Low-income minority students and girls earn higher test scores when they’re told that they can improve their abilities over time. The New York Times reports on a study conducted in Austin, Texas.
The mentors encouraged the students to view intelligence as a faculty that can be developed or to attribute their academic difficulties to their new educational environment. At the end of the year, students took statewide standardized math and reading tests.
. . . The girls who were taught that intelligence developed over time scored significantly higher on the standardized math test than girls in the (control) group. Similarly, the minority and low-income students who were told that they could overcome challenges and achieve academic success scored significantly higher on the standardized reading test than students in the (control) group, the researchers found.
This tracks research by Claude Steele on “stereotype threat,” the fear that the negative stereotypes about your group are true. Students do worse if they’re reminded of the stereotype before the test and do better if they’re told the test doesn’t measure intelligence. One of the researchers on this study has worked with Steele.
It also reminds me of research on the difference between Asian and American parents’ attitudes: While Asians tend to believe that effort determines success, Americans are more likely to believe that inborn intelligence is the key factor. When an Asian child does poorly in school, Mom tells him to work harder. The American student can say, “I’m just no good in math,” and get away with it. Or, these days, he can say, “The test is unfair! I was stressed! It didn’t measure the totality of my potential for self-actualized wholeness!”
It wouldn’t be that difficult to teach all students that they’ll improve if they work hard. It’s true, after all.
Via Number 2 Pencil.