‘Positive Bias’ May Be Hurting Minority Students

Wynne Parry, LiveScience, May 5, 2012

Black and Latino students may be getting less critical, but helpful, feedback from teachers than their white counterparts, a new educational study indicates.


This positive bias in feedback to minority students may be contributing to the achievement gap between white and minority students, a stubborn national problem, Harber said.


Harber and colleagues developed a poorly written essay that they gave to the teachers to grade, under the pretense that it was the work of a student. In some cases, the teachers believed the student was white, in others black and in others Latino.


The researchers found that, indeed, the teachers were prone to give more praise and less criticism if they believed a minority student had written the paper, as opposed to a white student.

The researchers also considered the support the teacher received from colleagues and administration. This turned out to be an important factor if the teachers believed the student was black, with only teachers who lacked support showing the bias. However, when teachers thought the student was Latino, they showed the bias toward positive feedback regardless.

“These results indicate that the positive feedback bias may contribute to the insufficient challenge that undermines minority students’ academic achievement,” the researchers conclude.


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