ERIC Identifier: ED409609
Publication Date: 1997-07-00
Author: Lumsden, Linda
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Expectations for Students. ERIC Digest, Number 116.
Nearly 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
populationbut minimal expectations for others. And in many urban and inner city
schools, low expectations predominate.
Asa Hilliard 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 1989).
Evidence suggests that schools can improve student learning by encouraging
teachers and students to set their sights high.
DO TEACHERS' EXPECTATIONS AFFECT STUDENT PERFORMANCE?
expectations 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 Bamburg 1994).
Students tend 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 Raffini 1993).
Conversely, 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).
Teachers' expectations 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.
A characteristic 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?
Either consciously 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).
Students who 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).
In addition, 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 classes (Cotton).
When teachers summarily categorize or label students, typically some students
end up receiving "a watered-down curriculum and less intense-and less
WHAT OTHER 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 (Bamburg).
Poor performance 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 performance.
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.
Tracking and 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
Although students 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.
Teens' responses concerning what they want were clustered in three main
* 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."
Similarly, when 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).
WHAT CAN TEACHERS DO TO MAINTAIN HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR ALL STUDENTS?
Research has 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."
Obviously, having 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).
Preservice and inservice training can sensitize teachers to possible
unconscious biases and heighten their awareness of the detrimental effects of
holding differential expectations for students.
Teachers who 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.
When teachers 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.
Bamburg, Jerry. "Raising Expectations To Improve
Student Learning." Oak Brook, Illinois: North Central Regional Educational
Laboratory, 1994. 33 pages. ED 378 290.
Bishop, John. "Motivating Students To Study-Expectations, Rewards,
Achievement." "NASSP Bulletin" (November 1989): 27-38. EJ 398 995.
Brophy, Jere. "On Motivating Students." East Lansing, Michigan: Institute for
Research on Teaching, Michigan State University, October 1986. 80 pages. ED 276
Cotton, Kathleen. "Expectations and Student Outcomes." Portland, Oregon:
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, November 1989. 18 pages.
Gonder, Peggy Odell. "Caught in the Middle: How To Unleash the Potential of
Average Students." Arlington, Virginia: American Association of School
Administrators, 1991. 27 pages. ED 358 554.
Hilliard III, Asa. "Do We Have the Will To Educate All Children?"
"Educational Leadership" 49, 1 (September 1991): 31-36. EJ 432 688.
Omotani, Barbara J., and Les Omotani. "Expect the Best: How Your Teachers Can
Help All Children Learn." "The Executive Educator" 18, 8 (March 1996): 27, 31.
EJ 519 766.
Public Agenda. "Getting By: What American Teenagers Really Think About Their
Schools." New York: Author, 1997.
Raffini, James. "Winners Without Losers: Structures and Strategies for
Increasing Student Motivation To Learn." Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Allyn
and Bacon, 1993. 286 pages. ED 362 952.
Stockard, Jean, and Maralee Mayberry. "Effective Educational Environments."
Newbury Park, California: Corwin Press, 1992. 168 pages. ED 350 674.
Wasserstein, Paulette. "What Middle Schoolers Say About Their Schoolwork."
"Educational Leadership" 53, 1 (September 1995): 41-43. EJ 511 721.