The Impact of Teacher Expectations on Student Achievement

Mar 1, 2017 10:27:28 AM Jingtangna Huang

The Top 10 Finalists for the Global Teacher Prize 2017 was announced by the Varkey Foundation last week, highlighting the great contribution teachers have made to this world. Viewing their unique stories, it is easy to realize that all of these great teachers, regardless of their diverse backgrounds and achievements, have consciously or unconsciously displayed one thing in common: they have very positive perceptions on students, firmly believing that their students have the potential within “to become anything they want to be” (Michael Wamaya, one of Top 10 Finalists 2017). This kind of positive belief on students is regarded as something essential in determining the success of education.

It is a widely accepted by most researchers that teacher expectations have an impact on student achievement. Some even argue that the “self-fulling” prophecies created by teacher expectations largely “determine” students’ academic outcomes or even life success. Deborah Stipek (2010) points out in How Do Teachers' Expectations Affect Student Learning, that the development of an expectation, even a wrong one, causes people to behave as if it is true, eventually leading to fulfillment of the previous expectation. This idea originated from Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard professor as well as the first psychologist to systematically study this topic. He did an experiment at an elementary school in the south of San Francisco. He randomly selected several children from every class and told their teachers that the standardized IQ test predicted those kids were especially intelligent. As he followed the children over the next two years, finding out that they actually did gain more IQ. And his further observation displayed that teacher-student interaction was affected in a number of ways, such as allowing them more time to answer questions, providing more specific feedbacks, giving more smiles and nods, etc.

The assumed association between teacher expectations and student achievements has served as a discussion foundation for studies around the world, many of which further explore this topic and reveal the profound policy implications behind. Using data in Gansu Province in 2000 and 2007, a study on educational reforms in rural China (Lisa Yiu & Jennifer Adams, 2013) concludes that non-local teachers hold lower expectations for rural children compared to local teachers, which may direct the government policy to fully develop and strengthen local hiring plans rather than considering hiring more college graduates in major cities. Another German research article (Tobias Rausch, Constance Karing, Tobias Dörfler & Cordula Art, 2013) outlines personality similarity between teachers and their students as a significant indicator on teachers’ judgements on students - students who are similar to their teacher are judged more positively than students who are dissimilar, even when students’ test performance is controlled. The result suggests that principals or teacher trainers should help teachers become more aware of this kind of biased judgement and show more appreciations to students who are dissimilar to them.