Hanselman, Paul, & Bruch, Sarah K.
Threat in Context: School Moderation of the Impact of Social Identity Threat on Racial/ Ethnic Achievement Gaps
University of Wiscnsin
1. Are the benefits of self-affirmation for Black and Hispanic middle school students greater in potentially more threatening school contexts, characterized by the group presence and relative academic position of racially marginalized students?
2. What are the prospects of these interventions to close racial achievement gaps in more and less threatening school environments?
Journal Name or Institutional Affiliation:
Sociology of Education
Vol. 87 No. 2 Pp. 106-124
Researchers find that school context moderates the benefits of self-affirmation for Black and Hispanic students’ grades, with partial support among standardized achievement outcomes. Self-affirmation reduced the very large racial achievement gap in overall grade point average by 12.5 percent in high-threat school contexts and had no effect in low-threat contexts. These self-affirmation activities have the potential to help close some of the largest racial/ethnic achievement gaps, though only in specific school contexts.
Racial composition correlates with academic achievement and demographic characteristics in predictable ways. Schools with fewer Black and Hispanic students are higher achieving in terms of both standardized tests and grades.
The researchers found no effects of self-affirmation overall and no difference in this effect between the two school contexts. , Controlling for all other variables, Asian and White students also receive somewhat lower grades in high-potential-threat schools, but this disparity is not statistically significant.
There are positive estimates for all subjects in high-threat schools; all estimates are consistent with an effect of a fifth of a standard deviation.
They find no effects of self-affirmation for Asian and White students in either school context.
On the whole, the GPA results clearly support theoretical prediction of an interaction between school context and self-affirmation benefits while the standardized achievement results provide only partial support.
Journal Article Empirical Research
Achievement Gap, Composition, Racial Composition
Method of Analysis:
7th grade students
Unit of Analysis:
Authors use data collected in the first year (2011-2012) of the Madison Writing and Achievement Project (MWAP). MWAP is an experimental evaluation of a series of short self-affirming writing exercises for middle school students implemented success-fully elsewhere (Cohen et al. 2006; Shermanet al. 2013).
The sample included seventh-grade students in all 11 middle schools in Madison, Wisconsin. Their analytic sample consists of 910 students.
Authors focus on two types of outcome measures; GPA and standardized achievement at the end of the school year.
Independent variable: the numerical presence and relative academic position of marginalized groups in the school: an index of the disparities between potentially susceptable (Black and Hispanic) and potentially non-susceptible (Whites and Asian students) in educational proficiency that is measured by state standardized test in the year before the study.)
Includes student demographic characteristics in all models: prior achievement, gender, limited English proficiency status, receipt of special education services, and eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch,..
The authors create a single-school context measure by averaging a standardized version of both school context indicators (Black/Hispanic numerical representation and relative academic position)
Dependent variable: Academic outcomes; school reported GPA and standardized achievement at the end of the school year based on Measures of Academic Progress assessment in three subjects; mathematics, reading, and language usage.