The Achievement Gap

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Our social identities, our sense of who we are which gives meaning to our life, comes from our group memberships and the social categories to which we belong. If you have to deal with certain aspects of your identity in certain situations, then that identity is likely more important to you and central to the functioning of who you are. “The things you have to deal with in a situation because you have a given social identity, because you are old, young, gay, a white male, women, black…(3)” are what Claude Steele, prominent social psychologist on identity, refers to as identity contingencies. These identity contingencies, furthermore, impose certain conditions on one’s life, affecting things such as performances in academic settings, memory capacity,…show more content…
Mandated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equality of Education Opportunity Study, better known as Coleman report, found that in 1965 the average black 12th grader scored in the 13th percentile of the score distribution of white students, meaning that 87 percent of white students scored higher (Hanusheck). Fifty years later after many reforms to reduce this gap and move toward educational equality for all, the average black student scored in the 19th and 22nd percentiles, respectively, for math and reading (Hanusheck). Other studies show that the black and white achievement gap has actually increased in the past 30 years (Simmons 1). In trying to understand this persistent gap, Steven Levitt highlights how in study after study scholars have investigated the effects of differences between white and black students in socioeconomic status, family structure, neighborhood characteristics, and quality of schools. After accounting for all these differences, which he emphasizes are crucial factors that lead to educational inequality, a substantial achievement gap remains (Levitt 1). Something that has the possibility to explain and possibly reduce this achievement gap is Stereotype Threat, which happens when one is at risk of confirming certain negative stereotypes about one’s social identities. Given that by 2048 minorities will become the majorities (Levitt 1), one of the most…show more content…
(Steel 1997). Thus, the majority of studies regarding stereotype threat have focused on students in college environments. The number of studies on stereotype threat are significantly lower for K-12 students (McKown and Weinstein 2003), although they have been shown to affect students in this age group. In 2001, Ambady and her colleagues found that girls in elementary school did better in a math test when their Asian identity was activated than when their female identity was activated, meaning when under the threat of confirming the stereotype of women being less intelligent in math they performed worse (Ambady 2001). A study examining the effect of stereotype threat on stigmatized minority students ages with 6-10, found that those students that were aware of stereotypes were most affected by stereotype threat, performing on average 40% lower on the diagnostic exams in comparison to their white counterparts (McKown and Weinstein 2003). Most importantly this study showed that the children developed “stereotype consciousness” as early as 6 years old and most by 9 years old. Similarly, in a study conducted in an urban elementary school, a reading test that was given to African American children that was presented as diagnostic of abilities (intellectual ability) affected the performance of the children most aware of racial stereotypes. African American children in particular, are most affected by

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