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IES Grant

Title: A Randomized Trial of Reducing Stereotype Threat Among Minority and Economically Disadvantaged Students
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Dee, Thomas Awardee: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $512,787
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A090162

Purpose: Two recent field trials (Cohen et al. 2006; Good, Aronson, and Inzlicht 2003) suggest that modest interventions designed to buffer middle-school students against stereotype threat are effective at closing achievement gaps (e.g., raising minority student achievement by as much as 0.50 standard deviations, which is roughly equivalent to 50 percent of the minority achievement gap). This study replicates the Cohen et al. (2006) study using a more comprehensive set of student-level outcome measures, expanding it from 7th to 8th grade, and examining the intervention's impact not only in racially integrated schools but also in schools that serve more economically disadvantaged and largely minority communities.

Project Activities: The main project activities include the random assignment of middle school students to treatment and control groups, the administration of the treatment, data collection, and analysis.

Products: The products of this study will be written reports documenting the evidence of the efficacy of a middle school writing intervention on student outcomes, including achievement on state assessments, grades, attendance, disciplinary infractions, and grade promotion. Evidence on how the effects of the intervention vary by student and school characteristics will also be included.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will be conducted in the seventh and eighth grade academic-subject classrooms of five middle schools located in three Philadelphia-area school districts that participate in the Delaware Valley Minority Student Achievement Consortium.

Population: This study will be fielded in five middle schools from three school districts. Three of the participating middle schools have minority enrollment shares that range from 75 to 90 percent. The percent of students on free or reduced-price lunches in these schools ranges from 52 to 70 percent. In the other two participating schools, the minority enrollment shares are approximately 45 percent (i.e., similar to the Cohen et al. [2006] study). According to the most recent information available in the Common Core of Data, the combined 7th and 8th grade enrollment across these five schools is approximately 2,000. The student sample will consist of the seventh and eighth grade students in regular academic-subject classrooms.

Intervention: In an educational context, the concept of stereotype threat refers to the hypothesis that in highly evaluative settings such as classrooms, minority students are aware that they may be viewed through the lens of a negative academic stereotype. The awareness of this pejorative social identity can, according to this theory, create anxiety and disruptions in cognitive performance that ultimately harms student effort, attentiveness, intellectual engagement, and achievement. The seminal study by Steele and Aronson (1995) found evidence in support of this phenomenon. In particular, they found that racial gaps in test-score performance among black and white college students could be created through a modest randomized intervention that "primed" student awareness of race (e.g., a survey question on race).

The intervention is a 15-minute, written, in-class exercise designed to negate stereotype threat by affirming self-integrity through reflection on personally important core values. More specifically, the instructions provided to student participants inform them that they will be answering questions about "your ideas, your beliefs, and your life" and stress that "there are no right or wrong answers." In both the treatment and control conditions, the exercise cover sheet lists the same set of values (e.g., "athletic ability," "being smart or getting good grades," "music," "politics," "relationships with friends or family," "religious values," etc.). Students in the treatment condition are asked to identify their two or three most important values from the list while those in the control condition are asked to identify their two or three least most important values. In the second page of the exercise, students in the treatment condition are encouraged to describe "in a few sentences" why the selected values are important to them. Students in the control condition are encouraged to write about times when their least important values might matter to someone else. In both conditions, in order to reduce evaluation apprehension, students are encouraged to focus on their "thoughts and feelings" and not spelling, grammar or the quality of their writing.

The final page of the exercise is designed to reinforce the treatment. Students in the treatment condition are asked to list the top two reasons why their selected values are important to them while students in the control condition are asked to list the top two reasons why someone else would view the chosen values as important. Then, the final component of the exercise asks students to indicate their level of agreement with four statements about their chosen values. In the treatment condition, these statements were: (1) "These values have influenced my life." (2) "In general, I try to live up to these values." (3) "These values are an important part of who I am." and (4) "I care about these values." Students in the control condition indicate their level of agreement with similar statements that focus on other people (e.g., "These values have influenced some people.").

Research Design and Methods: Students will be assigned to the treatment and control conditions through random assignment. Prior to randomization, individual students within each participating classroom will be matched into pairs based on the available baseline covariates (e.g., race, gender and prior test scores). Randomization will occur within matched pairs of classroom peers.

Control Condition: As described above, students in the control condition complete a writing exercise that focuses on values that the student deems important to others, in contrast to values that are important to them.

Key Measures: Academic achievement will be measured by student-level math and reading scores from state assessments. The test score measure will be individual math and reading scores on the spring Pennsylvania System of School Assessment for four of the schools and the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge for one school. Additional outcome measures will include course grades, school attendance, grade promotion, and disciplinary infractions.

Data Analytic Strategy: The impact of the intervention will be estimated for the full sample and for certain key subgroups (e.g., boys and girls) in a regression specification that adjusts for student-level baseline covariates, for fixed effects unique to each participating classroom, and in some specifications, to each matched pair of students. Some of the analyses will be state-specific given the potential problems of pooling distinctive state assessments. An additional analysis will assess whether student attrition (e.g., due to student mobility) and student baseline traits are balanced across the treatment and control conditions.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Dee, T.S. (2015). Social Identity and Achievement Gaps: Evidence From an Affirmation Intervention. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 8 (2): 149–168.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Education Policy, Finance, and Systems in FY 2009.