Study sheds light on how Black students’ stereotypes about academic performance change as they age

A longitudinal study published in Developmental Psychology found that Black children possess different racial stereotypes in regard to academic and nonacademic performance. African American girls perceived Black children as less academically competent in STEM subjects compared to White children. However, Blacks children were perceived as more competent in music and sports.

“These perceptions likely have significant consequences for the academic achievement of African American youth. Because of the importance of social identities for individual identity, youth are likely to pursue domains in which they perceive that other members of their own group excel,” wrote the authors.

The authors enrolled 563 African American 5th graders (313 girls and 250 boys) who were in elementary schools consisting of 61% to 97% African American students. The study began when the students reached the 7th grade. Students reported their opinions on competence levels of Blacks and Whites in math, science, reading, writing, sports, and music when they were in the 7th grade, 10th grade, and 12th grade.

African American students perceived White students as more successful in math and science. White students were also perceived to be slightly better than Black students in English. Results also showed an increased endorsement of academic stereotypes that favored White students over time. Girls were more likely than boys to perceive White students as better in math and science than Black students.

In contrast, African American students rated Black children more talented in music and sports. When looking at gender differences, boys viewed more Black children being better at sports. This nonacademic stereotype favoring Blacks over Whites decreased over time as students transitioned from middle school to high school.

The authors note several limitations to the study including limited time-points in assessing developmental change in racial academic stereotypes and limited sampling that excluded interracial students and students in other geographical regions with varying racial contexts.

“The historical knowledge of [Jim Crow] and the remnants of their effects on the lives of people of color in these communities today may lead to heightened awareness of traditional stereotypes and, more specifically, the endorsement of these traditional stereotypes at younger ages. Thus, these findings may not generalize to African Americans in other regions of the United States,” the researchers wrote.

The study, “The development of academic and nonacademic race stereotypes in African American adolescents”, was authored by Marketa Burnett, Beth Kurtz-Costes, Heidi A. Vuletich, and Stephanie J. Rowley.

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