A research paper has recently suggested that personality similarity affects teachers’ estimation of student achievement. In other words, how much you are like your pupils contributes to your feelings about them and their abilities.
“Astonishingly, little is known about the formation of teacher judgments and therefore about the biases in judgments,” says Tobias Rausch, an author of the study and a research scientist at the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg. “However, research tells us that teacher judgments often are not accurate.”
This study looked at a group of 93 teachers and 294 12-14 year old in Germany. Everyone took a short test to establish basic features of their personalities, such as extraversion and agreeableness.
They gave the students reading and math tests too, sharing the test items with the teachers. Then they asked the teachers two questions: How good is this student compared to an average eighth grader? How well will this student do on this test?
In other words, the first question asked the teacher to give a global judgment; the second asked for a task-specific judgment.
The study found that when teachers and students were peas in a pod, the teachers overestimated the students’ general abilities. Conversely, students who were dissimilar from their teachers were judged less positively.
The research highlighted, “Personality similarity has a significant effect on global judgement in both domains under study. Students who are similar to their teacher are judged more positively than students who are dissimilar, even when students’ test performance is controlled.”
But when the judgment was grounded to a specific test, the effect disappeared.
This finding maybe not that surprising. But it’s important for two reasons.
First, there’s concern that teacher bias of many kinds may unfairly hold back groups of students.
For example, a recent study from Israel showed that teachers gave girls lower grades on math tests when they knew their gender. And lots of researchers have looked at the importance of having teachers who share the racial and socioeconomic backgrounds of their students.
If teachers give students who are similar to them better grades, or even just maintain higher expectations of those students, what does that do for the students who don’t look or act like their teachers?
Second, as Rausch, the coauthor, points out, this study points to the importance of balancing teachers’ “holistic” evaluations with standardised assessments, or at least assessments that aren’t graded by a student’s own teacher.
Rausch also says it might be a good idea to spend more time training teachers to notice their biases. “The best way to control for is probably raising teachers’ awareness concerning the way they assess their students’ competencies and their awareness concerning typical judgment biases and tendencies,” he says. Human judgment, after all, is only human.