt that the bar has been raised for achievement. With such high demands to even get into college, these small factors that make one feel inferior make all the difference.

If testing wasn't already strenuous enough, a small reminder of these stereotypes can effect ones scores widening the achievement gap. In a study conducted by psychologists Claude Steele PhD, Joshua Aronson PhD, and Steven Spencer PhD, they examined how the idea of inferiority can affect ones academic performance. With this in mind, they took two groups of black and white strong, motivated college students and put them through the same half-hour testing period using difficult terms from the Graduate Record Exam with two different conditions. In the first group, the stereotype-threat condition, they were told that this exam would diagnose intellectual ability which may elicit that the stereotype that blacks are less intelligent than whites. In the second group, the no-stereotype threat condition, they told the students that the test was a "problem-solving  lab test" that does not record anything about intellectual ability. After the studies were conducted, they resulted in the fact that when in a stereotype threat condition those students who were Black did less well than their white counterparts and in the the non-threat condition both races did equally well. This same idea was enacted by giving a math test to determine how gender stereotypes affect performance by having a group of women with top performance in math and men. They told half of the women in the class that the test shows no gender differences which then resulted in them performing equal to their male counterparts, while the second half of the women in the class were told that the test proved to show gender differences which of course then resulted the women doing poorly on the test, worse then the men.

Although this research almost seems mundane  it is highly important in the fact that with this research they can alter teaching methods to lessen the achievement gap and give importance to the fact that these negative stereotypes indeed do effect how one can perceive themselves. Nonetheless, when reading this I couldn't help to think that within all of the testing I have encountered in my life how easy it is to manipulated into thinking that your either a genius or dumbest in the class. I will never forget how my junior year math teacher took it upon herself to single me out in not the exactly fondest way. Even though I was an adequate student who always handed in my assignments and raised my hand, I was never a good tester, and she of course had a strong disliking towards me and stereotyped me as being stupid. Even one day after class when I asked if she could explain one of the problems to me that was going to be on the upcoming exam she told me that I was "stupid" to my face which I immediately disregarded, but it did not help to have that always burrowing in the back of my mind that I was merely inferior to the rest of the class just because I needed a bit of extra help. With this said, considering this study was conducted in 2006, I hope that within these years these results will help frame how to elevate equal opportunity for academic achievement rather than have students being burdened by these inferiority complex's.

The official article, "Stereotype Threat Widens Achievement Gap"


  1. I agree with the fact that if there is burden on a student especially something as uncomfortable as stereotypes, they are gonna think too much into what they do. It's the same as having a boss that screams orders at you, you get flustered and self conscious that you don't register information as fast as if you were in an comfortable environment. Working or taking tests with professionals who make you feel comfortable and open to making mistakes does open the student to take more risks and to feel better about trying. Some teachers should take this study into consideration when testing their students.

  2. Actually I think this test prove that stereotypes can only affect the test group when they think that way too. I wonder if it is the stereotypes make people perform less well, or the uncomfortable reaction toward other people's action when they know other people look down on them. I don't know how to explain this, but you see, during this test, stereotypes widen the achievement gap because people themselves think that way too. It is not other people's thinking, but their own expression. Maybe lack of confident on the subject, since we gain confident from surrounding environment based on other people 's reaction. Both the inner standard and our assumption toward outside thinking affect how we value something. Yes, all teacher should be really careful about their behavior when they teach their students , and the student should be more confident.

  3. I agree that being at the negative end of a stereotype would definitely effect performance level for the worse, but I’m curious about the performance of the students on the opposite end of the stereotype, as well. Did the white students perform better in the stereotype-threat condition or in the no-stereotype-threat condition? Personally I would think that being told that you’re smarter or better might make you more confident, and possibly even cocky, and could lead to slacking off. Either that or it could serve as a means of motivation, pushing the students to “defend” their title as the smarter race. It would interesting to expand the research to see which outcome is more likely. Just like how the black students were negatively affected by the stereotype, were the white students positively affected by it?