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Effects on Student Academic Performance due to Teacher’s Racial Bias: A Systematic Review


A multicultural society is almost conventional meaning? in many countries, including Australia. Castles (2002) suggests that the reasons for the migration today differs from that of globalisation in the 1990s, which include the ease of travel, instability in home countries as well as technology relevance of this? Does this mean the cohort of students will have different reasons for being in Australia? What effect?.

City of Melbourne (2019) states that Metropolitan Victoria is home to over 140 cultural communities ranging from the Indigenous population to the recent migrants from Africa, Asia and Europe. It is imperative to ensure that all students, regardless of their ethnic background, can access equitable and quality education as outlined in the Education 2030 Framework for Action by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Research Rationale and Objectives

Students nowadays are finding it tough to multitask between being academically successful and a contributing member of their family as well as the community. Cherng (2017) suggests that the classroom teacher plays a vital role in influencing and forming students’ expectations of themselves as well as their academic success. Also, the support and belief a teacher place onto his student influence how the student can be successful in school.

Read also: “If you need to write your dissertation, our writers is a brilliant choice”

Several factors can attribute how a teacher places his support and belief onto his students. One of those factors is the teacher’s perceived bias towards a student’s ethnic background. Racism, unfortunately, still exists in our modern society, even amongst the educated communities. All students, regardless of ethnic background, must be able to access quality education that is also fair and impartial (UNESCO 2015). If bias is present, there must undoubtedly be impacts on the student concerned.

*find out the relationship of influence of a teacher to the students

Literature Review

A considerable amount of literature has researched on the topic of students’ academic performance due to teacher’s racial bias, and this study will analyse some of those works of literature in order to highlight the effects of a teacher’s racial bias on students’ academic performance.

Acknowledgement of racial bias in classrooms

Society recognises the presence of racism; however, many will agree that discrimination of race has lessened or disappeared altogether (Hermon 2013). Stoll’s 2014 research on the construction of colour-blind classroom illustrated the illusion of no discrimination in classrooms. The definition of colour-blind classrooms is when teachers have impression that racial problems do not exist in the classroom. Many teachers have accepted that racisms no longer exist in schools and society (Milner 2017). In reality, teachers are just pretending that racism does not exist in their classrooms and the problem does not exist, then there is no problem.

Milner (2010, 2015) suggested from his studies that white teachers may develop and carry out teaching strategies that contribute to inequity and expectations tied to the students’ ethnic background. Consequently, teacher bias may be shown in teachers’ perceptions of minority students as those who are not academically inclined by providing them with less challenging task work (Ferguson; Wood, Kaplan and McLoyd, cited in Stoll 2014, p. 691). As a result, those students end up receiving low grades leading to a self-fulling prophecy. Stoll’s research also showed that teachers’ expectations and behaviours towards black students contribute to maintain or even grow the Black-White test score gap. Both Stoll and Milner concluded that educators could be useful in a classroom of diverse ethnic backgrounds if they can develop cultural knowledge and skills to be sensitive and inclusive. Students will then be able to reach their full potential academically and socially when educators have the right knowledge and skills (Milner 2017).

Teachers’ attitudes towards the abilities of ethnic minority students

Many studies have explored and evaluated whether students’ ethnic background impacts how teachers evaluate students’ learning abilities. Teachers’ stereotypical expectations and attitudes of ethnic minority students influence how the students perform in the classroom (Glock and Klapproth 2017).

A study in 2015 by Irrizary examined the racial gaps in teachers’ perceptions of students’ overall literacy skills and the extent reflected on the differences in actual abilities at the elementary school level. Involving five racial/ethnic groups, Irrizary did not find any discrepancies in the literacy rating given by teachers. However, there were significant differences in the allocation of above and below-average ratings across the different ethnic groups. According to Irizarry (2015), the study also showed that teacher perceptions of overall literacy skills were more favourable ‘for Asians than for Whites, but more negative for White Latino, non-White Latino, and Black students’. However, the research could not substantiate that a students’ ethnic background as the reason why teacher would rate high achieving Black and non-white Latino students lower than White students. The study also did not investigate students’ self-fulfilling prophecies which may influence teachers’ perceptions.

In a later study in 2017, similar research by Cherng examined whether teacher perceptions of students’ academic abilities vary by student race/ethnicity. This study, like Irrizary’s, was conducted in the United States but targeted Mathematics and English teachers. Cherng also examined if teacher underestimation of student ability influences academic expectation and achievement and if it varies by student race/ethnicity. Using data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, it was found that “higher % of both Math and English teachers report that their class is too difficult for Asian American, Latino and Black students compared to White students” (Cherng, 2017). This result leans towards the hypothesis that teacher perceptions of various ethnic-minority groups can influence academic expectation and hence, the achievement of students. Cherng’s study, however, only used the majority of the minor ethnic groups and may not be conclusive for all ethnic-minority groups but there is enough evidence to answer the research question. Besides, there was no indication of other factors such as workload, level of interest in subject is a reason why the class was “too difficult”. This study can be expanded upon to include all factors mentioned.

Relationship of teacher perception and students’ academic achievement

Teachers’ belief in students’ academic achievement, especially that of ethnic-minority students can have an impact on students’ performance. In a 2016 research in New Zealand by Peterson, Rubie-Davies, Osborne, & Sibley, results showed the expected academic achievements for European and Asian students as compared to the ethnic-minority students of Maori and Pasifika background. What was perceived by the teachers was the expected outcome. More importantly, the results showed “teachers' expectations for student achievement mirrored the students' performance such that higher expectations were observed for European and Asian students than for Maori or Pasifika students” (Peterson, Rubie-Davies, Osborne, & Sibley, 2016). This, in turn, showed that teachers do have a perceived view and expectation of students’ academic achievement based on their ethnic group. However, the research was unable to determine if students’ socioeconomic status influenced teachers’ expectations as it is illegal in New Zealand for schools to obtain an individual’s socioeconomic status.

In the same year, a study was conducted the United States by Harvey, Suizzo, & Jackson where they examined if “teacher bias in perceiving student motivation level would predict final Mathematics and English grades and whether ethnic-minority-group membership would be related to teacher bias”. The difference between this study and the research conducted in New Zealand is that the researchers used a sample of ethnic-minority students from low-income backgrounds which answered the limitation of the New Zealand study. The authors concluded that the level of student self-efficacy coincided with the level of belief the teacher has on the student which in turn impacted the student’s academic achievement. The authors also discovered that “strong teacher bias can outweigh the effects of student motivation level” (Harvey, Suizzo, & Jackson, 2016). However, this study does not compare ethnic-minority students from all levels of socioeconomic status which would make the results more accurate in determining the relationship between teacher perception of ethnic-minority students and their academic achievement.

Impact of academic achievements when teacher and student share the same race/ethnicity

What if we have more teachers who are also members of ethnic-minority groups teaching in schools? Will they be able to sympathise and empathise? Will deploying more of such teachers help curb or eliminate teacher bias in the classroom? There are many works of literature that hypothesise a student’s academic achievement can be realised when assigned a teacher of the same race/ethnicity.

In a research conducted in the state of Florida in the United States, there appeared to be positive impacts on student achievements in literacy and numeracy when “race matching by students' prior performance level” (Egalitea, Kisidab, & Winters, 2015). However, the research is unsure if the results from a very racially diverse Florida population will be replicated in other less diverse locations.

When we look at a country or location such as India, the population is not racially diverse. They do, however, have a significant number of ethnic groups who belong to different castes. The caste system determines where on the respect ladder one belongs to. In a study conducted by Namrata in 2011, it focused on eight local government schools in New Delhi where the lower-caste students attended. Upper-caste teachers in these schools had low expectations and negative perceptions of the students citing them as dull with parents who are uneducated which justified why students were doing poorly in school. Results from the study also showed that some teachers did not even bother to overcome “challenges” that came with the students; be it a learning difficulty or bad behaviour. The higher educated teachers, on the other hand, were able to be more empathetic and differentiated their teaching in order to lead students to academic success.

In a case study conducted by Kern & Roehrig showed a less favourable discovery. Kern & Roehrig analysed how a former migrant to the United States used his beliefs and experiences to teach in his racially diverse classroom. While the teacher was able to relate to the students’ struggles, he assumed the strategies he used in school to be successful would also apply to the students in his classrooms.

Despite teachers being able to sympathise and/or empathise, both studies by Namrata and Kern & Roehrig found a requirement for teachers to continually be aware of students’ needs as well as “help their students to succeed by providing some basic guidelines and integrating inclusive and culturally safe learning environments into their classrooms” (Kern & Roehrig, 2012) which in turn will result in positive academic achievements.


Research Methodology

This paper will employ a systematic literature review, using a post-positivist paradigm approach.

  • Eligibility Criteria
  • Population: Students
  • Intervention: Teacher’s racial bias
  • Outcome: Impact on students’ academic achievement

Information Sources

Studies used in this systematic literature review were obtained by searching electronic databases. A limit for studies written in English was implemented, including those translated from foreign papers. This search was applied to Academic Search Elite and Science Direct. The last search was run on 27 September 2019. In addition to the academic journals, this systematic literature review also included a current paper from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


In-text, the following keywords were used in the databases of Academic Search Elite and Science Direct: Teacher; bias; ethnicity; classroom; racial; racism

Study Selection

Studies were selected based on study and report characteristics as the process was independently reviewed.

Data Collection Process and Data Items

Data from studies were collected by one independent reviewer. To reduce bias, studies were accepted as long as they met the topic and focus areas as well as the key themes.

A template identifying the following was created to summarise evidence for a systematic review:

  • Topic and focus areas
  • Key themes
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Limitations
  • Gaps and future directions
  • Search engine
  • Key search words


  • Methods: All 14 studies selected for the final review were conducted in English and in the last 10-years time frame.
  • Participants: The included studies involved 305 participants consisting of both primary and secondary (or equivalent) school teachers.
  • Intervention: The participants were not from metropolitan Victoria; however, given the similarity in multicultural communities in each location, the results should replicate.
  • Outcome(s): Teachers at both primary and secondary levels perceived students from the minority ethnic groups as less capable, display challenging behaviour and having cultural backgrounds that prevent them from succeeding. Therefore, bias is present.

Records identified through database searching (n = 20)

Additional records identified through other sources (n = 2)

Records after duplicates removed

(n = 22)

Records screened (n = 22)

Records excluded (n = 5)

Full-text articles assessed for eligibility (n = 17)

Full-text articles excluded, with reasons (n = 1)

Studies included in qualitative synthesis (n = 0)

Studies included in quantitative synthesis (meta-analysis) (n = 16)

Not within time-frame

Did not match key terms


Negative implicit teacher attitudes toward ethnic minority students in both primary and secondary schools.

Teachers are more likely to perceive that students of colour will find English or Math more difficult than White students; however, the terms ‘more difficult’ can be somewhat vague.

Effect of strong teacher bias can outweigh the effects of student motivation level. However, studies on this topic have focused more on low-income, ethnic-minority–middle school students. Further research can be done with a different socio-economic background of students.

White students with learning challenges or giftedness are more likely to be referred than minority races.

Comments and actions of teachers, no matter how small, can impact students of ethnic minorities. Teachers need training on how to be culturally-sensitive.

Pre-service teachers in German study did not show negative attitudes to students if immigrant backgrounds which can be due to ambivalence or indifference.


In recent times, teachers are becoming more aware of a form of racism that has emerged, and that is the colour-blind classroom. The colour-blind classroom is part of cultural racism where teachers make assumptions of students’ achievements and abilities due to their ethnic background (Stoll 2014). However, the colour-blind classroom takes this cultural racism one step further whereby teachers pretend that the problem of racism in the classroom does not exist because it is easier not to acknowledge the issue and work on the “more important things” like the curriculum and students’ academic success.

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