Confronting the Problem of Teachers’ Low Expectations for Black Students

A new report led by Faiza Jamil, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Clemson University in South Carolina, finds that teacher expectations of student performance can affect students’ academic performance. And the study found that the effects of teacher expectations can grown stronger over time.

The research tracked teacher expectations of 20,000 students and their academic progress in mathematics from kindergarten to eighth grade. The results showed that mathematics teachers had lower expectations for children from underrepresented groups and for White girls. And the students who were not expected to do well by their teachers did not fare as well academically as those students whose teachers believed they would perform better.

According to Dr. Jamil, the researchers were able to show that teacher expectations in one school year predicted student achievement one to three years in the future. By looking at teacher expectations and student math achievement at each time point, they also found that the influence of teacher expectations on future achievement grew significantly stronger as children progressed through school.

Dr. Jamil said she believes the vast majority of teachers aren’t aware of inaccuracies in their expectations, but she believes sowing a little doubt among all teachers regarding how they’re viewing their students can be beneficial. “This study suggests that perhaps erring on the side of overestimation, expecting ‘big things’ and then supporting students to achieve academically is the way to go,” Dr. Jamil said. “If educators can help all students see themselves as capable then students will be more willing to persist and not give up.”

The study, “Exploring Longitudinal Changes in Teacher Expectancy Effects on Children’s Mathematics Achievement,” was published in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. It may be accessed here.

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  1. This is a great study. Both as a student and as a professional I have seen how low expectations impact academic output (Malcolm X anyone). If we can change the thinking of the instructors we can change the outcomes for the students.

  2. This study did not reveal anything new because it’s been a long know fact within the educational landscape. Until so-called White educators rid themselves of their own racist proclivities this unfortunate trend will continue.

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