REDUCING STEREOTYPE THREAT: THE EFFECT OF AFFIRMATION INTERVENTION ON STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES

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REDUCING STEREOTYPE THREAT: THE EFFECT OF AFFIRMATION
INTERVENTION ON STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES









Except where reference is made to the work of others, the work described in this project
is my own or was done in collaboration with my Advisor. This
project does not include
proprietary or classified information.








________________________________________________________________________

Chance M. Giddens






Certificate of Approval:


____
___________________________
_______________________________

Donald R. Livingston, Ed.D

Sharon M. Livingston, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Project Co
-
Advisor
Assistant

Professor and Project Co
-
Advisor

Education Department


Education Department






Stereotype Threat
ii


REDUCING STEREOTYPE THREAT: THE EFFECT OF AFFIRMATION
INTERVENTION ON STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES



A project submitted


by


Chance M. Giddens


to


LaGrange College


in partial fulfillment of


the requiremen
t for the


degree of


SPECIALIST IN EDUCATION


in


Curriculum and Instruction


LaGrange, Georgia


July 14
, 2011









Stereotype Threat
iii


Abstract


An achievement gap is present between Black and White students and between
poor and affluent students. Research indicates one

reason for the disparity in
performance might be the presence of stereotype threat. This study was designed to
negate the effects of stereotype threat on academic performance by way of affirmation
intervention. The study combined action research with ev
aluation research to analyze the
effectiveness of affirmation intervention on standardized test scores and the school
improvement plan. Results showed no statistical difference in test scores before and after
implementation but included responses from stu
dents and teachers that showed
appreciation for affirmation intervention. Further, administrative responses indicated
receptiveness toward affirmation intervention techniques being employed in the
classroom as part of the school improvement plan.

















Stereotype Threat
iv


Table of Contents


Abstract

iii



Table of Contents

iv



List of Tables

v


Chapter 1: Introduction

1


Statement of the Problem

1



Significance of the Problem

1


Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

2


Focus Questions

4


Overview of Methodology

5


Human as Researcher

6


Chapter 2: Review of the Literature

7


Effect on Test Scores

8


Student Perceptions

10


Leadership Thoughts

12



Chapter 3: Methodology

16


Research Design

16


Setting

17


Subjects

and

Participants

17


Procedures and Data Collection
Methods

18


Validity and Reliability Measures

20


Analysis of Data

22



Chapter 4: Results

24



Chapter 5: Analysis and Discussion of Results

36



Analysis of Results

36


Discussion

40



Implications

41



Impact on School Improvement

43


Recommendations fo
r Future Research

44



References

46



Appendices

52

Stereotype Threat
v


List of Tables





Table 3.1: Data Shell









18


Table 4.1: t
-
Test, Paired Two Sample for Means





25


Table 4.2:
Chi Square Results,
Student Questionnaire




27
































Stereotype Threat
1


CHAPTER ONE
-
INTRODUCTION



Statement of the Problem



This study explores how reducing stereotype threat amongst African American
high school students will affect their scores on the Georgia High School Graduation Test
in social studies. Minority students underperform their counterparts in the majority
popul
ation on nearly all measures of learning. From standardized test scores to grade
point average to graduation rates, there is an “achievement gap” between Black and
White students in the United States. Bifulco

and Ladd (2007) note

that “among the most
pers
istent issues in American education are the racial segregation of students and the
achievement gap between black and white students” (p. 1).


The problem is, in fact, a
national one. Though socioeconomic status also has stratification, with high SES
indi
viduals consistently outperforming low SES individuals, the most common factor in
the achievement gap is race. As Bali
and Alvarez (2004) state

“the ‘race gap,’ usually
studied as the difference between Black and White students’ achievement scores, clearl
y
and repeatedly arises across the nation” (p. 1). In light of this evidence, this study seeks
to answer the following research question: Will reducing stereotype threat among
African American students result in higher standardized test scores for them?

Significance of the Problem

If the achievement gap between Black and W
hite students is not narrowed, the
ramifications will continue to be far
-
reaching. Left unabated, the gap will ensure that
schools cannot meet Adequate Yearly Progress as proscribed in
No Child Left Behind as
graduation rates for

minorities, often the most important part of the equation for overall
graduation rate (a central component of
AYP),
will

continue to decrease. Beyond
Stereotype Threat
2


immediate concerns, the long
-
range
denouement

can be nothing

other than a further
entrenchment of what has become
inter
-
generational poverty. Previous research has
suggested that skills reflected in test
-
score performance on tests such as the Armed
Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) can account for some of the racia
l differences in
average wages (Blackburn, 2004). To put it simply, less academic achievement translates
into less earning power for the individual, or, in this case, the group.
The academic
achievement gap is a reality that impedes social and economic a
dvancement for the
African American family. In order to strengthen the African American family via
academic achievement and educational attainment, the amelioration of the gap must be a
primary goal of the educational establishment (Leach

& Williams
, 2007)
.

Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks


This study is germane to the LaGrange College Education Department’s

(2008)

Conceptual Framework
in three important ways. Tenet 1 states that when “teachers
implement the principles of constructivism in their teach
er preparation programs, they
transform their candidates and stimulate them to develop their own personal
understandings of constructivism” (pg. 3). The idea of stereotype threat is rooted deeply
in the social constructivist view that learning has many out
side factors influencing it; that
education does not happen “in a vacuum.” Central to this overarching philosophy is a
critical theory view regarding education and how the group holding power determines, in
effect, the educational achievement of the group

that does not. The fact that low SES
students in
general
,

and African American students in particular
,

are outside the power
structure and are thusly affected by outside forces over which they have no control is an
important context of this study. Stud
ents who have internalized the popular myth that
Stereotype Threat
3


their particular group has less academic acumen than other groups are bound to “live
down” to that stereotype. Jost and Banaji, as cited by Spencer

and Castano

(2007), posit
the notion that System Justification Theory suggests “members of both high and low
status groups are motivated to maintain the status quo and legitimize the existing social
structures through the use of stereotypes, whether positive or negat
ive” (p. 38).
Furthermore, because critical theory holds that transmission of education is not “value
free,” the dominant group within society determines what values are transmitted. By
reducing stereotype threat this study is designed to help students no
t only overcome an
artificial barrier but also to help them navigate their world by having a deeper, critical
view of it.


The goal of this study aligns nicely with Tenet 2 of the
Conceptual Framework

insofar that “we believe that learning is mostly an aff
ective, dramatic, and emotional
event and that it requires learners to construct new connections” (p. 5). That is, for a
critical understanding of the world around them, students must take an active role in their
education. The best way to do this is to
connect their education to the world around
them. The implementation of avenues to overcome stereotype threat will be an emotional
exercise. Only by confronting externalities that serve as impediments to learning,
however, will students be able to excise

them. In so doing, the idea that the brain, much
like a muscle, will grow when exercised will allow students to construct those new
connections.


Tenet 3 of the
Conceptual Framework

asserts that “through action research,
positive classroom practices, and

on
-
going research in school communities, candidates
can affect policies and practices around them” (p. 8). The reason for this study is to
Stereotype Threat
4


affect the lives of children in a real and long
-
term way. Teaching children mechanisms to
reduce stereotype threat

will lead to positive outcomes in both school and the real world.


Further, this study is aligned with the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of
the Five Elements of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education 2000
Standard I for Ini
tial Programs. The Five National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards Core Propositions for Experienced Teachers, specifically Proposition 5, that
teachers are members of learning communities, is reflected in this study as well.

Focus Questions


This

study is guided by three focus questions. Question one explores the
quantitative effect of the study and is concerned with th
e overarching research question;

namely
,

how

reducing stereotype threat will impact student achievement on standardized
exams. Q
uestion two explores the effect on student perception when presented with
affirmation intervention and is designed to glean pertinent information from the students
affected. From a pedagogical perspective, question three investigates how the study will
af
fect the culture of the school as seen through an administrative lens.

The three focus questions are:

1.


Will reducing stereotype threat amongst students in eleventh grade
government classes result in a markedly better score for this group on the
Georgia Hig
h School Graduation Test in social studies?

2.

How will students respond to a campaign specifically designed to increase
achievement on standardized tests?

Stereotype Threat
5


3.

How will school leaders feel about the processes used to reduce stereotype
threat with regards to t
he stated goals of the school improvement plan for
social studies?

Overview of Methodology


In
Comparative Education
, Arnove

and Torres

(2003) sugg
est

that “the goal of
comparative education has been to contribute to theory building; to the formulation of
generalizable propositions about the working of school systems and their interactions
with their surrounding economies, politics, cultures, and socia
l

orders

(p. 86). This
study wa
s centered on the comparative approach of reducing stereotype threat.


This study w
as
conducted in one section of 11
th

grade government at Troup
County Comprehensive High School. The male to female ratio
was

equal with a
preponderance of students in a low SES level. The students
were

exposed to various
methods to reduce stereotype threat prior to the Georgia High School Graduation Test in
social studies.


The study utilize
d

both quantitative and qualitative measures of as
sessment.
Quantitatively, a Likert scale questionnaire and a dependent t
-
test to examine pre and
post test results amongst students
was

implemented in response to focus question one.
Students
were

given an exam similar to the GHSGT in social studies prio
r to stereotype
reduction methods being implemented. Once s
tereotype reduction methods had been
implemented, students took

the GHSGT in social studies. Qualitatively, the study
utilize
d

surveys and interviews. Students
were

given surveys to assess how t
hey felt
about the methods used in response to focus question two. Similarly, administrators w
ere

Stereotype Threat
6


interviewed to assess their feelings about both the efficacy of the procedure and the
results thereof in response to focus question three.

Human as Researche
r


In my ten years in front of the classroom, I have taught many different courses
within the social studies curriculum from remedial social studies to AP European History.
In that time I have seen first
-
hand the achievement gap in play. As a member of t
he
School Improvement Team (or varying iterations thereof) for all ten years, I have been
privy to data that proves the achievement gap between the races is not only pervasive, but
growing. As a social scientist, I am also keenly aware of historical facto
rs that continue
to play a part in the achievement gap. As a parent, I’m concerned with how this gap, if
left unattended to, will affect the country my children inherit. Reducing stereotype threat
to narrow the achievement gap meshes my experiences, knowl
edge, and desires in a
research
-
based approach that I hope will prove fruitful.



















Stereotype Threat
7


CHAPTER TWO

REVIEW

OF THE
LITERATURE


This study focuses on three research questions: Will reducing stereotype threat
amongst students in eleventh grade government classes result in a markedly better score
for this group on the Georgia High School Graduation Test in social studies? How will
Black
students respond to a campaign specifically designed to increase achievement on
standardized tests? How will school leaders feel about the processes used to reduce
stereotype threat with regards to the stated goals of the school improvement plan for

social studies? To imbue the study with the proper credentials, research and review of
available literature concerning each question was undertaken.


Stereotype threat arises when members of a group internalize negative
connotations about said group wi
th regards to completion of or excelling at specific tasks.
This negativity is manifested by a fear of reinforcing the negative stereotype. Black high
school students exhibit stereotype threat in the face of meeting or exceeding state
-
mandated “cut
-
off”
scores on standardized exams. The stark achievement gap between
the races on these types of assessments
lends credence to the theory
. To reduce
stereotype threat, then, is to narrow the achievement gap.

Affirmation intervention techniques have been use
d in various guises in numerous
studies in an effort to disabuse black students of the notion they are incapable of
academic achievement. The task is all the more difficult when confronted with the stark
reality that the achievement gap
first arises

in th
e primary grades. Poor starts causing an
early achievement gap often result in an exponential growth of the gap with grade
-
to
-
grade progression (Chapin, 2006
). Couple the knowledge that many black students carry
with them about past performance with the
trepidation all adolescents have for
Stereotype Threat
8


assessments of any kind and underperformance because of stereotype threat becomes an
all too
-
real possibility. As the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional
Assistance found (
Aronson,

Cohen, McColskey, M
ontrose, Lewis, & Mooney,

2009
)
,

a
lthough a test
-
taking situation may seem objectively the same for all students, some
students, because of their social identity, may experience it in a very different
way”
(
p
.
2).

Effect on Test Scores

What
then to enge
nder positivity in B
lack test takers
? Use of instruments
designed to assess student perceptions of race and the achievement gap is a necessity.
One
-
on
-
one conversations, group discussions, surveys, questionnaires, and fostering an
environment of trust in

conjunction with or because of the use of such techniques have
proven successful (Bruce,

Getch, & Ziomek
-
Daigle,

2009). Group dynamics
in this sense
are a positive. The negative group dynamic, the one that gives rise to stereotype threat,
can and must b
e overcome. Using affirmation intervention techniques can mitigate the
negative group dynamic by replacing it with a positive group dynamic through
relationship

building within and across the group.


To this end, an effort to re
-
educate the student about

educational attainment is of
paramount importance. Students who have all too often had negative experiences in
school need to be taught that school can and should be a positive experience.
And while
it is true that d
ifferent kinds of students may requir
e different pedagogies of improvement
(Steele, 1999)
, it is also true that all students can benefit from learning about the
malleable nature of the human brain and its capacities. Teaching students that their mind
is like a muscle

that it becomes stronger or “smarter” with exercise

can lead to
Stereotype Threat
9


improved per
formance across any number of educational assessments (Aronson

et al.
,
2004). Such interventions can ultimately lead to success outside
the schoolhouse as well.
Serna, Forness, and Neilson (1998) posit

that
“u
ltimately, teachers may be able to teach
soci
al/resiliency/self
-
determination skills so that children can advocate for themselves
and exhibit behaviors that promote independence and success in school,
family, and
community settings” (p. 49). Thus, improving the self
-
perception of the student can
imp
rove test scores, graduation rates, and life
-
long earning potential for the student.

Beyond discussions about and lessons devoted to learning potential, though, other
affirmation intervention techniques are needed to help reduce stereotype threat.
Affirma
tion intervention can be both teacher

directed and student (or self) directed
. By
understanding motivational urges and how to harness self
-
control, self affirmation is sure
to follow (Schmeichel

& Vohs
, 2009). As stereotype threat afflicts members of a g
roup,
group affirmation is also important to reduce the threat.
Peer support is invaluable to
these ends
(Olszewski
-
Kubilius, 2006)
. When students can point to another who is,
ostensibly, just like themselves but different in that the other has attained
educational
success, students can begin to imagine themselves matching said achievement.
Frequent
contact with the parent by the
school

in a concerted effort to improve the student’s self
-
worth and self
-
perception of ability on regimented educational task
s leads to improved
performance

and

the counselors of the school should be
primarily engaged in such

efforts
(Brigman,

Webb & Campbell,

2007).

What then of actual classroom instruction? Research indicates that specific
reading and writing tasks work to re
duce stereotype threat. The use of authentic reading
materials has shown to be effective to this end. When students are allowed to read
Stereotype Threat
10


materials that are at their reading level and in an area of interest to them, educational
awareness and, most importan
tly, self esteem are raised
(Erickson, 2008)
. When Black
students are allowed to write about their values and interests, there tends to be an
improvement in achievement as well
(Cohen,

Garcia, Purdie
-
Vaughns, Apfel, &
Brzustoski

2009)
.


Labeling, though,

is perhaps most important in this area. Just as stereotype threat
affects performance on assessments, labeling bias does as well. When tests are labeled in
different ways, it affe
cts performance on them (Jencks & Phillips
1998). By describing a
test as

a measure of intelligence, for example, the instructor may be unwittingly setting
his Black students up for failure. Even if the test measures intelligence quotient, labeling
it as something else improves the performance of minority students (Sackett,

Ha
rdison, &
Cullen

2004). To reduce stereotype threat one must be cognizant of these findings.
Focused lessons that are attuned to both group dynamics and individual perceptions of
ability must be employed along with the focused efforts of parents and coun
selors to do
the same.

Student Perceptions

How then will Black students feel about efforts to reduce stereotype threat?
Racial inequality in educational attainment is not something that is simply rooted in the
past. Opportunities within schools are often

racialized knowingly or unknowingly by the
school leaders (Pollock, 2008). The key to assuring buy
-
in by minority students toward
affirmation intervention techniques lies in the overall climate of the school. The better
Black students feel about the rac
ial climate in their particular school, the more likely the
achievement gap there is narrower than at a school with
a poor racial climate (Mattison &
Stereotype Threat
11


Aber

2007). The fact is, racial climate within a school is indicative of achievement by
minorities.
Stud
ents who attend schools

that have a balanced distribution of races

do
better than those who atte
nd schools dominated by one race

(Ipka, 2003). Being aware
of this factor should help students appreciate efforts designed to help them overcome
internalized
feelings of deficiency.

To that end, expressing the idea of educational capital in explicit terms will help
Black students understand the importance of accepting affirmation intervention. By
maximizing experiences in school students can gain additional
“capital”, or tools to help
them be successful in all areas of their life (Lewis, 2003). The trick is to get Black
students to accept such theory. To have a positive experience in school and thusly be
positively affected by learning, Black students and t
heir families need to take pro
-
active
roles in their education (Leach

& Williams
, 2007). By reaching out to parents when
implementing affirmation intervention techniques, teachers can have a positive impact on
the perception of parents with regards to the
ir child’s education. Insistence on academic
achievement and family environment play a critical role in how a student views his
education (Mandara,

Varner, Greene, & Richman,

2009). The question of how Black
students will respond to efforts at stereotype

reduction through affirmation intervention
can largely be answered by what type of home life the student has. Not only are attitudes
about education within the home important, but the educational attainment of the mother
has a direct impact on her child’
s ed
ucational journey (Mandara et al., 2009
). To assess
the feelings of Black students these variables must be taken into account.

To what degree students view intelligence as malleable influences how they will
react to affirmation intervention (Aronson

et al.
, 2003). In situations where stereotypes
Stereotype Threat
12


exist, this information is vital. By determining the nature of individuals’ achievement
goals, one can focus attention on patterns of b
ehavioral variables (Smith, Schneider, &
Ruck, 2005
). This relates dir
ectly to minority students in two important ways. One,
there must be positive role
-
models present to emulate; two, positive attitudes toward
education are of significant importance. When there is evidence of educational
attainment by visible minority pop
ulations, youth within those population
s have higher
achievement (Maximova

& Krahn,

2005). Students who can point to someone similar to
themselves having success in education are more likely to believe success is possible for
them. Possessing a positive
attitude is instrumental in educational achievement for all
students, but especially so for minority students. In Canada, for example, only two
percent of the population is Black, but an achievement gap still exists between Black
Canadians and White Canad
ians. That gap is narrowed, however, when positive attitudes
about education manifest themselves within the minority population. When students and
their parents feel good about education, academic successes follow (Smith

et al.
, 2005).

Leadership Thought
s

Assessing how students feel about change processes is one thing; assessing how
school leaders feel about the same change process is something altogether different.
Multi
-
racial schools need strong leadership in place to affect change with regards to the

achievement gap. To reduce alienation of minority students, the leadership must be pro
-
active in making the school climate one where all students can feel comfortable (Shah,
2008). This fact must go hand in hand with parental involvement
. As Roscigno (
1999)
states, “f
amily and school, rather than being independent institutions, likely overlap and
intrude on one another” (p. 160). This is especially true when the discussion is about
Stereotype Threat
13


how to narrow the pervasive achievement gap. When stake
-
holders work t
ogether to
implement strategies designed to ameliorate a problem such as the achievement gap, the
outcomes are invariably better than if those stake
-
holders are at odds with one another.

For the educational institution, how to address the problem is the
matter at hand.
The school has to figure out if the problem is one of structure blaming or one of culture
blaming (Sperling

& Vaughn
, 2009). Structure blaming encompasses a belief that the
problem is systemic, that is, that the root cause of the achievem
ent gap lies within the
school and its
pedagogical and/or disciplinary practices. Culture blaming posits the
notion that the “
culture,”

in this case one of a supposed callous disregard by Black
parents for the educational attainment of their children, is
the primary factor in the
achievement gap. Whatever the case might be, perception of school climate by students
and their parents is directly correlated to the size of the achiev
ement gap (Mattison

&
Aber
, 2007). With that in mind, it is incumbent upon s
chool leaders to foster an
atmosphere of openness, equity, and high expectations. Without such institutional mores,
stake
-
holders cannot have the buy
-
in necessary to narrow the achievement gap.

How then to enhance programs that work or to implement new on
es for those that
do not? For schools, and more importantly for school leaders, this is the crux of the
matter. To put it simply, school policies can help narrow the achievement gap (Alvarez,

Salas, & Garofano,

2004). In today’s era of high
-
stakes testi
ng, student scores are
scrutinized from many different angles. The scores of White students are compared to
those of Black students. The scores of economically
-
disadvantaged students are
compared to those of students who come from high socio
-
economic sta
tus families. And
while state polices matter, (
Van Dorn,

Bowen, & Blau,

2006)

it is what happens within
Stereotype Threat
14


the walls of each school that truly make a difference in narrowing the achievement gap.
Schools cannot simply focus on “content standards” in an effor
t to address the gap. A
holistic approach is necessary to make any real gains (Rothstein, 2004). That is, while
schools must operate under the direction of an overseeing body and conform to whatever
constraints their policies put in place, it is each sch
ool itself that must determine how to
address the gap within its walls. Just as no two classes are the same even if the subject
matter is, no two schools are just alike even if the achievement gap is.

School choice has become
de rigueur

as of late with th
ose who blame the schools
themselves (structure blaming) for the failings of their students. Allowing parents to
move their children to the school of their choice is seen by some as a step in the right
direction to narrowing the achievement gap. However,

Bifulco

and Ladd (2006) note

that
“h
ow a particular school choice program affects students from disadvantaged groups will
depend both on the new schooling options that the program makes available and on the
choices made by their parents” (p. 32). Taken i
n that context, school choice is on par
with parental choices regarding expectations for their children. School choice is not
confined to schools in the United States, either. School choice is a big issue in the
Netherlands, too. There, however, it is b
elieved that schools make the best choices for
themselves
,

i.e., on how to improve student achievement (Vedder, 2006). The Dutch
further believe that it is the parent who makes the best choices for their children.

Schools, then, are left to determine what

is in their best interest while adhering to
the restrictions the law has placed upon them. In order to affect positive change, schools
must change from within. To become an agent of change the school must utilize
research
-
driven “best practices.” By im
plementing said best practices to narrow the
Stereotype Threat
15


achievement gap, the school becomes the main driver of change (Olszewski
-
Kubilius,
2006). Teaching students is one thing; teaching teachers how to teach better is something
altogether different. For this sea c
hange to become a reality, schools have to get
information to their teachers on best practices. More importantly, schools must show
teachers how to implement those best practices in front of students. Professional learning
is the best avenue to retrain t
eachers. Closing the achievement gap, ultimately, is the
responsibility of the school. For this to happen, four components are key: strengthened
teaching, courageous conversations, student
-
teacher relationships, and positive energy
concerning the soluti
ons to the problems (Hirsch, 2005). These components are,
obviously, best handled “in
-
house.” To affect the kind of change one would like to see
concerning the achievement gap, school leaders can and should take the lead on these
issues. By focusing on
strong curricular, instructional, and assessment design, schools
leaders can help close the gap (Cooper,

DeRoche, Ouchi, Segal, & Brown,

2006). The
question then becomes one of faculty involvement in and mastering of new techniques
designed to affect the
desired change.

This study takes into account the complexities of narrowing the achievement gap
by focusing on three areas with the gap at its heart. By introducing affirmation
intervention techniques in the classroom designed to reduce stereotype threat
in Black
students, the goal is to affect change by increasing standardized test scores for those
students. By assessing how those students felt about the intervention, the goal is to be
able to refine the techniques implemented for future use by other edu
cators. By finding
out how the educational leaders at my school viewed the research, the goal is to be able to
affect an institutional change that will narrow the achie
vement gap
between students
.

Stereotype Threat
16


CHAPTER THREE

METHODOLOGY


Research Design



This project is a combination of an action research design and an evaluation
research design. As such, the study is designed both to resolve an issue in the classroom
and to affect change at the institutional level.


By using an inductive approach to qu
a
litative research the study

focus
ed

on the
gains made by students on standardized test scores. And while quantification of said
gains is important, this type of research undeniably has the person as the focus. The
emphasis is on words rather than number
s (Maxwe
ll, Mergendoller, & Bellisimo,

2005).
The immediate goal wa
s an improvement in t
est scores; the long
-
term goal wa
s an
improvement in the self
-
perception of the students. GHSGT
-
aligned pre
-
test scores
were

compared

to the student’s scores on that

year’s GHSGT. Further, surveys to assess
student feelings about the study
were

utilized to assess the efficacy of the study with
regards to self
-
perception.


To determine the effectiveness of affirmation intervent
ion, the study also
incorporated

an evaluation research design. Benefit maximization principles dictate that
the decision about whether or not to expand the techniques used in the study be based on
utilitarian philosophy. The best decision is the one that results in the greatest benefi
t for
the most people (Cohen

et al., 2009
). I
nterviews of school leaders were used to

determine the overall efficacy of the study with regards to implementation of the
employed techniques by a greater number of
the
faculty.



Stereotype Threat
17


Setting

The research
was

cond
ucted at a public high school with 1382 students located in
west
-
central Georgia.
Twenty
-
three

students from the school
were

participants.
Mirroring both school and community demographics, the study group
was

approximately
60% White and 40% Black with 35
% overall identified as being at a low socio
-
economic
level.


The school was chosen as the site to conduct the research by virtue of the fact that
the researcher is employed there. Permission to use the students as participants in the
study
was

granted
by both the principal of the school and the school improvement
specialist and assessment coordinator at the district level. Further, the Institutional
Review Board of the cooperating college accepted the application for the study.

Subjec
ts

and Participant
s


Twenty
-
three

students taking 11
th

grade government classes at the participating
high school
participated

in the study. The sample number was determined b
y the
number of students in the

government class
es studied
.


The students at the focus of the stud
y
were

in one section of an 11
th

grade
government class taught by the researcher. Between 16
-
19 years of age, 50% male and
50% female, 60% white and 40% black, the students were selected to be the subjects of
the study by being enrolled in the researchers
’ government class.


School leaders at the cooperating high school
were

participants in the study.
These participants include
d

the principal, the registrar, and the district academic coach
for
social studies. The principal wa
s in his 2
nd

year at the scho
ol and his 21
st

in
education,
the registrar wa
s in her 3
rd

year at

the school and
in
her 13
th

in ed
ucation
,

and
Stereotype Threat
18


the academic coach wa
s in her 5
th

year
in that capacity and had

been in education for 18
years
. The participants were selected both for their
ability to give pertinent feedback
about the study and their ability to affect institutional change should the study warrant
doing so. Further, permission was needed from the principal as the instructional leader at
the school and from the registrar as th
e administrator in charge of the researcher’s
department at the school to allow the study.

Procedures and
Data Collection
Methods


This study wa
s designed to reduce stereotype threat in Black students through
affirmation intervention techniques in an effor
t to improve standardized test scores. The
following table explains the foci, data collection methods, and analysis procedures.

Table 3.1
Data Shell


Focus Question

Literature Sources

Type of Method
and Data

How these data are analyzed

Will reducing stereotype
threat amongst students in
11
t
h
grade government
classes result in a markedly
better score for this group
on the Georgia High
School Graduation Test in
social studies?

Bruce, A.

(
200

Demack
,

S
. (2000)

Steele,

C.

(
1999
)


Method:

assessment,

reflection


Data:

quantitative,

qualitative

Dependent T Test (comparing GHSGT
scores in social studies with pre
-
test
scores.)

How will students respond
to a campaign specifically
designed to increase
achievement on
standardized tests?

Ipka, V.

(2003
)

Mandara, J. (2009)

Olszewski
-
Kubilius, P.
(2006)


Method:

survey,
discussion
questions,

reflection


Data:

Nominal and/or
ordinal,

qualitative

Survey,

Likert scale results examined via Chi
Square


Coded for themes

How will school leaders
feel about

the processes
used to reduce stereotype
threat with regards to the
stated goals of the school
improvement plan for
social studies?


Cooper, B. (2006)

Mattison, E
. (2007)

Ros
c
igno, V. (1999)


Method:

interview, focus
group, reflection


Data:

qualitative

Coded for themes





Focus Question One addresses the quantitative aspect of the evaluation research
design.

Will redu
cing stereotype threat amongst B
lack students

i
n
11th
-
grade government
Stereotype Threat
19


classes result in a markedly better score for this group on the
Georgia High School
Graduation Test in social studies
?

A pre
-
test similar to the GHSGT in social studies
was

administered prior to affirmation intervention techniques being applied. Data from that
assessment
was then

compared to the actual GHSGT in socia
l studies taken at the
conclusion of the study.


Focus Q
uestion Two was to

determine the affective
-
reflective outcomes of the
study.
How will B
lack students respond to a campaign specifically designed to increase
achievement on standardized tests?

Spec
ific instruments used in affirmation intervention
are found in the appendices of the study along with the survey designed for this study and
given to the students. Further, a discussion questionnaire was given to the students at the
end of the semester to

gauge their feelings on the effectiveness of the treatment.
Essentially, the program of affirmation intervention utilize
d

three overarchi
ng platforms.
Those platforms we
re: 1) Instructing the students that the brain is like a muscle and can
be strength
ened with “exercise.” Affirmation intervention through group discussion and
one
-
on
-
one conversations held within the parameters of the social studies curriculum is
aimed at getting students to buy
-
in to the idea that intelligence is malleable rather than
immutable. 2) Disabusing the students of the notion that prior performance in school is a
predi
ctor of their current
abilities,

i.e.
,

just because success has not been had does not
mean that it cannot be had. Assignments, early in the semester, that foste
r
ed

this notion
through subjective rather than objective grading
were

utilized. 3) Focusing the students
on attributes they possess that are equally as important as their educational acumen. To
this end, differentiated dissemination approaches as well as

differentiated assessments
that give opportunities for non
-
traditional learners to showcase their talents
were

utilized.

Stereotype Threat
20



Focus Question Three deals with the change process at the institutional level.
How will school leaders feel about the processes used

to reduce stereotype threat with
regards to the stated goals of the school improvement plan for social studies?
An
interview with the r
esearcher’s

immediate supervisor and a focus group involving the
researc
her’s

colleagues within the social studies department
were

convened to gauge their
thoughts on the treatment and the possibility of replicating the study across the discipline.
The instruments employed, focus group prompts and interview questions,

can be found

as
Appendices A, B, and C, respectively
. Said instruments are designed to assess both the
success of affirmation intervention itself with reducing stereotype threat amongst the
subjects and the efficacy of extending the procedures used to the faculty at
large in hopes
of affecting institutional change.


In addition to quantitative data associated with focus question one, the nominal
and qualitative data associated with focus question two, and the qualitative data
associated with focus question three, a re
flection by the researcher that touches on all
three foci
was

written as a further resource by which to view the study.

Validi
ty, Reliability/Dependability,

Bias
, and Equity



To measure student learning after affirmation intervention techniques were
imple
mented, interval data was gathered via pre
-
and post
-
tests. Both instruments were
designed to measure student knowledge about the content area. The pre
-
test was a
diagnostic exam developed by the content Academic Coach for the school system and
was given
prior to affirmation intervention. The post
-
test was the state
-
mandated
Georgia High School Graduation Test in Social Studies, thusly assuring content validity.

Stereotype Threat
21


To ensure reliability, a test
-
retest statistic was used to correlate the scores (Salkind,
2010
). Furthermore,
the exams were free from bias as they had

been developed using the
methodology of
Psychometricians

to ensure the questions are not unfair, are inoffensive,
and have engendered no disparate impact upon the exam takers.


To assess how student
s felt about the affirmation intervention techniques and
whether or not they believed the techniques were worthwhile, surveys were given to the
students at the end of the study to ensure construct validity. The responses proved
reliable by disaggregating
the qua
ntitative

data using a Chronbach’s Alpha (Salkind,
2010). To increase the dependability of the
qualitative
data collected, several measures
were implemented including having an adequate number of participants, developing a
well
-
organized method of
data collection, and establishing a chain of evidence.


To assess how the administration viewed the methodology of the study and results
thereof, an interview of the registrar was undertaken to ensure construct validity.
Several
measures were implemente
d t
o increase the dependability of the data collected including

developing a well
-
organized method of data collection,

having an a
dequate number of
participants,

and establishing a chain of evidence.

Given that I

was aware of potential bias, an equity au
dit was undertaken prior to
the development of the interview questions to mitigate the potential for bias. Further,
teacher quality throughout the research period was largely static as the same instruction
was given to all students involved in the study.

To ensure programmatic equity, great
pains were undertaken to maintain protocols that are easily replicated. The design of the
study itself negates any effects that might
have
arise
n

from an equi
ty trap as the express
Stereotype Threat
22


purpose wa
s to determine

if affirmat
ion intervention could

increase the standardized test
scores of historically marginalized populations.


Analysis of Data

For the analysis of Focus Question One, regarding student mastery of content,
pre
-
and post
-
tests were utilized to determine if signifi
cant stereotype reduction occurred
thanks to affirmation intervention. The te
st scores were analyzed by a dependent t
-
test. A
dependent t
-
test was used to determine if there are significant differences between the
pre
-
test and the post test. In this inst
ance, the decision to reject the null hypothesis

was

set at p < .05. Effect size wa
s measured by Cohen's
r

for the
dependent t
-
test.

To analyze the results of focus question two, a chi square was used to determine
the significance of each re
sponse. The si
gnificance level wa
s reported at the p < .05, p <
.01 and the p < .001 levels.



To analyze the results of Focus Question Three, interview responses were
analyzed by survey

data
. The survey included qualitative data that was coded for
dominant, recurrin
g, or emerging themes.

Furthermore, a reflection that touches on all
three foci was written to be used as another lens with which to view the study.

This study exhibits consensual validation by the approval of LaGrange College
faculty to allow it.
Eisner
(1991) calls the faculty review process an agreement among
competent others that the description, interpretation, evaluation and thematic are right.

To
ensure epistemological validation, the results of this study have been compared to similar
studies.

Denzin and Lincoln (1998) describe the cycling bac
k to the literature review as a
place where the researcher

convince
s the reader that he has

remained consistent with the
theoretical perspectives used in the review of the literature.

Credibility within th
e study
Stereotype Threat
23


is the result of structural corroboration by using many different sources
.
Eisner (1991)
calls this
a
process a confluence of evidence coming

together to form a compelling
whole.

Precision has been
a
ttended to by presenting a

tight argument, cohe
rent case and
strong evidence to assert judgments. Eisner

(1991)

refers to precision as ‘rightness of fit.’
Fairness has been attended to within the study by including opposing views from both
students and faculty taking part. The study has transferabili
ty because of the great care
taken in ensuring the above attributes, meaning the easily
-
replicable nature of the study
gives it referential adequacy
,
where perception and understanding by others will increase
because of
the research (Eisner, 1991)
.
Lather
,

as cited by K
inchloe & McLaren (1998)
define catalytic validity a
s the degree to which
one

anticipate
s a
study to shape and
transform participants, subjects or school.

T
he researcher hopes for catalytic validity in
that positive change might occur becau
se of the study.






















Stereotype Threat
24


CHAPTER FOUR

RESULTS



This chapter recounts the results of the implementation of affirmation intervention
techniques in an effort to reduce stereotype threat with regards to standardized test scores.
The study sought
to gauge the effect of this intervention by comparing pre
-
test scores to
Georgia High School Graduation Test scores to assess if gains were made. The study
also sought to determine if the subjects of the study agreed with the tenants central to
stereotype

reductions. Further, the study sought to ascertain if similar applications of the
intervention could be beneficial to the school improvement process. Data regarding these
foci are discussed by focus question.

Focus Question One

To determine the answer t
o Focus Question One, whether affirmation intervention
techniques did in fact reduce stereotype
threat
to allow for improvement in standardized
exams, pre
-
test and post
-
test data were compared. Students were given a pre
-
test that
was closely aligned to th
e standards used on the GHSGT prior to affirmation intervention
techniques being employed. Throughout the course of a ten week period, lasting directly
after the administration of the pre
-
test to the day before the administration of the
GHSGT, affirmation

intervention techniques were employed in the classroom.

Essentially, the program of affirmation intervention utilized three overarching platforms.
Those platforms were: 1) Instructing the students that the brain is like a muscle and can
be strengthened w
ith “exercise.” Affirmation intervention through group discussion and
one
-
on
-
one conversations held within the parameters of the social studies curriculum
were aimed at getting students to buy
-
in to the idea that intelligence is malleable rather
than immu
table. 2) Disabusing the students of the notion that prior performance in school
Stereotype Threat
25


is a predi
ctor of their current
ab
ilities,

i.e.
,

just

because success has not been had does not
mean that it cannot be had. Assignments, early in the semester, that fostered
this notion
through subjective rather than objective grading were utilized. 3) Focusing the students
on attributes they possessed that are equally as important as their educational acumen.
To this end, differentiated dissemination approaches as well as d
i
fferentiated assessments
that ga
ve opportunities for non
-
traditional learners to showcase their talents were utilized.

The pre
-
test post
-
test data is

presented below in a statistical analysis using a
dependent t
-

test
.

Table 4.1

t
-
Test: Paired Two Sample

for Means







T score Pre
-
Test

T score
GHSGT

Mean

50.20913043

49.98304348

Variance

102.7477901

99.36578577

Observations

23

23

Pearson Correlation

0.806835509



Hypothesized Mean
Difference

0



df

22



t Stat

0.173480667



P(T<=t) one
-
tail

0.431929965



t Critical one
-
tail

1.717144335



P(T<=t) two
-
tail

0.86385993



t Critical two
-
tail

2.073873058



t(22)=.17, p>.05


Based on the data gleaned from the statistical analysis, the researcher accepted the
null hypothesis. There was no
significant difference in test scores after affirmation
intervention techniques had been employed.

Students whose scores on the pre
-
test were
above average had scores on the GHSGT that were above average. Students whose
scores on the pre
-
test were below a
verage, had scores on the GHGST that were below
Stereotype Threat
26


average. The Pearson Correlation, a reliability statistic, came back at
0.806835509
,
meaning that there was a strong positive correlation between pre
-
test and GHSGT scores.
Effect size,
measur
ing

the magnit
ude of a treatment effect
, was also taken into account.

Effect Size r


for paired data such as the

dependent t
-
test

run for this s
tudy, came back at
.010, which wa
s negligible at best. Therefore, affirmation intervention techniques had no
bearing on impro
ving test
scores and the null hypothesis wa
s accepted.

Qualitatively, a
ttrition through incompetence, indifference, incarceration, and
institutionalization wreaked havoc on
the

ability to conduct meaningful research

with the
student population selected
.
The research was initially

intended to
study the effects of
affirmation intervention treatment on

two classes
to secure

a meaningful number of
stude
nts with which to quantify data. However,

extenuating circumstances necessitated
formally offering interven
tion affirmation techniques to
only one class. This

class started
with
twenty nine
student
s,

but
was
reduced to
twenty three

throughout the semester for
the reasons listed above
.

Both numbers fall within the norm for class sizes, but are still
too large for
effective personalized education. As Achilles

and Finn

(1990)

note
, “


a
significant benefit accrues to students in reduced
-
size classes in all subject areas and
there is evid
ence that minority students in particular benefit from the smaller class

environment
” (pg. 21
)
. Regular attendance became an unforeseen impediment as well.
One student in the group receiving treatment missed forty two days of instruction; the
class avera
ged eleven absences

per student
. The small sample size, static Pearson
Correlation, and negligible effect size are resultant from these difficulties.



Stereotype Threat
27


Focus Question Two

Regarding Focus Question Two, how students viewed affirmation intervention
technique
s, these results, as enumerated by a chi square statistical instrument, reveal
ed

that two disparate themes emerged.

Table 4.2

Chi Square Results


Survey Items

n=1
0

Student Questionnaire

5=
Strongly agree

4=
Agree

3=
Neutral

2=
Disagree

1=
Strongly disagree

χ

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Stereotype Threat
28


value is less than the criti
cal value and thus the null hypot
hesis must be accepted. There
wa
s no significance regarding the student’s attitudes concerning learning and/or the
effectiveness of affirmation intervention techniques.


Qualitatively, no conclusion could

be based on the f
eedback given by students via
the student questionnaire. Few responses proved statistically significant and those that
did were at opposite ends of the spectrum with regards to attitudes surrounding learning.
There were no themes present in the responses

that would lend credence to the hypothesis
that affirmation intervention is successful as a stand
-
alone process.

Student responses via discussion, moreover, revealed qualitative data that yielded
conclusions that necessitate
d

rejecting the null hypothes
is. Two themes emerged from
the discussion sheets; 1) Interest in school was minimal and largely familial, 2)
Affirmation intervention was met with apathy and students showed indifference toward
how it might have affected their test scores.

Four
questions were derived with the goal of peeling back attitudinal mores
toward education itself amongst the students and how education has affected their lives
and the lives of their families and peers. When asked how successful they had been in
school up
to this point, most responses were some variation of “alright.” “Pretty good,”
“so
-
so,” and “okay, I guess” were interspersed with answers such as “I made it t
his far.”
Only one student, a W
hite female who made the highest score on both the pre
-
test and
GHSGT, answered with overwhelming positivity. Her response was “extremely
successful.” This student offered responses to each question that proved to be an outlier.
Two questions sought to evaluate attitudes toward assessment, one prior to treatment, th
e
other after treatment. Responses were similar to both questions. When asked how they
Stereotype Threat
29


felt about taking tests, most responses were “hate tests” or some iteration thereof. “Tests
are stupid,” “tests be hard,” and “didnt car, sometime jus bubble in anser
s” were
representative answers. When asked how they felt about tests as a result of being in the
researcher’s class, the responses were remarkably similar. “Still don’t care,” “still hate
tests,” “I really don’t feel nothing,” and “I can retake, so why c
are?” were the norm. In
response to a query about how successful people “like them” have been in school, an
illustrative answer for the group was “everybody I know and everybody like me get by
somehow.”

Four more questions were designed to assess student
buy
-
in to affirmation
intervention techniques themselves. Students responded favorably to class discussions
about race, poverty, and education noting that “it be better than reading,” “it was ok,” and
“talking about stuff that we want to talk about is coo
l.” But when asked about malleable
cognitive abilities and differentiated skill sets specifically, the answers once again
suggested that the intervention techniques were not successful. Typical responses to a
question about believing that everyone is goo
d at something were “I don’t know,” “sure,
whatever,” “just cause you say it don’t make it so,” and “no…my brother aint good at
nuthin.” The final que
stion asked if they believed the

discussions and lessons about
reducing stereotype threat had any bearing

on their performance on the GHSGT. And
while the students asserted that it had helped, their answers belied their confidence.
Standard responses were “I think it helped, but that test be hard,” “maybe, but I had to
guess a bunch,” “I hope so…I don’t wan
t to have to take that junk over again,” “yes, but I
failed,” and “I just want to graduate.”


Stereotype Threat
30


Focus Question Three

Focus Question Three, how the administration of the school viewed the study,
was addressed by convening a focus group discussion amongst the researcher’s twelve
colleagues in the social studies department about affirmation intervention, stereotype
threat,
and standardized test scores and then interviewing the researcher’s immediate
supervisor, the school registrar, about both the results of the study and the analysis of the
focus group answers. This interview revealed qualitative data showing an appreciatio
n for
the study in both its theoretical underpinnings and the prosecution thereof. Further,
openness toward replicating the intervention techniques across segments of the
curriculum was relayed to the researcher by his supervisor despite some misgivings b
y
his colleagues on the efficacy and replicable nature thereof.

Focus group discussion amongst and between members of the social studies
department revealed two dominant, but antithetical themes. The group was nearly evenly
split between those who found
merit in both stereotype threat and the concept of using
affirmation intervention techniques to counter it and those who found both concepts to be
substantively flawed. The group of educators who were receptive to the central tenants
of this study, while
having only cursory knowledge of the fact that the study was being
conducted, found both the idea of stereotype threat and the possible minimizing
of it

through affirmation intervention to be plausible. Answers to the question about their
belief in the ph
enomena of stereotype threat revealed their receptiveness to the theory.

Yes stereotype

threat exists! It’s socially expected,” and “ absolutely because it is still
not cool to be smart” were answers given along with “In my opinion, when a student
comes

from a culture that has ceased to place any significant value on education, that
Stereotype Threat
31


student is far less likely to place any real value on their own education. This results in
lower achievement. Stereotype threat exists, but it is a side effect, not the roo
t issue.”

When asked if specific affirmation intervention techniques might help reduce stereotype
threat in students, this group of educators was likewise sanguine. Characteristic
responses were “I believe this type of focus could potentially prove to be
foundational to
the success of the content
-
heavy sections of the class,” “I think these efforts could be
positive in that they are attempts to boost students’ confidence and to stop them from
believing in negative stereotypes about themselves,” “Absolutely
, opening their eyes to
the fact that nothing holds them back is the best way to motivate someone,” and “Yes!
The fact that you even had a conversation with them about them shows them that you
care…and they will want to please you.”


Conversely, the other
educators in the group found both stereotype threat and
affirmation intervention to be “…a load of bull.” When asked if they believed in
stereotype threat this group of educators answered with the likes of “No. Psychobabble is
what got us in this situati
on in the first place,” “Really? Girls aren’t good in math is still
being trotted out? This is 2011!” “I do not believe it exists on a factual basis. I feel that
people have been trained to find excuses such as this one and ride them and use them as a
r
eason to be apathetic,” and “Who knows? Even if it does it’s a load of bull.” This same
group of educators was also asked if they believed students would be successful on an
exam if they believed they would be. Their responses were typified by “They fee
l good
because they are prepared/studied and score better because of that not because of the
endorphins given off from positive thinking…garbage!” When asked if they believed
that affirmation intervention might be successful in improving standardized test

scores,
Stereotype Threat
32


they responded with “Not necessarily. They may not put in the appropriate preparation to
do well,” “I doubt it. Kids don’t need confidence, they need knowledge,” and “Only if
they realize that in failure they have no one to blame except themselv
es.”


The last question for the focus group asked if the participants might employ
affirmation intervention in their classrooms. Again, the answers revealed disparate points
of view. The teachers who answered in the affirmative made comments like “This

is
something that any good teacher would do,” and “I have used similar techniques in the
past and found it to be effective.” Those who answered in the negative made comments
like “No. It won’t work with all students. Students are not magically going to

do better
because they feel better about themselves,” and “How? With all the other stuff they
make us do it’s pretty hard to find time to go off the immediate subject with which we are
supposed to be focused.”

The culmination of Focus Question Three rev
olved around interviewing the
researcher’s immediate supervisor about all aspects of the study. The Registrar indicated
that, with regards to the race gap, “
I think the number one thing that can close this gap is
engaging students from all backgrounds and

creating a classroom and school culture that
embraces everyone but also stresses accountability of all students within that culture.”
As for the efficacy of affirmation intervention techniques themselves, she said “… it
makes things personal, but it also

makes them non
-
threatening, especially to students
who's culture is one of ‘you must do this or else.’”

This buy
-
in for the theory behind the
study was evident in other answers as well. When asked Focus Question Three directly,

How will school leaders
feel about the processes used to reduce stereotype threat with
regards to the stated goals of the school improvement plan for social studies?
”, the
Stereotype Threat
33


Registrar replied “
The reason that we must make sure students pass the GHSGT in social
studies is so they ca
n graduate.”

When questioned about the results of the study, the responses were more nuanced
but still positive. When asked about the quantitative data,
the registrar

was dismissive of
the test results, insisting that student responses would be a better

barometer. When
presented with the survey results and student responses to the discussion questions,
the
researcher’s supervisor

indicated that
she

was not surprised, stating “student apathy is
certainly a problem.” When the issue of student absences wa
s brought up,

the registrar

intimated that this might have been the root cause of poor results, saying “They can’t get
it if they are not here. That goes to both the academic piece and the affective focus.” As
for the possibility of expanding the impleme
ntation of affirmation intervention techniques
to the rest of the faculty, the researcher’s immediate supervisor noted that “I think all
teachers should demonstrate affirmation interventions, but it's not something that's
necessarily taught.

It usually de
velops with the art of teaching, and some teachers are
still working on just getting the pedagogy right.” The possible reluctance of some staff
members to fully embrace the initiative should it be mandated was addressed by replying
that “If relationship b
uilding is stressed, if it is part of our school improvement plan, we
can and will expect our faculty to do that. Beyond that, letting students know you care is
simply a best practice.”

Finally
, the Registrar was asked if

she had any recommendations shoul
d the
researcher cho
o
se to employ such techniques in the future. She affirmed that “I think you
had an effect on those kids regardless of the outcome of your study. Asking you to step
outside your comfort zone, to give up Advanced Placement and College P
reparatory
Stereotype Threat
34


courses to focus on remediation and “regular” classes was, I know, difficult for you. But
I’ve talked to your students this year. They learned a lot from you. And you learned a lot
from them.”

Reflection

I began this study with the best inten
tions in mind....how to affect both immediate
results
and long
-
term methodologies within the social studies curriculum

with regards to
improving standardized test scores
.
Even when girded with “best practices” and imbued
with best intentions, the monument
al challenges facing a public high school educator
seem to be insurmountable. I found that a
ttrition through incompetence, indifference,
incarceration, and institutionalization wreaked havoc on my ability to conduct
meaningful research. Whereas I had int
ended to give treatment to two classes in hopes of
securing a meaningful number of students with which to quantify data, extenuating
circumstances necessitated formally offering intervention affirmation techniques to one
class only.
Add to this attendance

issues, and a perfect storm resulted. One student in the
group receiving treatment missed forty two days of instruction. The class average was
eleven absences

per student
.

As this study revolved

around the question of stereotype threat and the reductio
n
thereof
,

particularly as it relays to the achievem
ent gap, I fou
nd the difficulties I
encountered during the application of th
e

study to be emblematic of the problem as a
whole. Students who one might think would be motivated to succeed in class

. . . W
hite,
middle
-
class . . .
did in fact succeed in class
;

whereas
,

students on
e wou
ld assume
might

struggle . . . B
lack, lower socio
-
economic . . .
did in fact struggle. Moreover, the students
who failed to a
c
hieve significant gains were from families that had a low
level of

Stereotype Threat
35


education to begin with.

Unfortunately, these results cannot be attributed to affirmation
intervention as every student in the class, assuming they were present, were exposed to
the same m
ethodologies.

In conducting a focus group with my colleagues, I found my experience with a
lack of participation because of attendance to be a recurring theme. This problem is both
a construct of ineffective absentee policies from the school district and
indicative of
larger societal ills. Apathy amongst our student population toward the value of
education, and thusly school itself, is endemic. Whether this problem is an engagement
issue once the student arrives at school or a systemic one derived from i
nter
-
generational
poverty, or both, is the question at hand. I had hoped my study would counter the former
and alleviate the carcinogenic effects of the latter. It did neither.

In summation, two important elements of the study
were

marginalized by
circumstance. The difficulties I encountered detracted from rightness of fit for the study
by minimizing the amount of evidence with which to assert a strong judgment with
regards to the results. Further, catalytic validity
was

somewhat
compromised from a
student perspective, though tangible from a teacher perspective.








Stereotype Threat
36


CHAPTER FIVE

ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF RESULTS



This chapter offers interpretation of the results of the study and my assertions,
reflections, and conclusions as

researcher to both the results of the study and the larger
impact of the study with regards to transformation within the subjects and the setting as
well as recommendations for further research.

Analysis of Results


For Focus Question One, whether or not
affirmation intervention would reduce
stereotype threat amongst Black students so that they might realize an increase on
standardized test scores, I used a pre
-
test/post
-
test model. Scores from the standards
-
aligned pre
-
test were compared with the Georgia

High School Graduation Test in social
studies at the conclusion of the study by means of a

dependent t
-
test
. Unfortunately,
there was no strong evidence that affirmation intervention improved test scores.
Students, all of whom were exposed to the same a
ffirmation intervention techniques, had
remarkably similar scores on both tests. Qualitat
ively,
the size of the group receiving
treatment was marginalized. Though the results are reliable by virtue of adhering to data
collection guidelines and valid by t
he fact that test scores for Black students were
compared, there was no significance found. The small sample size, static Pearson
Correlation, and negligible effect size are resultant from
unforeseeable difficulties
.


The review of literature prior to the

commission of the study was the catalyst for
the study itself. I found by reviewing literature on the subject that a gain in test scores
was a possibility for populations experiencing stereotype threat if affirmation intervention
techniques were employed
. In a review of three experimental studies of interventions to
Stereotype Threat
37


reduce stereotype threat, the results were described as “positive” (Aronson

et al.
, 2009).
Though Bruce

et al. (2009) note

that intervention “…can have si
gnificant and immediate
results”
(p
g. 6), I found no such results.

For Focus Question Two, how Black students would respond to affirmation
intervention techniques, I employed a formal questionnaire and distributed a discussion
sheet in addition to the tried
-
and
-
true method of
listening

to m
y students throughout the
semester. Students were asked questions about their general attitude toward education on
the questionnaire and asked to discuss the affirmation intervention techniques used in the
classroom on the discussion prompts. The questio
nnaire was evaluated using a chi square
statistical analysis that uncovered

two disparate themes. Student

responses were actually
contradictory, indicating they liked to read, but hated tests; that they believed the brain
could grow
with exercise but that
school was

hard. Because the obtained value was less
than the critical value and the null hypothesis had to be accepted, there was no
quantitative sign
ificance regarding the students’

attitudes concerning learning and/or the
effectiveness of affirmation i
ntervention techniques.

I do not feel as though the questionnaire gave a true picture of student attitudes,
though, as it did not measure exactly how affirmation intervention played a part in their
educational journey during the course of
the
study. By co
ntrast, the discussion questions
were extremely important in this regard. Two dominant themes, that interest in school
was minimal and that affirmation intervention techniques had no bearing on student
perceptions, emerged from the discussion questions.


My results therefore proved one theme from the literature review true and proved
to be incongruent with the literature review with regards to the other theme, a duality
Stereotype Threat
38


within the epi
stemological validity. Demack, Drew and Grim
s
ley’s

(2000) assertion
t
hat

…the relative effect of a school on educational attainment is small in comparison with
the effect of a pupil’s social and ethnic background and variables related to economic and
other factors” (
p.
119) could explain the disinterest in school relayed b
y the subjects of
my study and their disbelief that af
firmation intervention had any e
ffect on them. The
achievement gap being as entrenched and inter
-
generational as it is manifests itself in
stereotype threat (Leach

& Williams
, 2007). There is no doubt

that the attitudes of my
subjects toward education and their description of their beliefs themselves bears this out.
Where my study has findings that the literature doesn’t wholly comport with, though, is
on the question of affirmation intervention techn
iques themselves. My subjects found it
ineffective if not disingenuous. The literature suggests that self
-
affirmation engenders
positivity toward the self and one’s abilities (Schmeichel

& Vohs, 2
009), that self
-
determined skills instruction aides in per
formance (Serna

et al.
, 1998), and that
confidence in one’s abilities can be manipulated by simply re
-
framing questions in non
-
threatening ways
. Despite a near constant message that eschewing stereotypes of all
kinds, especially with regards to academic a
chievement, would be beneficial to them, my
students did not find truth in that message.


Focus Question Three, how the administration viewed my study through the lens
of the school improvement plan to improve test scores, was measured through a focus
grou
p with my peers and an interview with my immediate supervisor about the results of
both the focus group discussions and the results of the study. The focus group answers
were coded for themes as were the interview responses. Focus group responses fell in
to
two antithetical camps. One group of educators found validity with the study, the other
Stereotype Threat
39


thought it tripe. This is important because of the possible impact on the school
improvement plan. As mandated by law, high schools must show improvements from
ye
ar to year in both standardized test scores and graduation rates. One of the
impediments to full compliance with state and federal regulations is the intractable
achievement gap. This study was instituted to see if affirmation intervention might
narrow t
hat gap and, if so, how feasible replicating
the intervention techniques

across the
school as a whole might be. The responses from my colleagues, however, give me pause
should such an initiative be implemented even with assurances from the registrar that
the
use of certain techniques can be expected from the staff as a whole. The registrar noted
approval for both the reasoning behind my study and, despite a somewhat lukewarm
reception from my peers about the causal relationship between perception and
perf
ormance in school, the results thereof.


With regards to epistemological validity and Focus Question Three, there is no
doubt

as to the alignment
. The literature, overwhelmingly, supports pedagogical
enhancements that are research
-
based and locally
-
owned at the same time. To have any
chance of making Adequate Yearly Progress, racially
-
diverse schools have to take steps
to close the achievement ga
p. Closing the achievement gap, ultimately, is the
responsibility of the school. For this to happen, four components are key: strengthened
teaching, courageous conversations, student
-
teacher relationships, and positive energy
concerning the solutions to
the problems (Hirsch, 2005). All four of these components
were central
components of my

study.



Stereotype Threat
40


Discussion


I began this study with the best intentions in mind....how to affect both immediate
results
and long
-
term methodologies within the social studies
curriculum

with regards to
improving standardized test scores

amongst Black students
.
The desire to "crack the
dish"

or

"subvert the dominant paradigm
"
insofar that current pedagogical practices are
seemingly ineffective

to improve test scores

was the dri
ving force behind the selection of
this topic to study.

The chance

to

affect change by
simply
being sensitive to historical
inequities and attempting to fashion a curriculum supple
ment that would help students

overcome the institutional difficulties they
were saddled wit
h through no fault of their
own, to

somehow find the proverbial straw on the back of achievement gap that would
allow me to narrow it through research
-
based efforts

proved tantalizing to a socially
-
conscious individual such as myself.

And
then the reality of life in a public high school
set in.

Putting aside all the externalities educators have occupying our time and energies
,

from No Child Left Behind and it’s proscriptions at the national level to Failure Is Not
An Option initiatives at

the local level,

and
discounting wholly the harsh reality that
many of our students have never had instilled in them a basic understanding of self
-
respect or respect of others as a result of highly dysfunctional home lives, we as
educators can control how

we approach our jobs. In fact, our title dictates as much. The
tone we set has as much to do with student achievement as anything. Setting high
expectations and refusing to settle for anything less is imperative to achieving the goal of
our profession;

namely, preparing the youth of
America for career or college. But e
ven
when girded with “best practices” and imbued with best intentions, the monumental
Stereotype Threat
41


challenges facing a public high school educa
t
or seem to be insurmountable. Spotty
a
ttendance, attrit
ion, and apathy are common themes among many high school students
today. For students of color, these themes are magnified. When added to a culture that
rewards hostility to following the rules and castigates those who try to improve
themselves and their

lot in life, the answers are very hard to come by indeed.

Despite my difficulties and the negativity I encountered on student answers and in
focus groups and e
ven though the study did not yield the desired results with regard to
change for a large number
of students, I feel it made a difference for a student or two.
And that, ultimately, gives me satisfaction that my study was in fact a success.

Implications


While this study focused only on one section of one
11
th
-
grade government class
at one public hig
h school in one state, I firmly believe the difficulties I had with the
implementation of the study can be extrapolated to many sections, many classes, many
schools, and many states. Stories of “broken schools” are legion in the press and are part
of the
reason “school reform” agendas have been a staple of political campaigns since “A