Implicit Prejudiced Attitudes of Teachers: Relations to Teacher Expectations and the Ethnic Achievement Gap

Issue/Topic: Minority/Diversity Issues; Student Achievement--Closing the Achievement Gap; Teaching Quality
Author(s): van den Bergh, Linda; Denessen, Eddie; Hornstra, Lisette; Voeten, Marinus; Holland, Rob
Organization(s): University of Amsterdam; Eindhoven University of Technology; Radbound University Nijmegen
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published On: 2010

It has been found that members of academically stigmatized groups are more susceptible to expectancy effects than nonminority students. Additionally, previous studies have focused on explicit measures of teacher prejudice, such as teacher questionnaires which are susceptible to bias. This study focuses on implicit measures of teacher prejudice assessed through association tests which may more accurately measure teacher prejudice.

To determine if prejudiced attitudes of teachers influence expectations, treatment and academic achievement of minority students.


Analysis of elementary teachers and students revealed that explicit measures of teacher prejudice (e.g., attitudes explicitly expressed via questionnaire) were not correlated with differential evaluations of minority students or the size of the achievement gap between minority and nonminority students in individual classrooms. However, the authors found that measured implicitly (e.g., via a test of how strongly an individual makes unconscious and or unrecognized associations among groups or categories of people), higher teacher prejudice was correlated with harsher evaluations of minority students and a wider achievement gap between minority and nonminority students as compared to those of teachers with lower implicit prejudice.


  • Teacher expectations were lower on the whole for minority students. As the level of measured implicit teacher prejudice increased, the difference in expectations for minority vs. nonminority students increased as well.
  • Teacher evaluations of minority students were more negative when conducted by teachers who had higher levels of implicit prejudice.

Student Achievement

  • Differences in student achievement between minority and nonminority students were larger in classrooms where teachers held more negative views towards minorities.
  • Not only were minority student scores lower on both Math and Text Comprehension exams, but nonminority students actually scored higher in classrooms with more prejudiced teachers.

Pathways from Prejudice to Student Achievement

The authors theorize that:

  • Prejudiced teachers devote more time and resources to nonminority students.
  • Teachers may reward students they view as high-achieving with a supportive environment, increasingly difficult course material, additional opportunities to respond in class and/or more frequent or informative academic feedback.
  • Low expectations for minority students can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if minority students pick up on their teachers’ low expectations and respond with reduced motivation to succeed.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Further study of prejudiced attitudes of teachers in relation to their expectations and ethnic achievement gaps is of critical importance; more studies must be done to assess implicit teacher bias and mitigate its effects on minority students.
  • Implicit attitude assessment of teachers could provide a quick and easy means for teachers to examine their own prejudiced attitudes, even if they are not aware of them; self-awareness can provide insight into differential treatment of students belonging to stigmatized groups.
  • Longitudinal studies would be helpful in measuring changes in academic achievement rather than assessing a static achievement gap at one point in time.
  • Studies with classroom observation components would be useful in order to better assess the pathways from teacher prejudice to student achievement.
  • Studies done in the US would be helpful in evaluating the magnitude of the effect of teacher prejudice on minority academic outcomes and point to initiatives that could potentially narrow the achievement gap.

Research Design:
Statistical analysis of teacher and student data

41 teachers and 494 First-Sixth grade students at 17 elementary schools in the Southeast of the Netherlands

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Collection and analysis of (1) Modern Racism Scale questionnaire (2) Implicit Association Test (IAT) response latency (3) six item scale for teacher evaluations (4) national standard math and text comprehension exams


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