Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: An Efficacy Trial of Two Interventions Designed to Reduce Stereotype Threat Vulnerability and Close Academic Performance Gaps
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Borman, Geoffrey Awardee: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (06/01/11 to 5/31/15) Award Amount: $1,398,450
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A110136

Co-Principal Investigator: Adam Gamoran

Purpose: This project tested the efficacy of reducing gaps in academic performance between minority and White students and between students of lower and higher socioeconomic status through two types of interventions aimed at reducing stereotype threat. Stereotype threat refers to the apprehension individuals experience when confronted with a personally relevant stereotype that threatens their social identity or self-esteem. Prior work has proposed that the phenomenon could help explain group differences in performance on standardized tests and in school. Stereotype threat is predicated on the notion that people often fear behaving in a way that fits the negative cultural image associated with a group stereotype, thereby marking them as inferior. This largely unconscious fear elicits anxiety and other counterproductive responses that can severely interfere with thinking and performance on standardized tests or other evaluative activities in the classroom.

This project team proposed to determine the impacts of two similar but theoretically distinct stereotype threat-reduction interventions. The first intervention is a self-affirmation intervention and the second is a social-belonging intervention. Both interventions are carried out through student writing exercises. The self-affirmation intervention is based on protecting the self from perceived threats and the consequences of failure by encouraging affirmation of self-worth. The social-belonging intervention is intended to help students think about social and academic stressors as common and temporary, which normalizes these stressful experiences and allows for improved achievement, behavior, and well-being. Prior research has found promising evidence regarding student achievement for both interventions.

Project Activities: The research team conducted two experiments to determine the impacts of two interventions (a self-affirmation intervention and a social-belonging intervention) on student social-psychological outcomes, behavior, grades, and test scores in middle-schools in the Madison (Wisconsin) Metropolitan School District. The writing exercises take 15 minutes to complete. The low time and financial cost of these interventions make them widely replicable.

Products: Products include evidence of the efficacy of two stereotype threat-reduction interventions published in peer reviewed journals.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study took place in 11 middle schools serving Grade 69 students in Madison, Wisconsin.

Population: At the start of the study, the student population in the district's middle schools was between 40% to 60% non-White. In the districts' 8 most diverse schools, the student population was approximately 40% White, 30% African American, and 20% Hispanic/Latino. Nearly 50% of students were from low-income families.

Intervention: The two treatment interventions are writing exercises that take 15 minutes to complete. The self-affirmation intervention was administered four times over a 2-year period to 7th and 8th grade students. Students assigned to the self-affirmation intervention received a list of 11 values such as relationships, grades, art, and independence. Students were asked to circle the two to three values most important to them and write a paragraph about why these values are important. They were then asked to answer five questions in a Likert scale asking them to indicate how important those values are to them personally.

The social-belonging intervention was administered twice over a single school year to 6th grade students. Students assigned to the social-belonging intervention read quotations and stories from a fictional survey of the prior year's 6th grade students about their experiences, particularly how they struggled but eventually adapted to their new environment, and then to reflect in writing on the survey data and stories while considering how they too can adjust to a new environment and its challenges.

Research Design and Method: Under an experimental design, two cohorts of 7th grade students were randomly assigned to the self-affirmation condition or a control condition and followed for two school years. Under a separate experimental design, one cohort of 6th grade students was randomly assigned to the social-belongingness intervention or a control condition. Researchers collected two waves of data in the fall and spring of each school year. Data collected included: (a) the writing exercises administered in each of the two experiments; (b) district administrative data including student demographics, grades, and standardized test scores; (c) a survey designed to measure social-psychological outcomes; and (d) qualitative measures of the fidelity of implementation.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition of both experiments were given similarly formatted materials that ask them to respond to neutral topics.

Key Measures: The students' 6th through 8th grade scores on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (Wisconsin's high-stakes assessment) and student grades were used to measure achievement. Students completed a researcher-developed survey to measure the extent to which students feel stereotype threat. Fidelity of implementation data was obtained from classroom observation of a random sample of classrooms during the writing exercises and from the student written responses.

Data Analytic Strategy: A multilevel regression analysis was used to assess the impacts of the interventions on post-treatment social-psychological variables, test scores, and grades. The primary comparison was between each stereotype threat-reduction intervention to the neutral control condition. Subgroup analyses were done for each racial/ethnic group. Structural equation modeling was used to test whether effects of the interventions on GPA were mediated by social-psychological and behavioral outcomes.

Related Projects:
Promoting School Belongingness and Academic Performance: A Multisite Replication Trial of a Scalable Student Mindset Intervention (R305A180220)
Reducing Achievement Gaps at Scale Through a Brief Self-Affirmation Intervention (R305A180230)


Borman, G.D., Grigg, J., Rozek, C., Hanselman, P., & Dewey, N.A. (in press). Self-affirmation effects are produced by school context, student engagement with the intervention, and time: Lessons from a district-wide implementation. Psychological Science.

Borman, G.D., & Pyne, J. (2016). What if Coleman had known about stereotype threat? How social-psychological theory can help mitigate educational inequality. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2 (5), 164-185.

Borman, G.D. (2017). Advancing values affirmation as a scalable strategy for mitigating identity threats and narrowing national achievement gaps. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114, 7486-7488.

Bradley, D.N., Crawford, E.P., & Dahill-Brown, S. (2016). Defining and assessing FoI in a large-scale randomized trial: Core components of values affirmation. Studies In Educational Evaluation 49, 51-65.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Education Policy, Finance, and Systems in FY 2011.