Kindergarten teachers typically underestimate the intellectual abilities of boys who are shorter than their classmates, a study suggests.
Researchers Julia Smith of Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and Nancy Niehmi of Nazareth College of Rochester, N.Y., analyzed test results and other data for nearly 9,000 boys across the country who started kindergarten in 1998. They found that kindergarten teachers systematically perceived boys who were shorter than average—or even just shorter than the other boys in their class—to be less skilled in reading, mathematics, and general knowledge than their test results indicated.
What’s more, the gap between teachers’ perceptions and pupils’ test scores remained even after the researchers attempted to account for the children’s other background characteristics that could also lower teachers’ expectations for pupils, such as whether the boys were younger or poorer than average.
Ms. Smith and Ms. Niehmi said the trend they uncovered is troubling because it could put smaller-than-average boys at risk for being placed in remedial classes they don’t need or lead to self-fulfilling prophecies for boys’ educational trajectories.
“Researchers need to explore systematically potential consequences of bias against short boys in the classroom, just as they have investigated bias against women inside and outside of classrooms,” the authors conclude. Their report appears in the July/August issue of the Journal of Educational Research.