Stereotype Threat in a High Stakes Testing Environment
Jennifer J. Krebs
Given the rapidly changing demographics of today’s classrooms combined with the high-stakes testing environment created by the passage of No Child Left Behind, it is important to understand potential explanations for the persistence of achievement gaps. Explanations for the achievement gap have included high populations of English Language Learners (ELLs), socioeconomic issues, lack of resources at the school, teacher, and student levels, and even inherent differences in the intellectual abilities of stereotyped and non-stereotyped groups. A theory developed by Steele and Aronson, called stereotype threat, provided a radical view into how knowledge of stereotypes affects performance (McKown & Strambler, 2009). Stereotype threat is the experience of anxiety or concern in a situation where a person has the potential to confirm a negative stereotype about their social group. The purpose of this research was to determine how and when children begin to develop knowledge of stereotypes and how stereotype threat affects academic performance. Introduction
The diversity of student demographics increases every day. Therefore, teachers must be increasingly more aware of the cultural differences and challenges that students from diverse backgrounds bring to school. Not only are these students likely to learn differently based on their cultural expectations, but these students are also likely to possess knowledge of commonly held social stereotypes which can negatively impact their performance (McKown & Strambler, 2009). The current emphasis on high-stakes testing makes the achievement of all students extremely important. Experimental research into performance gaps was limited prior to a groundbreaking study that focused on the possibility of stereotype threat. First described by social psychologist Claude Steele and his colleagues, stereotype threat (ST) has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups (McKown & Strambler, 2009). Since its introduction into the academic literature in 1995, stereotype threat has become one of the most widely studied topics in the field of psychology. However, a major assumption of this theory was that children possess knowledge of commonly held social stereotypes. In order to address this assumption, the following qualitative studies were implemented to determine how and when children begin to develop knowledge of stereotypes. This research is combined with quantitative studies to determine how ST affects academic performance. Method
Schaffer and Skinner (2009) examined student interactions within four fourth grade classrooms at a diverse public school in the southeastern United States. Upon observing student interactions and conducting interviews, the researchers discovered several patterns. First, white children were less likely to engage in explicit race talk, while black students frequently engaged in openly racial discussions and often used commonly held stereotypes to identify themselves. Second, most minority students who performed at the high end of the class and participated in challenging academic programs relied heavily on racial stereotypes to bridge the social gap between themselves and their racial peers. These students sought to distance themselves from the white students with whom they took advanced classes. Third, white students were more likely to describe students of other races as “loud” or “troublemaking” (Schaffer & Skinner, 2009). These observations suggest that students were not only aware of commonly held stereotypes, but strategically used them to organize their social world and dictate social functions. Another study, which examined high school students, suggested that these trends continue as students mature rather than diminish.
Lisa M. Nunn (2011) observed six classrooms across...
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