Stereotype Threat and Educational Tracking: A Field Experiment in Chinese Vocational High Schools

Journal Article

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June 2018

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Educational tracks create differential expectations of student ability, raising concerns that the negative stereotypes associated with lower tracks might threaten student performance. The authors test this concern by drawing on a field experiment enrolling 11,624 Chinese vocational high school students, half of whom were randomly primed about their tracks before taking technical skill and math exams. As in almost all countries, Chinese students are sorted between vocational and academic tracks, and vocational students are stereotyped as having poor academic abilities. Priming had no effect on technical skills and, contrary to hypotheses, modestly improved math performance. In exploring multiple interpretations, the authors highlight how vocational tracking may crystallize stereotypes but simultaneously diminishes stereotype threat by removing academic performance as a central measure of merit. Taken together, the study implies that reminding students about their vocational or academic identities is unlikely to further contribute to achievement gaps by educational track.

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