NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Studying Smart

February 10, 2004

Girls and low-income minority students are more likely to improve their scores on standardized tests when they are taught ways to overcome the pressures associated with negative stereotypes, according to a new study.

Researchers divided 138 low-income seventh graders into four groups. The first group was taught how the brain processes information. The second group was taught that all students faced academic difficulty in the transition to junior high school but that most overcame these challenges. The third group received both messages, and the final group received information only about the dangers of drug use.

The researchers found:

  • The girls who were taught that intelligence developed over time scored significantly higher on the standardized math test than girls in the fourth 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 fourth group.
  • The students who received both messages registered comparable gains while the students who were told about drug use experienced no gains.

The findings suggest that if minority and low-income students receive positive messages about their ability to learn and succeed academically, they are less likely to conform to stereotypes they believe others have of them -- poor reading ability in the case of minority students and inferior math skills in the case of girls -- when taking standardized tests, say the researchers.

Sources: Melissa McNamara, "In Fighting Stereotypes, Children Lift Test Scores," New York Times, January 20, 2004; based upon Catherine Good, Joshua, Aronson, and Michael Inzlicht, "Improving adolescents' standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat," Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 24, Issue 6, December 2003.


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