The Stereotype Threat

Making my regular “rounds” reading items about race and identity, I came upon this interesting article today.
I have been reading as much as I can about deficit ideology and about  internalized racism that PoC carry as part of their own racialized selves. This article adds another layer to my understanding of the power of stereotypes:

For acclaimed social psychologist Dr. Claude Steele, the numbers just didn’t make sense. Why, he wondered, was the national college dropout rate for Black students 20 to 25 percent higher than that for whites even when those students were just as well-prepared for college, had no socioeconomic disadvantages and managed to get excellent SAT scores? And among those Black students who did finish college, why was their grade-point average consistently lower than white students?….According to Steele, one of the major barriers holding back the achievement of Blacks, women and other underrepresented groups is a phenomenon he calls “stereotype threat,” the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype.

I am particularly curious about this part of Dr. Steele’s research:

Over the past 20 years, Steele has conducted numerous studies to test his theory of stereotype threat. In one study, he asked two groups of Black and white college students to take a 30-minute test made up of questions from the verbal section of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The test was designed to be difficult and the results were shocking.

When one group was told the test would measure their intellectual ability, Black students underperformed dramatically. But when another group was told the test could not measure intellectual ability, Blacks and whites performed at virtually the same level.

“When you get ride of the stereotype threat and tell the students this is not a test of cognitive ability, it’s just a puzzle, have fun—that small instruction makes the stereotype irrelevant,” Steele said. “When you create that situation, their performance goes up to match that of white students.”

Read the whole article here – and then consider, if you will, how as an educator I (and we) might help our female students and students of color (the 2 underperforming groups) perform better and with less internal stereotype fear on those major tests (like the SAT and ACT) and in their everyday work? I am going to pick up a copy of Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi. (ETA: book purchased)


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