The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Do Teacher Perceptions of Absenteeism Vary By Student Race?

IDS Seed Grant recipients Dania Francis, Assistant Professor of Economics and Sara Whitcomb,

From left: Dania Francis (economics) and Sara Whitcomb (student development)

We will explore whether teachers exhibit bias (either negative or positive) with regard to race, gender, or socioeconomic status in their perceptions of student absenteeism and tardiness (a proxy for effort). Subjective perceptions that teachers form about student behaviors ,such as effort, perseverance, participation, and disruptiveness, often inform academic placement decisions that can alter a student’s entire academic trajectory. This can be especially detrimental if decisions that are based on behavioral perceptions induce a mismatch between the student’s actual ability and the student’s academic placement – i.e. placing an academically gifted student in remedial classes because they exhibit disruptive behaviors. Given the potential impact behavioral perceptions can have on academic outcomes, and given evidence that teachers persistently rate some demographic subgroups of students as having worse behavior than others, it is important to identify any possible biases in teacher perceptions that might place particular subgroups of students at a disadvantage. Identifying whether or not exclusionary biases may be present in academic spaces is directly related to the core goals of the Institute of Diversity Sciences.

This pilot project will be the beginning of a collaborative research relationship, which will include publishing the results and analysis from the pilot study in a peer-reviewed academic journal, and seeking outside funding for a larger more representative study from the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation. This research will be useful to practitioners in the field as a way to decrease potential barriers to learning for all students.