ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management
all schools claim to hold high expectations for all students. In
reality, however, what is professed is not always practiced. Although
some schools and teachers maintain uniformly high expectations for
all students, others have "great expectations" for particular
segments of the student population but minimal expectations for
others. And in many urban and innercity schools, low expectations
III (1991) contends that "our current ceiling for students
is really much closer to where the floor ought to be." Many
believe there is great disparity between "what youngsters are
capable of learning and what they are learning" (John Bishop
that schools can improve student learning by encouraging teachers
and students to set their sights high.
Expectations Affect Student Performance?
teachers have for their students and the assumptions they make about
their potential have a tangible effect on student achievement. Research
"clearly establishes that teacher expectations do play a significant
role in determining how well and how much students learn" (Jerry
to internalize the beliefs teachers have about their ability. Generally,
they "rise or fall to the level of expectation of their teachers....
When teachers believe in students, students believe in themselves.
When those you respect think you can, you think you can" (James
when students are viewed as lacking in ability or motivation and
are not expected to make significant progress, they tend to adopt
this perception of themselves. Regrettably, some students, particularly
those from certain social, economic, or ethnic groups, discover
that their teachers consider them "incapable of handling demanding
work" (Peggy Gonder 1991).
for students-whether high or low-can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That is, students tend to give to teachers as much or as little
as teachers expect of them.
shared by most highly effective teachers is their adherence to uniformly
high expectations. They "refuse to alter their attitudes or
expectations for their students-regardless of the students' race
or ethnicity, life experiences and interests, and family wealth
or stability" (Barbara J. Omotani and Les Omotani 1996).
In What Ways
May Teachers' Beliefs Translate Into
Differential Behavior Toward Students?
or unconsciously, teachers often behave differently toward students
based on the beliefs and assumptions they have about them. For example,
studies have found that teachers engage in affirming nonverbal behaviors
such as smiling, leaning toward, and making eye contact with students
more frequently when they believe they are dealing with high-ability
students than when they believe they are interacting with "slow"
students (Jerry Bamburg 1994).
are perceived to be low in ability may also be given fewer opportunities
to learn new material, asked less stimulating questions, given briefer
and less informative feedback, praised less frequently for success,
called on less frequently, and given less time to respond than students
who are considered high in ability (Kathleen Cotton 1989).
instructional content is sometimes "dumbed-down" for students
considered to be low in ability. Students in low groups and tracks
are usually offered "less exciting instruction, less emphasis
on meaning and conceptualization, and more rote drill and practice
activities" than those in high or heterogeneous groups and
summarily categorize or label students, typically some students
end up receiving "a watered-down curriculum and less intense-and
less motivating-instruction" (Gonder).
Factors May Influence What Is Expected of Students?
In the U.S.,
many subscribe to what Bamburg dubs a philosophy of "educational
predestination." That is, innate ability is viewed as the main
determinant of academic success. The role played by effort, amount
and quality of instruction, and parental involvement is discounted
in school is often attributed to low ability, and ability is viewed
as being immune to alteration, much like eye or skin color. Therefore,
poorly performing students often come to believe that no matter
how much effort they put forth, it will not be reflected in improved
This view contrasts
sharply with the predominant perspective in many other cultures,
where hard work and effort are considered key to students' academic
achievement. In these cultures, high expectations are maintained
for all students, and if a student is not succeeding, it is attributed
to lack of effort and hard work, not to insufficient intellectual
ability grouping can also affect expectations. A criticism of traditional
tracking is that expectations for students as well as pace of instruction
are reduced in lower ability groups. According to Stockard and Mayberry
(1992), "A large number of studies from a wide range of years
suggest that... ability grouping appears to be detrimental for low-ability
students.... [and] impedes the progress of students in lower groups."
Mixed-age and mixed-ability classes, in contrast, have been shown
to improve achievement, perhaps in part because more is expected
from students in such groups.
What Do Students Have To Say About What Is Expected of Them?
may appear to accept or even relish lax teachers with low standards,
they ultimately come away with more respect for teachers who believe
in them enough to demand more, both academically and behaviorally.
In a recent
national survey of over 1,300 high school students (Public Agenda
1997), teens were asked on questionnaires and in focus group discussions
what they think of and want from their schools.
concerning what they want were clustered in three main areas:
- A yearning
for order. They complained about lax instructors and unenforced
rules. "Many feel insulted at the minimal demands placed
upon them. They state unequivocally that they would work harder
if more were expected of them."
- A yearning
for structure. They expressed a desire for "closer monitoring
and watchfulness from teachers." In addition, "very
significant numbers of respondents wanted after-school classes
for youngsters who are failing."
- A yearning
for moral authority. Although teens acknowledged cheating was
commonplace, they indicated that wanted schools to teach "ethical
values such as honesty and hard work."
200 middle school students in Englewood, Colorado, were surveyed
about their most memorable work in school, they repeatedly "equated
hard work with success and satisfaction. Moreover, they suggested
that challenge is the essence of engagement" (Wasserstein 1995).
Teachers Do To Maintain High Expectations for All Students?
shown that teachers' expectations for students tend to be self-fulfilling.
Therefore, Jere Brophy (1986) advises teachers to "routinely
project attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and attributions. . .
that imply that your students share your own enthusiasm for learning.
To the extent that you treat your students as if they already are
eager learners, they will be more likely to become eager learners."
high expectations does not magically equalize students' innate abilities
and learning rates. To accommodate differences among students and
help all students achieve mastery without resorting to watering
down standards and expectations, teachers can manipulate three variables-time,
grouping, and methodology (Omatoni and Omatoni 1996).
inservice training can sensitize teachers to possible unconscious
biases and heighten their awareness of the detrimental effects of
holding differential expectations for students.
view intelligence as dynamic and fluid rather than static and unchanging
are less likely to have rigid preconceived notions about what students
will or will not be able to achieve.
and administrators maintain high expectations, they encourage in
students a desire to aim high rather than to slide by. To expect
less is to do students a disservice, not a favor.
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was prepared (July 1997) with funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract
No. OERI RR93002006.
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions
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