Tag Archives education

Do teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading? by Shradha Parashari

Marks assigned by teachers tend to motivate students, have bearing on their career choices, admission to universities and affect students’ self-esteem. Existing literature shows that teachers may hold preconceived stereotypes and implicit biases based on their students’ ethnicity, caste, class, and sex, which influence the grades that the teachers award. Consistent with that, my own research among 120 teachers in 8 private and 11 Indian government schools found evidence of teacher discrimination on the basis of students’ caste and socioeconomic status. 

Marks assigned by teachers tend to motivate and incentivize students (Van Ewijk, 2011). Even basic in-class tests are important for students and in the long term are likely to have a bearing on their career choices (Hanna and Linden, 2012). Lavy (2008) points out that marks given to students by teachers not only determine students’ class ranking and admission to universities, but also act as a reward or punishment that can either boost or lower students’ self-esteem.

With regard to teacher influence on test scores, existing research suggests that teachers hold preconceived stereotypes, implicit biases that affect teachers’ expectations based on students’ ethnicity, socio-economic status, caste, sex and physical attractiveness which may influence the grades that they award. Psychological research shows that teachers may look hard for errors while marking essays or tests of minority students so that the results conform to their expectation. That is called an expectation confirmation bias (Sprietsma, 2012).

Experimental studies in the economics literature confirm this. For example, Hanna and Linden’s (2012) study on India shows that teachers assigned lower marks to low caste students relative to high caste students. Similarly, Sprietsma (2012) shows evidence for Germany of low marks assigned to essays written by students with Turkish names relative to essays by students with German names. Tenenbaum and Ruck (2007) find that US-American teachers hold lower expectations for minority African-American students relative to their Caucasian peers.

Consistent with these findings, my own research in 8 private and 11 government schools among 120 teachers in Delhi found evidence of teacher discrimination in occupational expectations (expectation of career paths of students) and grades awarded on the basis of students’ caste and socioeconomic status. To uncover this discrimination, I utilized a randomized experiment.

The experiment of the study was conducted in three stages. In the first stage, students were randomly selected and invited to write essays on the topic “My future career ambition” in which student’s described their background, occupational paths/career paths and challenges to achieve those career paths. In the second stage, I randomly manipulated students’ caste and socioeconomic status on the set of essays. The last and third stage involved visiting schools and requesting teachers to mark essays on a score of 100 and rate occupational expectations (expectations about student’s career paths) on a score of 5. The findings from my research are in line with existing literature on teacher discrimination in schools.

Discrimination confirmed

I found that teachers discriminate in holding occupational expectations and grading. Teachers assigned lower occupational expectations for essays assigned to low caste and low socio-economic status relative to high caste and high socio-economic status. However, high socio-economic status mitigates the effect of low caste. Consistent with this bias in occupational expectations estimates show a bias in grading which is consistent with Sprietsma’s (2012) findings that lower expectations of teachers against  minority students might further perpetuate discrimination in grading.


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Figure 1 and 2: Mean teacher’s occupational expectations and Marks

Essays assigned low caste and low socio-economic status characteristics are assigned 3.64 points lower marks relative to essays assigned to high caste and high socio-economic status. Given the ultra-competitive nature of schooling in India and the importance of grades in determining access to higher education, a 3.6 point disadvantage is substantial. There is also a trade-off between caste and socio-economic status. Belonging to high socio-economic status lowers the extent of discrimination faced by low caste students as marking bias falls by 0.8 points for low caste and high socio-economic status students. The research further explains the origin of these results and finds that the discrimination against low caste students arises from a majority number of high caste teachers in the sample and not from the low caste teachers.


Education has the power to transform lives of students who belong to minority classes and castes. However; they may not be able to reap advantage of education if teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading. Since discrimination is associated with feelings of inferiority among students and low self-esteem adversely affects their admission to universities, their career choices and their overall development (Hoff and Pandey, 2006), teacher discrimination is a matter of concern. There is an urgent need for proper training mechanisms in schools that address teacher discrimination, requesting teachers to take implicit bias tests, educating teachers about stereotypes and implicit bias that might bias teachers’ expectations against minority students and perpetuate discrimination in grading. Further formulating a policy of standardized objective grading can also aid in minimizing discrimination in grades awarded.

Link to the author’s research paper: https://www.iss.nl/en/news/teacher-discrimination-occupational-expectations-and-grading-shradha-parashari

Casteel, C.A. (1998) ‘Teacher–student Interactions and Race in Integrated Class-rooms’, The Journal of Educational Research 92(2): 115-120.
Ferguson, R.F. (2003) ‘Teachers’ Perceptions and Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap’,  Urban Education 38(4): 460-507.
Hanna, R.N. and L.L. Linden (2012) ‘Discrimination in Grading’, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 4(4): 146-168.
Hoff, K. and P. Pandey (2006) ‘Discrimination, Social Identity, and Durable Inequalities’, American Economic Review 96(2): 206-211.
Lavy, V. (2008) ‘Do Gender Stereotypes Reduce Girls’ Or Boys’ Human Capital Out-comes? Evidence from    a Natural Experiment’, Journal of Public Economics 92(10-11): 2083-2105.
Sprietsma, M. (2012) ‘Discrimination in Grading: Experimental Evidence from Primary School Teachers’,            Empirical Economics 45(1): 523-538.
Tenenbaum, H.R. and M.D. Ruck (2007) ‘Are Teachers’ Expectations Different for Racial Minority than for European American Students? A Meta-Analysis.’, Journal of Educational Psychology 99(2): 253.
Van Ewijk, R. (2011) ‘Same  Work, Lower Grade? Student Ethnicity and Teachers’ Subjective Assessments’, Economics of Education Review 30(5): 1045-1058.

Image Credit: Shradha Parashari

ShradhaAbout the author:

Shradha Parashari is an ISS alumna of the 2017-18  MA batch and a Research Associate at Energy Policy Institute at University of Chicago-India. This blog is concerned with the author’s award-winning research that was conducted under supervision of Professor Arjun Singh Bedi and Professor Matthias Rieger.









Nepal’s school-merging programme goes against the right to education by Nilima Rai

Nepal’s school-merging programme goes against the right to education by Nilima Rai

Nepal’s government is increasingly merging schools due to shrinking population numbers in its ...

Development Dialogue 2018 | Do children entering preschool early develop more quickly? by Saikat Ghosh and Subhasish Dey

Despite fierce debate among scholars regarding the age at which children are ready to enter preschool, the issue remains contentious. This article based on an empirical footing argues that earlier preschool entry is better for children living in developing countries like India, as it can help to ‘level the playing field.’


There is considerable debate regarding the age at which children are ready to enter preschool. However, scholars seem not to have been able to reach any conclusion regarding the link between children’s development and schooling age. There are two principal views on this issue that shape the age-of-entry debate both at the policy and practice level: First, entry with maturity, and, second, entry followed by maturity.

The first view is a maturational point of view that expects the child to be mature and ready for school. Reaching only a specific age does not ensure that a child is ready for school, nor does it guarantee a specific level of development. The conventional wisdom is that older children are more likely to have the necessary skills and maturity to succeed in school and therefore learn more in each grade (Cmic & Lamberty 1994; Krauerz 2005; Graue & DiPema 2000). Therefore, advocates of maturational view propose a delay in entrance to kindergarten for a child who is not ready, and such delay gives the child an extra year to become developmentally ready. This trend was described by the phrase “graying of kindergarten” (Bracey 1989), which is recently known as “redshirting” (Katz, 2000).

On the other hand, people holding the alternative view believe that the only determining factor for entry into kindergarten should be chronological age. This entry criterion is exogenous and less susceptible to cultural or social biases (Brent et al. 1996; Kagan, 1990; Stipek 2002). Besides, development is uneven and multidimensional, and thus, a threshold cannot be identified, as children’s level of development varies across different dimensions and children are not likely to achieve the level considered important for school success in all domains at the same time (Stipek 2002: 4).

Yet, very little is known in the context of developing countries, and whether the variation in the age of entry in preschool has any impact on children’s later development is still an open question. The authors took the initiative[1] to explore the same debate in the Indian context. As children from developing countries like India face several challenges from the very beginning, therefore, it is utterly significant to examine whether early entry in preschool provides them with an edge.


The answer in this context is yes, it matters, and it is evident form the study that the age of entry into preschool is utterly significant for children’s later development. Empirical evidence indicates that early entry into preschool may help children to acquire better cognitive and socio-emotional skills. The study has also found significant variation in children’s development depending on their socioeconomic background viz. parents’ level of education, their ethnic origin, etc. Considering the socioeconomic and cultural background of Indian society (as reflected within the household and parents characteristics), the results suggest that early entry into preschool has significant effects both on social and cognitive development of the child at least after a one-year completion of primary education. Therefore, the study advocates in favour of early preschool entry which has been referred by the authors as ‘Green-Shirting’.

Considering children from developing countries, where various forms of inequalities are already present, several differences may exist between children of lower socio-economic status and those of higher socio-economic status even before they enter preschool. Therefore, it is particularly necessary to provide children with a strong foundation from the very beginning so that these early disadvantages can be tackled.

Early childhood education and care provisions can be important intervention for children’s development. For example, the publicly provided preschool education in India, known as the ‘Anganwadi Centre’, which is the predominant type of preschool in India, represents an important and an effective initiative in ensuring both the social and cognitive development of children in the later stage of their life. Early entry into preschool and therefore, longer preschool experiences, can help to ‘level the field.’

[1] The study on which this article is based was carried out by the authors in India and is based on a primary data of 1,369 households. Ten different parameters were used to measure children’s development, which was further disentangled into cognitive and social development.

Bracey, G. (1989). Age and achievement. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(9): 732.
Brent, D., D. May & D. Kundert (1996) ‘The incidence of delayed school entry: A twelve-year review’, Early Education Development 7(2):121-135.
Cmic, K. & G. Larnberty (1994) ‘Reconsidering school readiness’, Early Education and Development 5(2): 91- 105.
Graue, E. & J. DiPerna (2000). Redshirting and early retention: Who gets the gift of time and what are its outcomes?. American Educational Research Journal, 37(2): 509-534.
Kagan, S. L. (1990). Readiness past, present and future: Shaping the agenda. Young Children 48(1): 48-53.
Katz, L. (2000). Academic redshirting and young children. ERIC. Washington, DC, Office of Education Research and Improvement.
Krauerz, K. (2005). Straddling early learning and early elementary school. Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children 64(3): 50-58.
Stipek, D. (2002). At what age should children enter kindergarten? A question for policy makers and parents. SRCD Social Policy Report 16(2): 3-16.

This blog article is part of a series related to the Development Dialogue 2018 Conference that was recently held at the ISS.

About the authors:ghosh

Dr. Saikat Ghosh has recently received his doctorate from the University of Bamberg, Germany. His research interest centres on poverty, education, inequality, and social policy analysis with particular focus on developing countries. Formerly, he has worked for the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS), Germany, and UNU-WIDER, Helsinki. He also served the Government of West Bengal, India for six years between 2007 to 2013.

deyDr. Subhasish Dey is an Associate Lecturer at the Economics Department of University of York, UK. He is an applied microecometrician working in the field of development and political economy. He completed his PhD in Economics from University of Manchester in 2016. His research interests include social protection programme, impact evaluation of social policies, electoral politics, affirmative action and routine immunisation. He served government of West Bengal for five years between 2003 and 2008 in education and Panchyat and rural development departments.