School & District Management

Lab Identifies Ways to Reduce ‘Stereotype Threat’ in the Classroom

By Debra Viadero — July 29, 2009 1 min read

The folks at the federal regional education laboratory that serves the southeastern United States have done us all a favor: They reviewed studies on “stereotype threat” and distilled a few nuggets of practical wisdom for the classroom.

You probably already know that “stereotype threat” refers to the idea that people’s performance suffers when they feel they are at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about the racial, ethnic, or gender group to which they belong. Typically, these studies involve African-American college students taking tests purported to measure their intellectual abilities. But studies show that even white men can feel the sting of “stereotype threat.” They perform less well on math tests when they’re tested in a room full of Asian-American men.

For their study, researchers at the southeast lab (the one based at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) looked at 289 studies or reports on the phenomena, identifying three that qualified as strict experiments. They said the combined results from those studies point to three practices that teachers can undertake to counter the effects of “stereotype threat” and make a positive impact on black students’ achievement. According to the review, teachers can:


  • Reinforce the idea that intelligence is malleable and that it grows stronger when it’s worked harder, just as a muscle does,
  • Teach students that their difficulties with school may be part of a normal learning curve or adjustment process; and
  • Lead students to reflect on values that may be important to them outside of school.

The report, “Reducing Stereotype Threat in Classrooms: A Review of Social-Psychological Intervention Studies on Improving the Achievement of Black Students,” was released yesterday and it can be found on the Web site for the Institute of Education Sciences.

To read more about the research on “stereotype threat,” you might also want to check out a Web site called ReducingStereotypeThreat.org, which is maintained by two social psychologists in New York City.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.