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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: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,398,450
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A110136

Co-Principal Investigators: Adam Gamoran

Purpose: This project will test 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 proposes 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 group boundary-blurring 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 group boundary-blurring intervention is based on blurring group boundaries by focusing on characteristics that are shared between groups in an effort to equalize groups. Prior research has found promising evidence regarding student achievement for both interventions.

Project Activities: The research team will conduct an experiment to determine the impacts of two interventions (a self-affirmation intervention and a group-boundary intervention) on two student outcomes: (a) decreased vulnerability to stereotype threat and (b) reduced achievement gaps between historically disadvantaged and more-advantaged student groups. Specifically, the efficacy of the two writing exercises will be assessed relative to one another and to a neutral, control writing condition. Researchers will compare the impacts of a self-affirmation intervention, a group boundary-blurring intervention, and a neutral control group condition on the grades and test scores of 2,500 middle-school students in the Madison (Wisconsin) Metropolitan School District. The writing exercises take 15 minutes to complete. Should the interventions be found effective, their low time and financial cost 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 will take place in 11 middle schools serving Grade 7–9 students in Madison, Wisconsin.

Population: The proposed research will be conducted in the 7th and 8th grades of the Madison (Wisconsin) Metropolitan School District. On average, the student population in the district's middle schools is between 40% to 60% non-White. In the districts 8 most diverse schools, the student population is approximately 40% White, 30% African American, and 20% Hispanic/Latino. Nearly 50% of students are from low-income families.

Intervention: The two treatment interventions are writing exercises that take 15 minutes to complete and will be administered four times over a 2-year period. Students assigned to the self-affirmation intervention will receive a list of 10 values such as relationships, grades, art, and independence. Students will be asked to circle the two to three values most important to them and write a paragraph about why these values are important. They will then be asked to answer five questions in a Likert scale asking them to indicate how important those values are to them personally.

Students assigned to the group-boundary intervention will receive a set of questions asking them to think of three ways that all people are alike, no matter who they areórich or poor; Black, White, Latino, or Asian; boy or girl. Examples of these similarities will be provided (e.g. eating, having fun, playing sports, reading and writing, and having friends). Students will be asked to think about these shared characteristics for a minute, then write a paragraph on why the characteristics they selected matter to them. They will then indicate on a Likert scale how important each of these characteristics is to them personally.

Research Design and Method: Under an experimental design, two cohorts of 7th grade students (approximately 1,250 students per cohort) will be randomly assigned to the self-affirmation condition, group-boundary condition, or control condition and followed for two school years. Researchers will collect two waves of data in the fall and spring of each of two school years. Data to be collected include: (a) the writing exercises to be administered in each of the three experimental conditions; (b) district administrative data including student demographics and standardized test scores; (c) a survey designed to measure stereotype vulnerability; and (d) qualitative measures of the fidelity of implementation.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will be given similarly formatted materials that ask them to write about a neutral topic, such as their daily routine. They will then be asked to answer five neutral questions presented in Likert-scale form.

Key Measures: The students' 6th through 8th grade scores on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (Wisconsin's high-stakes assessment) and student grades will be used to measure achievement. The five-item stereotype vulnerability survey (Aronson and Inzlicht, 2004) will be used to measure the extent to which students feel stereotype threat. The survey will be given in the fall and spring of 7th grade and the spring of 8th grade. Fidelity of implementation data will be obtained from classroom observation of a random sample of classrooms during the writing exercises and from the student written responses.

Data Analytic Strategy: Ordinary least squares regression analysis will be used assess the impacts of the interventions on post-treatment stereotype vulnerability, test scores, and grades. The primary comparison will be between each stereotype threat-reduction intervention to the neutral control condition. In addition, a comparison of the outcomes of the interventions will be done. Subgroup analyses will be done for each racial/ethnic group. Exploratory analyses will examine the relationship of the fidelity of implementation with variations in the interventions' associations with student outcomes and estimate the complier average causal effect.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Borman, G.D., Grigg, J., and Hanselman, P. (2016). An Effort to Close Achievement Gaps at Scale Through Self-Affirmation. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38 (1): 21–42.

Hanselman, P., C. S. Rozek, J. Grigg, and G. D. Borman. (2017). New Evidence on Self-Affirmation Effects and Theorized Sources of Heterogeneity From Large-Scale Replications. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109 (3): 405–424.

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