Gender, Race and Stereotype Threat: Study finds California’s high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys on every other measure.

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From the LA Times:

California’s high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys, according to a study released Tuesday. It also found that the exam, which became a graduation requirement in 2007, has “had no positive effect on student achievement.”

The study by researchers at Stanford University and UC Davis concluded that girls and non-whites were probably failing the exit exam more often than expected because of what is known as “stereotype threat,” a theory in social psychology that holds, essentially, that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling. In this case, researcher Sean Reardon said, girls and students of color may be tripped up by the expectation that they cannot do as well as white boys.

Reardon said there was no other apparent reason why girls and non-whites fail the exam more often than white boys, who are their equals in other, lower-stress academic assessments. Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford, urged the state Department of Education to consider either scrapping the exit exam — one of the reforms for which state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has fought the hardest — or looking at ways of intervening to help students perform optimally. Reardon said the exam is keeping as many as 22,500 students a year from graduating who would otherwise fulfill all their requirements.

Read the rest here. The study is here. Via The Situationist.

–Ann Bartow

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2 Responses to Gender, Race and Stereotype Threat: Study finds California’s high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys on every other measure.

  1. Jhumbach says:

    It’s odd that these stereotype effects seem to be active only among the low-achieving students. (As the study states:”Changes in graduation rates between cohorts are not significantly different by race in the higher quartiles…. There are no gender differences in changes in graduation rates after the start of the CAHSEE policy for students above the second quartile.”)

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    I though the authors of the study did a pretty good job of explaining why the stereotype threat would have a greater impact on lower achieving students, see e.g. page 37:

    Our data provide an opportunity to test whether stereotype threat affects students’ performance on the CAHSEE. Prior search on stereotype threat suggests that it should be activated more by the CAHSEE, which carries high‐stakes for the student, than the low‐stakes CST tests, and that it should be activated more for low‐achieving students than for high‐achieving students. Moreover, the theory predicts a clear pattern of expected results: we would see lower than expected performance by black, Hispanic (and perhaps Asian)16 tudents on the CAHSEE ELA test, and lower than expected performance by black, Hispanic, and female students on the CAHSEE math test. These patterns should be strongest for low‐achieving students, for whom the content of the CAHSEE exam poses a substantial challenge.

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