"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stereotype Threat and Jack O'Connell's 22,000 Annual Failures

From the Fresno Bee:
New questions are being raised about California's high school exit exam after a recent study -- which examined test results for Fresno Unified and three other large school districts -- found the test disproportionately hurts minority and female students.

The exam, a state graduation requirement since 2006, is keeping diplomas each year out of the hands of as many as 22,500 students who would otherwise fulfill all their graduation requirements in California, the study estimated. The study was released last week by the Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice at Stanford University.

Sean Reardon, associate professor of education at Stanford and the study's lead researcher, said the test has not boosted achievement, especially among low-achieving and minority students.

"I'm all for having high standards," he said. "But what I'm not for is high standards that [differ] by race or gender."

The study looked at school districts in Fresno, Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco but did not report the findings by district. The patterns were similar in all four, Reardon said.

"It's not a Fresno problem. It's a statewide problem," he said.

Girls and minorities failed the exam more often than white boys who are their academic equals, based on other standardized test scores, the study concluded. Girls struggled more on math.

Part of the failure, according to the study, is consistent with "stereotype threat," a theory that negative stereotypes become self-fulfilling. Reardon said girls assume they can't do well in math and minorities assume they aren't as smart as whites. The added stress and worry about confirming negative stereotypes may hurt their performance on the exit exam, he said. . . .

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