Teachers Rate Black Students’ Academic Abilities Lower Than Whites With Same Test Scores

A child’s approach to learning — whether they pay attention, stay organized, follow rules, work independently, etc. — can shape how teachers’ perceive their academic ability. A new study by scholars from Yale University and the University of Notre Dame suggests that these characteristics, called non-cognitive skills, influence teachers’ evaluation of students’ academic aptitude differently depending on a child’s race, ethnicity, and gender.

The study reveals a variety of racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the association between first-grade students’ non-cognitive skills and their assessed ability in math and reading. For example, the study found that teachers rated Black students lower in math skills compared to White students with identical non-cognitive abilities and test scores.

The researchers also found that teachers were more likely to rate Black children as below average in math when their non-cognitive skills were below average as compared to their White peers at the same level. This reveals that teachers penalized Black students relative to White students exhibiting similar approaches to learning.

“It is especially distressing that these disparities, which have important implications on children’s academic performance, are emerging as early as the start of kindergarten,” says co-author Grace Kao, the IBM Professor of Sociology and chair of the sociology department at Yale University.

The full study, “Unequal Returns to Children’s Efforts: Racial/Ethnic and Gender Disparities in Teachers’ Evaluations of Children’s Noncognitive Skills and Academic Ability,” was published on the website of the Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race. It may be accessed here.

Related Articles


  1. It may be that Black teachers have already harbored preconceived notions about the ability of black students. Could in fact these preconceived ideas may stem from a multitude of variables? One of those variables may be for, example, is knowing that Black teachers are more likely to teach or start their teaching careers at urban schools. May it be that such as previous teaching encounters with young Black students, whom Black teachers thought were unruly, alter these educators perception of Black students? Just a thought.

    • Just wondering what article you were reading since you assumed the it was alluding to Black teachers harboring prejudices. I suppose you have a different assumption as to why white teachers also have the same prejudices? Maybe Racism?

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Two Black Scholars Appointed to Faculty Positions

The new faculty are Esther Jones at Brown University and Dagmawi Woubshet at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision is Established at Bowie State University

"The new program will help to increase the number of counselor educators within the counseling field and the number of competent Black counselor educators," says Dr. Otis Williams, chair of the Bowie State University department of counseling and psychological studies.

Elizabeth City State University Partners With the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to Increase Representation of Black Graduate...

"We are excited by this partnership with UT Health Science Center and the opportunities this brings to our students who wish to pursue advanced degrees," said Kuldeep Rawat, dean of the Elizabeth City State University School of Science, Health and Technology.

Kimberly White-Smith Honored for Outstanding Contributions to Teacher Education

“Through her leadership and scholarship, Dr. White-Smith inspires a new generation of teachers to serve students and approach their work with equity, compassion, and respect,” said Gail F. Baker, provost and senior vice president at the University of San Diego. 

Featured Jobs