It’s a troubling fact that Latino Americans and African Americans earn lower grades on average than their white peers and are much more likely to drop out of high school.
In an article published online Feb. 11 by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Geoffrey Cohen, David Sherman (professors of education and psychology at Stanford) and seven co-authors write that a simple intervention made with middle school Latino American students reduced the achievement gap significantly. What’s more, the positive effect persisted over time.
What they have found – in numerous studies – is that the stress and uncertain sense of belonging that can stem from being a member of a negatively stereotyped group undermines academic performance of minority students as compared with white students.
Cohen and his colleagues have been looking for remedies to stereotype threat. In the first study described in the article, the researchers devised well-timed “values-affirmation” classroom assignments given to both Latino and white students.
The results were dramatic: Latino students who completed the affirmation exercises had higher grades than those in the control group. Moreover, the effects of the affirmation intervention persisted for three years. The task had no significant effect on white students.
Cohen said, “Latino Americans are under a more consistent and chronic sense of psychological threat in the educational setting than their white counterparts on average. They constantly face negative stereotypes about their ability to succeed, so they are the ones to benefit the most from affirmations that help them to maintain a positive self-image.”