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Stereotyped at seven? Biases in teacher judgements of pupils' ability and attainment

Campbell, Tammy (2013) Stereotyped at seven? Biases in teacher judgements of pupils' ability and attainment. Working Paper. UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

The Department for Education reports long-standing gaps in attainment among primary school pupils according to the following characteristics: family income level, gender, Special Educational Needs (SEN) status, ethnicity, and language(s) spoken1. This paper presents work in progress to investigate whether biases in teachers’ assessments of pupils may contribute to creating or maintaining these attainment gaps among primary school children in England. The research analyses data from a sample of more than 5,000 pupils and their teachers taking part in the national Millennium Cohort Study (MCS).Teachers’ assessments of the cohort members’ reading and maths ability and attainment at age seven are compared to the children’s independent performance in cognitive tests. The research examines whether teachers’ assessments differ according to each key characteristic (income / gender / SEN / ethnicity / language) for children with similar scores on the tests. The aim is to identify if and where there appear to be general biases in perceptions of each group. For example, the analysis examines whether teachers are more likely to judge boys or girls as better at reading, where both groups have scored equivalently on the reading test. Main findings In the MCS sample, the following groups are less likely to be judged by their teachers as ‘above average’ in reading than their equally scoring peers:  pupils from low-income families  boys  pupils with any SEN diagnosis  children who speak languages in addition to English  Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean, and Black African pupils. Correspondingly, nearly all of these pupil groups are more likely to be judged ‘below average’ at reading. In the MCS sample, the following groups are less likely to be judged by their teachers as ‘above average’ in maths than their equally scoring peers:  pupils from low-income families  girls  pupils with any SEN diagnosis  Black African and Black Caribbean pupils. All but girls and Black African pupils are, correspondingly, more likely to be judged ‘below average’ at maths than their peers performing at the same level on the maths cognitive test. The author then considers whether there is any link between local area and apparent biases in teacher assessments. It finds no change in teachers’ apparent biases when controlling for government office region, and biases are also evident in areas with greater socioeconomic and ethnic diversity. The strongest indications that bias may be occurring nationally are for differences according to income level, gender and SEN status. In the MCS, pupils of non-White ethnicities and pupils speaking languages in addition to English are under-represented in some regions, meaning that the generalisability of these particular results to the national level cannot be determined. Lastly, the author explores whether income level is in fact the primary driver of differences according to each of the other characteristics: gender, SEN, language, and ethnicity. It finds that controlling for family income level does not explain the majority of bias according to gender, SEN, language, or ethnicity. There seem to be independent biases in teacher perceptions of MCS pupils according to these characteristics, even where pupils have scored equivalently in cognitive tests and are from families with similar income levels. This paper concludes that there is evidence to suggest stereotyping of pupils according to their group characteristics – in particular according to income level, gender and SEN status. Crucially, the paper does not conclude that there is anything unusual about teachers in their apparent tendency to stereotype pupils: stereotyping is a universal human process. Instead, it recommends that renewed and increased credibility and importance be given to the growing body of evidence that biased judgements may be shaping pupil trajectories and affecting attainment. Research suggests that it is possible to tackle and alleviate stereotyping. Therefore resources should be directed to enabling teachers (and other workers in education) to recognise, challenge and address the process – thereby potentially increasing parity in pupil attainment.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Depositing User: Atira Pure
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2015 15:12
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2015 15:12
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