Examining the Impact of Teacher Bias on Student Achievement

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

From left: Dania Francis (Economics) and Sara Whitcomb (Student Development)

How do teacher biases influence perceptions of student effort and behavior, potentially skewing academic placement decisions? This critical investigation seeks to uncover potential racial, gender, or socioeconomic biases in teacher assessments of absenteeism and tardiness, pivotal factors that could misalign students with their true academic capabilities, thus affecting their entire educational journey.

The subtle dynamics of teacher perceptions can significantly impact student outcomes, particularly when it comes to absenteeism and tardiness—indirect measures of student effort. These subjective views on student behaviors, including effort, perseverance, and disruptiveness, play a crucial role in academic placement decisions that alter a student’s entire academic trajectory. The danger lies in the possibility of these decisions causing a mismatch between a student’s actual abilities and their academic placement, such as when a high-achieving student is placed in remedial classes due to perceived behavioral issues.

Given the profound implications of these behavioral perceptions on academic outcomes, coupled with evidence that teachers often rate certain demographic subgroups as exhibiting poorer behavior, it's imperative to examine the presence of bias in teacher perceptions. This exploration is crucial for identifying any exclusionary biases that may disadvantage specific student groups within academic settings.

This pilot project marks the beginning of an extensive collaborative research endeavor aimed at dissecting the complexities of teacher bias and its effects on student academic placement. By illuminating the potential biases in educational assessment, this research will equip educators with the knowledge to dismantle barriers to learning, fostering an environment where all students can thrive.

The initiative will culminate in the publication of the pilot study's results and analyses in a peer-reviewed academic journal, setting the stage for securing additional funding for a more comprehensive investigation from prestigious bodies such as the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation.