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Children from poorer families perceived by teachers as less able, says study

11Bangla Mirror Desk:

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special needs may be marked down in critical primary school assessments because of unconscious bias affecting their teachers, according to research published on Tuesday.
The research also suggests familiar gender stereotypes – that boys are good at maths and girls are better at reading – may create a vicious cycle, and that this may “continue to play a part in creating and perpetuating inequalities”.
The work by University College London’s Institute of Education compared results from standardised tests by nearly 5,000 primary school pupils in England with assessments of their ability by their teachers. It found significant differences in how the pupils performed compared with their teachers’ judgment.
“I want to stress that this isn’t something unique to teachers. It’s human nature. Humans use stereotypes as a cognitive shortcut and we’re all prone to it,” said Tammy Campbell, author of the article to be published in the Journal of Social Policy.
“This research is showing how that cognitive process is manifesting itself in education. Given that it is a problem, we need to talk about how we are addressing it. Teachers need to recognise explicitly the psychological processes that teachers – like everyone else – are prone to.”
The research found that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be perceived by teachers as less able than their more advantaged peers, despite getting equivalent scores in tests.
Boys were more likely to be judged as above average in maths than girls who had scored equally well, while girls were more likely to be judged above average in reading.
The danger, according to Campbell, is that bias could be reinforced by government policies such as the pupil premium intended to help children from low income families.
“I really think that there needs to be more thought put into how these initiatives are implemented because there might be unintended consequences: reinforcing stereotypes,” Campbell said.
“We’ve got these national statistics saying that boys do better at maths and girls do better at reading. But given that much of the primary level data is teacher-assessed, the national statistics are fed by this bias and it creates a vicious circle.”
She went on to argue that the trends could have implications for pupils’ future attainment, the subjects they choose to study and even their careers.
“I can’t say definitely based on my research but we do know that teacher expectation and assessments can have a longterm effect on pupil progress, because it can affect their interaction, in terms of the groups they are put in,” Campbell said.
“If you are an average-scoring boy from a lower income family, or an average-scoring girl in maths, and you are placed in a lower set then that is going to potentially depress your longterm trajectory.”
Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, the research found that children from low-income families, boys, pupils with special needs and children who speak languages other than English were less likely than their peers to be judged “above average” at reading by their teacher.
The study found that teacher assessments did not appear to be connected to children’s ethnicity, once other characteristics were taken into account. However, black Caribbean girls tended to be underrated in both reading and maths, while teachers were prone to underrate Pakistani girls in reading and overrate Bangladeshi boys in maths.
“One of the things that I found in my research is that it’s more about the children who perform at the average – that’s where the bias is the strongest,” said Campbell.
“It’s where there may be less information on the child’s performance for the teacher to draw on, that these stereotypes seem to kick in more strongly.”