A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology finds that teachers may be less inclined to respond critically to work by minority students, thus creating a “positive feedback bias” that may contribute to racial achievement gaps.
The study, covered in The Atlantic and The Huffington Post, asked more than 100 teachers in the New York City area to grade a poorly written (but fake) student essay. The researchers found that teachers who thought the essay was written by a black or Latino student (by virtue of the student name provided) tended to offer more praise and less criticism in their responses.
The researchers believe the teachers were overcompensating in their positive feedback in order to avoid the appearance of bias.
Nevertheless, such well-meaning internal maneuvering may be unfair to students. “The social implications of these results are important; many minority students might not be getting input from instructors that stimulates intellectual growth and fosters achievement,” stated Rutgers University psychology professor Kent Harber, the lead researcher for the study.
Interestingly, the study also found that teachers who had strong social support from colleagues and administrators did not exhibit the “positive feedback bias” toward black students, suggesting that professional insecurity may play a role in the phenomenon. However, in-school support didn’t change the way teachers graded the work purportedly by Latino students—likely owing, according to Harber, to their consideration for the students’ possible struggles with English.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.