School & District Management

Mind the Gap

By Denise Kersten Wills — December 22, 2006 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Minority students’ achievement levels closed in on their peers’ during the 1970s and ’80s, but that progress stalled in the 1990s.

Why and what can be done remain elusive questions, though researchers recently turned up a tantalizing clue. In a study published in September in the journal Science, African American 7th graders who completed a 15-minute assignment early in the year earned markedly higher fall grades.

The idea, says Geoffrey Cohen, a University of Colorado at Boulder psychology professor and one of the lead authors, was to short-circuit “stereotype threat”—a type of performance-sapping stress experienced in situations where people fear that poor performance will confirm a stereotype.

An abstract of the report, “The Power of Social Psychological Interventions,” as well as supporting online materials, is available from the journal Science.

The researchers presented students with a list of values. The students were told to circle their highest values and write about why they are important. A control group identified their least-important values and wrote about why someone else might hold them.

See Also

Read the related story,

Tough Love

The objective—to reduce stereotype threat by affirming students’ sense of identity—appears to have worked: The African American students who wrote about their own values earned higher fall-term grades than classmates of the same race who didn’t. Moreover, they closed the achievement gap with white students—whose grades were unaffected by the exercise—by about 40 percent.

The researchers were so surprised that the effect lasted an entire term that they waited to publish until they could replicate their results the following year.

Cohen says more research is needed. “We only did the study in one grade at one school,” he notes, “so we don’t yet know how these interventions will play out in other schools.” And, he adds, no one expects the exercise to be a silver bullet.

Still, Cohen believes teachers can help students by keeping in mind that some may feel stereotype threat. “It’s an issue of empathy,” he says. “There’s a preoccupation or a question that many minority students may be asking themselves: ‘Will the stereotype be applied here to me and members of my group?’”

A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2007 edition of Teacher Magazine


School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Math for All: Strategies for Inclusive Instruction and Student Success
Looking for ways to make math matter for all your students? Gain strategies that help them make the connection as well as the grade.
Content provided by NMSI

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management More School Workers Qualify for Overtime Under New Rule. Teachers Remain Exempt
Nurses, paraprofessionals, and librarians could get paid more under the federal rule, but the change won't apply to teachers.
3 min read
Image of a clock on supplies.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva<br/>
School & District Management Opinion Principals, You Aren't the Only Leader in Your School
What I learned about supporting teachers in my first week as an assistant principal started with just one question: “How would I know?”
Shayla Ewing
4 min read
Collaged illustration of a woman climbing a ladder to get a better perspective in a landscape of ladders.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management Opinion 3 Steps for Culturally Competent Education Outside the Classroom
It’s not just all on teachers; the front office staff has a role to play in making schools more equitable.
Allyson Taylor
5 min read
Workflow, Teamwork, Education concept. Team, people, colleagues in company, organization, administrative community. Corporate work, partnership and study.
Paper Trident/iStock
School & District Management Opinion Why Schools Struggle With Implementation. And How They Can Do Better
Improvement efforts often sputter when the rubber hits the road. But do they have to?
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty