Areas of Expertise


Achievement Gaps
Literature Library


Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?

  1. Explanations

    1. School Factors

      1. Teacher Expectations and Practices

Breaking the Link between Teacher Expectations and Black Students' Performance

A leading scholar argues that teachers' perceptions, expectations, and behaviors probably do help to sustain, and perhaps even expand, the black-white test score gap. However, he believes that there are some ways that black students' performance can be unlinked from some harmful effects of low teacher expectations.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Ferguson, R. F. (1998). Teachers' perceptions and expectations and the black-white test score gap. In C. Jencks and M. Phillips (Eds.),The black-white test score gap (pp. 273-317). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Scholar Ronald Ferguson surveys a wide body of research on teacher expectations, perceptions, and behaviors with respect to white and black students. As he concludes:

"My bottom-line conclusion is that teachers' perceptions, expectations and behaviors probably do help to sustain, and perhaps even expand, the black-white test score gap." (p. 313)

If teachers have lower expectations for black students, and if these expectations reinforce or expand the differences between black and white student academic performance, what is to be done?

Ferguson notes that simply admonishing teachers to expect more of black students probably will not have much effect. Rather, he suggests two ways that this link between teacher expectations and black student performance might be broken:

  1. changing teaching methods
  2. changing teacher expectations

Changing Teaching Methods

Ferguson suggests that there may be some teaching methods that actually break the link between teacher expectations and black student performance. One method he discusses is called "responsive teaching."

What is responsive teaching? Ferguson says that instruction is responsive when it responds to the child's progress and when it is appropriately stimulating.It is a way of tailoring the teacher's responses and invitations to the child's own efforts to improve. Ferguson believes that when a teacher is responsive to a child's situation and efforts, then the teacher's expectations will probably have less of an effect on student performance.

Ferguson gives two examples of responsive teaching methods:

  1. Wait time. Wait time refers to the amount of time that a teacher waits for students to raise their hands, begin talking, or resume talking after a pause. Research shows that minority students in integrated classrooms participate more when a teacher's wait time is longer. Ferguson says that this improves minority student performance as well as helps change teacher expectations.
  2. Corrective Feedback. Ferguson notes a study that examined the effectiveness of a "feedback and corrective" technique of teaching. A group of teachers was given training in this technique and then asked to teach one class using the technique and another class using their standard teaching methods. The study found that in the majority of classrooms where the corrective feedback technique was used, the teachers' early predictions of student achievement were much less accurate. The importance of this, says Ferguson, is that this teaching method broke the link between teacher expectations and student performance. He believes that if applied in teaching black students, it could help to free both students and teachers from the constraints of teachers' prior conceptions of black performance.

Changing Teacher Expectations

Ferguson talks about another effortthis one targeting a change in teacher expectations. The program is called Great Expectations. While Ferguson notes that this program has not been thoroughly evaluated in terms of its effectiveness, it does look promising.

The basic goal of the program is to change student and teacher expectations about the importance and effectiveness of learning in their lives. The program has a number of characteristics:

  • It aims to convince all students, not only the most talented, that they are destined to be important people if they are academically prepared for the future.
  • Those who misbehave are regularly reminded that the teacher cares and will not give up on them.
  • Teaching methods provide a high challenge for students.
  • Students receive feedback from teachers and peers in forms that make learning fun and emphasize its importance for happiness and success.
  • Progress is celebrated by teachers, peers, and parents.
  • In addition to normal curricular materials, the children are taught to learn uplifting, forward-looking poetry.

Although it began in Chicago, the Great Expectations program has been taken to other schools outside of Chicago. Ferguson says:

"The story of Great Expectations shows real people struggling, with some success, to change teaching practicesand in the process, teachers' expectationsfor disadvantaged, mostly minority, children." (p. 304)

Ferguson thinks that when students' and teachers' expectations change about what is possible in terms of black students' academic progress, then what students actually achieve will change as well.

Research Design:

Research Questions

How do teacher perceptions, expectations and behaviors relate to the differences in academic achievement between white and black students?

What can be done to break the link between teacher expectations and student performance for black students?

Data and Procedure

Ferguson essentially carries out a detailed literature review. Ferguson draws on a wide range of research studies. His goal is to provide an overview of what is currently known regarding teacher perceptions, expectations, and behaviors and their relationship to black student academic performance.

Funding Source

Not given.


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