A child’s approach to learning — whether they pay attention, stay organized, follow rules or work independently — can shape how teachers perceive their academic ability, suggests a newly released study from Yale University and the University of Notre Dame.

Referred to as non-cognitive skills, these characteristics can influence teachers’ evaluation of students’ academic aptitude differently depending on a child’s race, ethnicity and gender.

“It is especially distressing that these disparities, which have important implications on children’s academic performance, are emerging as early as the start of kindergarten,” co-author Grace Kao, the IBM professor of sociology and chair of the sociology department at Yale University, said in a statement.

The study, titled “Unequal Returns to Children’s Efforts: Racial/Ethnic and Gender Disparities in Teachers’ Evaluations of Children’s Noncognitive Skills and Academic Ability,” shows a variety of racial, ethnic and gender disparities in the association between first grade students’ non-cognitive skills and their assessed ability in math and reading. Researchers found, for example, that teachers rated Black students lower in math skills compared to white students with identical non-cognitive abilities and test scores.

Researchers also found that teachers were more likely to rate Black children as below average in math when their non-cognitive skills were below average as compared to their White peers at the same level.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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