Students of color from low-income families and girls can improve their reading and math scores if these children learn their intelligence is something that can develop over time, according to a new study by researchers at New York and Columbia universities. The study, which addresses the impact of stereotyping on academic performance, appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (v. 24, no. 6).

In the study, seventh grade students in a rural area of Texas were mentored by college students who encouraged them either to view intelligence as something that can develop over time or to attribute academic difficulties in the seventh grade to the novelty of the educational setting. Results showed that females in both experimental conditions earned significantly higher math scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test than females who were not given these messages. Similarly, the male students in the experimental conditions earned significantly higher reading standardized test scores than students in the control condition. The participating students were largely minority and low-income adolescents.

“Standardized tests continue to generate gender and race gaps in achievement despite decades of national attention,” said Joshua Aronson, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. “The results reveal a possible route for reaching students targeted by the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law, which mandates specific performance levels on standardized tests.”

The study’s other authors were Catherine Good, a psychology professor at Columbia University, and Michael Inzlicht, a post-doctoral research scientist at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. Their research adds to the body of work on stereotype threat, a performance-debilitating anxiety about conforming to stereotypes individuals believe others have them when taking standardized tests. Stanford University Psychology Professor Claude Steele and Aronson introduced the concept in 1995. Data from this study suggest that achievement gaps on standardized tests may be partly due to stereotypes that impugn the math abilities of females and the intellectual abilities of black, Hispanic, and low-income students.

The current study is also consistent with Aronson’s 2002 research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The findings revealed that African-American undergraduates, when encouraged to view intelligence as malleable, reported greater enjoyment of the academic process, greater academic engagement, and obtained higher grade point averages than their counterparts in two control groups.

EDITOR’S NOTE The Steinhardt School of Education is a rich source of ground-breaking scholarship on issues of national and global significance and innovation in research, teaching, practice and performance. The School prepares students to be educators, health professionals, counselors and psychologists, academics, musicians, artists, communication specialists and policy analysts. The Steinhardt School values it location in New York City, where it is engaged in research, partnerships and community service aimed at improving urban life and the city’s institutions.

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