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The relationship between teacher expectations and academic performance has been a topic of interest for the last 50 years. Teachers’ judgements often play a role in facilitating or inhibiting students’ academic performance (Südkamp, Kaiser & Möller, 2012). For example, females are generally perceived to be competent in reading, language and arts and boys are perceived to be competent in maths, science and physical education (Berekashvili, 2012). Subsequently, these performance expectations can result in the differential treatment and instructional practices in the classroom (Südkamp, Kaiser & Möller, 2012). This is consistent with Sadker (1999) who found that although girls and boys are in the same classroom and subjected to the same teaching environment, their education experience may be very different. These experiences in the classroom may have a significant influence on students’ desires and motivations to learn (Blote, 1995). This paper will review the literature on the impact of teacher expectations on student academic performance. Firstly, it will explore the long-term impact of teacher expectations on student academic performance and the self-fulfilling prophecy. Secondly, it will consider the bases of teacher expectations and the process by which they are formed. Thirdly, the two types of expectations will be introduced. Fourthly differential teacher treatment of students and students’ perceptions of differential teacher treatment will be considered. Along with the student characteristics that make students the targets of low expectations. Finally, students’ self-perceptions of ability and teacher expectations of student ability in specific domains will be compared.
Brophy (1983), claims that teacher expectations make five percent of an overall negative or positive difference to student achievement. This difference may seem small; however, the accumulation of this sort of effect over a number of years could have a significant impact on student achievement. This research is supported by findings of two longitudinal studies by De Boer, Bosker and Magaretha (2010) and Alvidrez and Weinstein (1999). De Boer et al. conducted a longitudinal study over five years examining the relationship between teacher expectations, student characteristics and students long term performance. Results showed that teacher expectations did impact on later student academic performance; however the effects dissipated after the first two years and then remained stable over time. A similar study by Alvidrez and Weinstein (1999) monitored 110 students over 14 years to investigate the relationship between teacher expectations, student characteristics and later student academic performance. Although, socioeconomic status, student temperament and IQ influenced teachers’ expectations, the study showed that teachers’ expectations predicted students’ performance 14 years later.
There is also evidence (Gut, Reimann & Grob, 2013; O’Connell, Dusek and Wheeler, 1974; Sorhagen, 2013) that concluded that teacher expectations are accurate long-term predictors of children’s academic capabilities. This research illustrates the across year effects that teacher expectations can have on later student outcomes such as course-taking, academic achievement, test-taking for college admission and vocational pursuits (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001). This research also raises questions concerning whether actual performance is set from an early age and whether students’ performance is determined by the way teachers treat students or whether there are other factors that influence teachers’ expectations and later academic performance. Therefore, it is important to first understand how teacher expectations are formed.
Brophy and Good (1970) developed a model to describe the process by which teachers develop expectations. The model indicates that teachers have a tendency to form expectations for student performance and behaviour early in the school year. The different expectations teachers form influence teachers’ behaviour and their interactions with different students. Teachers’ differential treatment of students may provide non-verbal information to students about how they should perform or behave in the classroom. Teachers’ expectations can influence their interactions with students, and may lead students to passively accept these expectations. Such teacher-student interactions can affect student outcomes, achievement motivation, self-concept, classroom behaviour and levels of aspiration (Brophy & Good, 1970). For example, students who are perceived as high achievers may be encouraged and motivated to perform well compared with students who are perceived as low achievers who may feel disadvantaged, unmotivated and reluctant to perform to the best of their ability.
In addition, Dusek and Joseph (1983) suggest that in order to understand the impact that teacher expectations have on student academic performance it is important to understand the bases on which teachers form their expectations for students’ performance. According to O’Connell, Dusek and Wheeler (1974), teacher expectations are determined by teachers’ regular interactions with their students in the classroom. Furthermore, Dusek and O’Connell (1973) suggest that teacher expectations are also predicted by student academic test performance. Dusek and O’connell’s(1973) study of two second- and two fourth-grade classrooms, investigated the effects of students’ academic test performance on teachers’ expectations. Students were administered the Stanford achievement test, and each teacher was told the names of the children who would demonstrate large academic gains in language and arithmetic areas. Afterwards, teachers were asked to rank students based on teacher’s own expectations regarding the child’s year-end performance in language and arithmetic skills. The results showed that teachers did not produce a bias in students’ classroom learning or test performance despite being told about the students’ achievement potential. However, students who were ranked higher had higher SAT scores than students who were ranked lower. This is consistent with researchers that have found that teacher expectations of students’ ability are consistent with performance on standardized tests (Hoge & Coladarci, 1989) and achievement tests (Doherty & Connolly, 1985; Egan & Archer, 1985). Besides, understanding the bases of teacher expectations it is important to consider the two types of teacher expectations.
There are two types of expectations that teachers form of students’ academic performance including high expectations and low expectations (Rubie-Davis, 2007). Rubie-Davis (2007) explains how teacher expectations influence students’ motivation and self-perceived ability. For example, irrespective of the student’s level of ability when teachers maintain high expectations and have confidence in student’s abilities to learn, students may feel more competent and therefore more motivated and engaged. However, when teachers have low expectations of their students, their beliefs may negatively impact students’ self-perceived ability. Moreover, Kloosterman and Cougan (1994) report the impact that teacher expectations have on students’ self-esteem and academic performance. For instance, when students meet teachers’ expectations they earn teachers approval which increases their self-confidence and motivation and facilitates academic performance. Conversely, if students fail to meet teachers’ expectations, teachers may show disapproval through verbal or nonverbal means. Therefore, teacher expectations can have different implications on student motivation, academic performance, self-esteem and self-perceived ability (Cooper & Good, 1983; Kloosterman & Cougan, 1994; Mulford and Silins, 2003; Rubie-Davis, 2007).
The literature has found that teachers’ high and low expectations play a role in guiding their classroom interactions with students. Rubie-Davies’s (2007) study conducted with 12 primary school teachers from six different schools, investigated the impact of teachers’ high and low expectations of students ability on their classroom interactions. Teachers, who had high expectations of students, asked students more open questions, provided their students with regular feedback and when responding to student answers teachers gave more feedback or rephrased the question. However, teachers with low expectations made more statements about positive behavioural management and a few procedural statements. This was consistent with findings of Brophy and Good’s study (1970) that observed the dyadic contacts between teachers and students in four first-grade classrooms. Results concluded that high-achieving students tended to receive more support and praise from teachers than low-achieving students.
In addition, other studies have found that teachers’ expectations can also impact student outcomes (Jussim & Eccles, 1995; Jussim, Robustelli, & Cain, 2009; Weinstein, 2002). For example, students who had their abilities underestimated by teachers achieved less than students who had their abilities overestimated (Jussim & Eccles, 1995; Jussim, Robustelli, & Cain, 2009; Weinstein, 2002). This research raises some questions around whether teacher expectations determine the way students are treated in the classroom, and whether this differential treatment influences students’ academic performance.
The differences in how males and females receive instruction have also been discussed in educational development (Garrahy, 2001; Sadker, Sadker & Steindam, 1989). Arnot and Gubb (2001) state that although schools are aware of the gender differences in the classroom they tend to perpetuate gender differences in the classroom through the use of gender biased teaching materials, instructional practices and the differential treatment of students.
Teaching materials used in the classroom often contain stereotypical images of women and men (Mewborn, 1999). Women are depicted in traditional roles such as economically dependent roles and men are portrayed as dominant characters engaged in a wide range of activities. For example, males are often shown as presidents, kings, soldiers, professionals and farmers (Mewborn, 1999). This research suggests that it is imperative to understand the way these resources are shaping teachers expectations and the implications behind teaching students’ stereotypes roles and expectations of gender in primary.
Teachers’ instructional practices may also perpetuate gender differences in achievement in the classroom. According to Marshall and Reinhartz (1997) teachers tend to criticise, remediate or praise girls and boys differently. For example, teachers tend to praise girls for being neat, calm and quiet and encourage boys to think independently, speak up and be active. According to Bailey (1992), boys generally have more challenging interactions with teachers and tend to receive more attention than girls through receiving praise, regular feedback, help and criticism. Furthermore, Frawley (2005) states that boys are called on more, asked more complex and abstract questions than girls. Sadker and Sadker (1994) reported that boys tend to call out eight times more often than girls. Research has noted that when boys call out it, teachers always respond to their comments irrespective of whether the comments are irrelevant or insightful. On the other hand, if the same behaviour is demonstrated by a female, teachers are more likely to restore order to the class discussion and put the girl quickly into place. Generally, it is observed that boys tend to receive more positive attention and girls tend to receive more negative attention (Sadker, 1994). As a result, girls appear to be disadvantaged and are more likely to become the ‘invisible and losing members of the class’ (Frawley, 2005, p. 224). This research raises some questions about why such discrepancies exist in teachers’ interactions with female and males students and whether teachers are aware of their gender biased interactions.
One explanation for teachers’ gender differential treatment was suggested by Warrington and Younger (1996). Teachers acknowledged that they treated boys and girls differently because they perceived girls as working harder than boys. Teachers also perceived girls as having higher levels of motivation, being more cooperative and more organised with homework when compared to boys. In addition, Garrahy (2001) conducted a study to explore whether teachers diminished or contributed to the differentiated treatment of male and female students by comparing the teachers’ gender beliefs to their classroom practice. Teachers reported having equal interactions with both male and female students. However, a discrepancy was noted between what teachers reported and their actual interactions with students. These results indicate that mismatches do occur between teachers’ gender beliefs and classroom practice. This is consistent with research of Davis and Nicaise (2011) who found that teachers are commonly unaware of their gender biased treatment of students. A study by Shijaku (2011) also investigated teacher-student interaction within two university classes specifically focusing on gender and teachers’ communication styles. The two classes were monitored for a period of 15 weeks. Again, teachers were not aware of their gender biased interactions, yet they demonstrated different interactions with female and male students. For example, teachers gave more attention to males than females by asking males more questions, offering them assistance and guidance towards answers and accepting answers without waiting. This research suggests that gender biased interactions have the potential to facilitate males’ achievement while negatively affecting females’ achievement ability. For example, if females are treated differently to males, their self-esteem can be harmed and as a result they may feel unmotivated and lower their expectations at school (Shijaku, 2011).
In contrast to, the effects of teacher expectations, student responses to differential teacher treatment of high and low achieving students have been largely ignored (Babad, 1993; Kuklinski & Weinstein, 2001). Research has explored the ways in which students determine their ability in the classroom. Weinstein (1986) investigated 133 students from the fourth grade students to examine whether students knew they were perceived by their teacher as being ‘smart’ or not. The results indicated that students determined their ability status from: what the teachers told them, what grades they had received, the instructional practices they were exposed to (e.g., ability grouping), and their learning experiences including the classroom environment.
Furthermore, Babad (1993), explored the manner in which verbal and non-verbal cues provided by teachers can lead students to interpret these expectations in terms of how they should be performing. Teachers reported providing emotional support to low achieving students, however, students believed that teachers actually provided more emotional support to higher achieving students. A number of studies (Brattesani, Weinstein, Marshall, 1984; Kuklinski & Weinstein, 2000; Weinstein, Marshall, Sharp & Botkin, 1987; Weinstein & Middlestadt, 1979) used the teacher treatment inventory with students in the first to fifth grade to determine whether students perceived the differential treatment by teachers of low and high achieving students. The results showed that students observed that compared to low achieving students, teachers held high expectations, had more positive interactions and offered more leadership opportunities and flexibility in learning experiences to high achieving students. Kuklinski & Weinstein (2001) also showed that students were able to recognise whether teachers favoured high achievers or low achievers through their differential treatment of students. For example, teachers provided different feedback and evaluation practices; taught different curriculum and provided different emotional support to low and high achieving students. Low and high achieving students were also exposed to different motivational strategies and rules in the classroom.
This research illustrates that from a young age students have an awareness of, and understanding about the differential treatment of their classmates and the long-term implications of this behaviour; differential teacher treatment need to be carefully considered. This research also gives rise to questions relating to whether teacher subjective behaviours effectively create a self-fulfilling prophecy: that is, do teacher behaviours towards students shape students reactions in line with teacher expectations or whether students’ behaviours in fact influence teacher expectations (Rubie-Davies, 2006).
The self-fulfilling prophecy was tested by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) who investigated the effect of students’ intellectual capacities on teachers’ expectations working with students from the first and second grade. This study investigated what would happen if teachers were told that certain students in their class were destined to succeed. The researchers administered a normal IQ test ‘Flanagan’s Test of General Ability’. After students sat the test, teachers were informed that some students were ‘academic bloomers’ with high IQ scores; however the students had been randomly selected. Results indicated that teachers’ expectations about the students’ intellectual capacity changed the way teachers behaved towards students. As a result, the students who were claimed to be ‘academic bloomers’ (i.e. high IQ scores) performed better than these students who were not. These results indicate that teacher expectations can undeniably produce self-fulfilling prophecy effects and if teachers do expect students to perform in a certain way, they may bias their interactions with certain student. As a result, some students may perform consistently with teacher’s expectations. Therefore, it is important to further explore the factors that make some students vulnerable to developing self-fulfilling prophecy.
Educational researchers have identified numerous factors that make some students more vulnerable than others to developing self-fulfilling prophecies. Such factors include students from low socioeconomic status (Jussim, Eccles & Madon, 1996), minority students (Rubie-Davies, Hattie and Hamilton, 2006) and low achieving students (De Boer et al., 2010; Mckown & Weinstein; 2002). Jussim, Eccles and Madon (1996) who found that the self-fulfilling prophecy was stronger for students from a low socioeconomic status and African American students compared to students from a high socioeconomic status and Caucasian students. One explanation for this is that students from a low socioeconomic status begin school with less academic skills and knowledge than students from higher socioeconomic status (Hauser-cram, Sirin & Stipek, 2003). From the moment these students enter the classroom, they are at a disadvantage as they receive less focused and non-directive contact from teachers. For example, teachers do not call on these students or engage them in classroom discussions. Students are left feeling that they do not belong in school and there is no hope for them to succeed (Mulford and Silins, 2003). As a result, students may develop a sense of learnt helplessness and look for experiences to confirm this self-concept (Woolfolk, 2007). For these reasons, students from low socioeconomic status or certain ethnic groups are more vulnerable to conforming to teacher expectations. Minority groups may also be susceptible to developing self-fulfilling prophecies. Rubie-Davies, Hattie and Hamilton (2006) state that minority group students are more vulnerable to teachers low expectations than are white students and this may contribute to the achievement gap as such students have a tendency to accept or confirm teachers negative expectations. Research suggests that students from minority groups may also feel a sense of learnt helplessness when treated differently to other students in the classroom (Woolfolk, 2007). Therefore, these students may find it easier to conform to teacher expectations (Rubie-Davies, Hattie & Hamilton, 2006). As a result, this may have negative implications for their self-esteem, motivation, self-concept and future academic development.
Underachieving students may be at a greater risk of developing self-fulfilling prophecies (Mckown & Weinstein, 2002). Madon, Jussim and Eccles (1997)’s study with 98 teachers and 1, 539 students in the sixth grade, examined whether some individuals were more likely than others to developing self-fulfilling prophecy. Results concluded that lower achieving students were more likely to develop self-fulfilling prophecy. Similar to students from low-socioeconomic status, low achieving students may have a poor self-concept of their academic ability which is either confirmed or disconfirmed by the way teachers engage with these students in the classroom. Teachers may engage in a manner that makes students doubt their intellectual ability. For example, teachers may not call on low achieving students or engage them in class discussions. Hence, students may lose hope in their ability to succeed and conform to teachers’ expectations.
Students’ socioeconomic status may influence teachers expectations of students’ intellectual ability (Brookover, Beady, Flood, Schweitzer & Wisenbaker, 1979; Cooper, Baron & Lowe, 1997;Hauser-cram, Sirin & Stipek, 2003; Jussim, Eccles & Madon, 1996) with teachers tending to hold lower expectations for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This is consistent with research of Jussim, Eccles and Madon (1996) who found that teachers’ expectations were higher for students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and these students were perceived as higher performing and more talented than students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Hauser-cram, Sirin and Stipek (2003) reported that children from low-income families usually start school with lower academic skills and knowledge compared to children from middle-income families. Consequently, teachers tend to maintain lower standards for achievement and provide less rigorous academic instruction to students from low-income families. Furthermore, Cooper, Baron and Lowe’s (1997) found that middle class students were expected to receive higher grades than low-class students.
Racial background may also influence teachers’ expectations about students’ future academic development (Cooper & Good 1984; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Jussim, Eccles & Madon, 1996; Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999). Jussim, Eccles and Madon’s (1996) study, conducted with 22 African-American students and 40 white students investigated whether ethnicity would influence teachers’ expectations. The results showed that teachers perceived white students as performing better, more talented and trying harder than African-American students. Racial stereotypes concerning African-Americans not being as intelligent as white people can influence teacher expectations for students’ academic ability (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986).
The physical attractiveness of students may also influence teacher expectations of students’ learning potential (Boyce, 1979; Clifford & Walster, 1973; Dion, 1972; Ross & Salvia, 1975). Clifford and Walster (1973) examined the effect that students’ physical attractiveness has on teachers’ expectations of students’ intellectual ability. Teachers were provided information about students’ scholastic and social potential and given a photograph of an attractive and unattractive boy or girl. Students’ attractiveness was found to be related to teacher’s expectations about the students’ intellectual ability and learning potential: teachers perceived attractive students to have a higher educational potential than unattractive students. Dion (1972) suggests that teachers may hold higher expectations for physically attractive students because these students are assumed to be living more successful and fulfilling lives than students who are less attractive.
Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) explains the impact that teachers’ expectations can have on students’ self-perceived abilities and performance. Self-efficacy is an important factor of social learning theory and refers to the belief that an individual has about his or her ability to perform certain tasks successfully (Bandura, 1977). Self-efficacy is important in the educational context, as it guides both students and teachers towards their own academic pursuits. With regard to students, high self-efficacy can help encourage high levels of academic performance regardless of their difficult learning situation. Similarly, teachers who possess high self-efficacy believe they can teach all students to the highest level. Such teachers are more likely to take responsibility for students’ performance and avoid using excuses such as a student’s background to explain poor performance (Brophy & Emerson, 1976).
The existence of gender differences in early adolescents’ views of their own mathematics ability is well documented (Else-Quest, Hyde & Linn, 2010; Hyde, Fennema, Ryan, Frost & Hopp, 1990; Madon, Smith, Jussim, Russell, Eccles, Palumbo & Walkiewicz, 2001; Meece, Eccles-Parsons, Kaczala, Goff & Futterman, 1982; Ziegler, Stoeger, Harder, Park, Portešová & Porath, 2014). For example, girls rate their math ability lower than do males (Madon et al., 2001). Females also tend to express less interest than males in studying maths or pursuing a math-related profession (Else-Quest et al., 2010; Meece et al., 1982). Similarly, girls tend to demonstrate less confidence in their mathematics and science abilities than do males (Else-Quest, Mineo, & Higgins, 2013; Jones, Howe, & Rua, 2000; Ziegler et al., 2014). Not surprisingly girls are less likely than boys to complete majors in math and science fields, even though their achievement in maths and science related subjects are comparable or superior to their male counterparts (Ziegler et al., 2014).
In contrast, there is limited literature on students’ self-perceived abilities in English (Eccles, 1989; Rudasill & Callahan, 2010) and physical education (Davis & Nicaise, 2011). Eccles (1989) found that in grades six to twelve, female students tend to rate themselves as more competent in English than do male students. Whereas, males possess higher perceptions of skill ability and physical competence than females (Davis & Nicaise, 2011). Accordingly, the gender differences in self-perceptions continue to have implications on students’ academic performance and future career aspirations (Eccles et al., 1990). Rudasill and Callahan (2010), claim that sex stereotypes may be related to students’ perceptions of ability and teacher expectations of student ability.
Teachers commonly view females as more competent in arts and humanities compared to males, who are perceived as being more competent in maths, natural sciences and sports (Berekashvili, 2012). Consistent with students own perceptions, teachers tend to rate boys reading ability lower than girls (Hartley, 1982). According to Palardy (1969), when teachers maintain high expectations for girls to perform better than boys in reading, girls tend to perform better than boys. Hogrebe, Nist and Newman (1985) reported that girls tend to outperform boys on reading proficiency. Differences in reading proficiency may be attributed to girls doing more reading than boys outside of the classroom (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009). Consistent with students own perceptions, teacher perceived females math and science ability to be lower than that of their male counterparts (Hinnant et al., 2009; Myhill & Jones, 2006). As a result of these teacher expectations, girls generally feel less confident in their maths and science ability than boys (Ziegler et al., 2014). However, Cheryan (2012) states that even though boys are generally perceived as being more competent in maths, this is no longer the case. Girls are now performing equally well as boys on standardised tests measuring mathematics ability (Cheryan, 2012). O’Neill (2000) reported that girls outperform boys at all levels of reading and writing and while almost matching them in math and science. This finding was consistent with Ziegler et al., (2014) who noted that girls’ performance in maths and science is seen as comparable or superior to the academic achievement of boys.
In conclusion, teacher expectations play a major role in facilitating or inhibiting students’ academic performance. Educational researchers have found that teacher expectations are accurate long-term predictors of children’s academic capabilities. These teacher expectations can influence the differential treatment and instructional practices of students in the classroom. When teachers maintain high expectations and have confidence in students’ abilities to learn, students may feel more competent and therefore more motivated to perform better. On the other hand, when teachers have low expectations of their students, these beliefs may negatively impact students’ motivation and academic performance. Further, some literature has explored student responses to differential teacher treatment of high and low achieving students and found that young age students have an awareness of, and understanding about the differential treatment of their classmates and therefore, negative implications need to be carefully considered. Researchers have found that teacher expectations can also create self-fulfilling prophecy in some students more than others, whereby students act in accordance with teacher expectations. For example, students from low income families, low achieving students and minority groups are more likely to be influenced by teacher expectations.
In addition, teachers are often unaware of their gender biased interactions in the classroom. For example, compared to girls, boys tend to have more challenging interactions with teachers and receive more attention through getting more praise, feedback and assistance. This suggests that girls may be disadvantaged and not receiving equal education opportunities. In contrast, differential teacher treatment and teacher expectations do not appear to be having a negative impact on girls’ academic performance. For example, girls tend to outperform boys across most academic domains. Furthermore, girls’ performance in science and maths is seen as comparable and even superior to boys’ performance. However, an achievement gap still remains in reading and physical education, whereby girls outperform boys in reading and boys outperform girls in physical education. Further research is required to understand what factors continue to influence teachers’ expectations and interactions with students in the classroom. There is a multiplicity of factors that impact teacher expectations of students such as socioeconomic status, racial background and physical attractiveness. However, the sources of these biases need to be identified. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise and understand the negative implications that teacher expectations can have on students’ academic performance, career aspirations, self-esteem, achievement motivation, self-perceived ability, and participation in class.
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