Students Who Share a Race with Teachers Get Better Grades

Study finds college students of the same race or ethnicity as their teaching assistants also participate more and are more likely to attend office hours.

College students who are of the same race or ethnicity as their teaching assistants earn higher grades at statistically significant levels, and the findings are consistent across racial and ethnic groups, according to a study released this week.

The study, “TAs Like Me: Racial Interactions Between Graduate Teaching Assistants and Undergraduates,” was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research and examined grading patterns and student and teaching assistant demographics at a large, diverse university in California, which was not identified.

“From our model … we predict a statistically significant 7.7 percent of a standard deviation increase in course grade when students are matched to TAs who are all of a similar race as themselves,” the study said.

The study’s authors added that students were also more likely to participate in optional discussion groups, as well as attend office hours, when teaching assistants shared their race or ethnicity.

“Results show a positive and significant increase in course grades when students are assigned TAs of a similar race/ethnicity,” reported the study’s authors. “These effects are largest in classes where TAs are given advance copies of exams and when exams had no multiple-choice questions.”

The reason for that, the study suggests, is because students are spending more time with TAs to whom they relate.

“We interpret this result as evidence of ‘teaching to the exam,’ where TAs divulge information that is pertinent to the class’ exams if given the opportunity,” said the study’s authors. “Students who are more likely to interact with the TAs by attending the TAs’ discussion sections and office hours are the beneficiaries of teaching to the test … suggesting that TA-student match quality and role model effects are the primary drivers of the results.”

The authors said that is also an explanation for more success when exams had no multiple-choice questions. “First, critical thinking is typically a key component to success on essay-based questions, and critical thinking skills may be fostered in settings where students discuss and ask questions about the course material, such as in TA discussion sessions and office hours.”

But TAs also might be subconsciously responding to students of similar race through grading, the authors suggest.

“Classes with no multiple-choice exams are classes where TAs have to exercise more subjective judgments when grading, and students of specific races may be more likely to answer non-multiple-choice questions in a manner which TAs of similar race favor.”

The study was conducted by Lester Lusher and Scott Carrell of the University of California, Davis and Doug Campbell of the New Economic School in Moscow, Russia.

The authors also suggested that increasing same-race TAs could help raise college completion rates and close racial gaps in college completion.

“Understanding how TA race influences student outcomes is particularly important given recent trends in the U.S., where the fraction of nonwhite undergraduate and graduate students has nearly tripled over the past 40 years,” they said in the study. “Prominent racial gaps, in turn, lead to persistent income inequality across racial groups.”

The study notes that, while 82 percent of undergraduates in 1976 were white, in 2013 less than 60 percent of all undergraduates were white and more than 40 percent were minorities.

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  • If that trend is in a college environment, won’t it be true to say that it is also in the secondary school setting? The system has practically made it impossible for Black teachers to stay in the system but you see the majority of white teachers going into the system. I think this is another form of trying to destroy the Black race – 1. in the school system 2. with the police hiring undercover KKK members and 3 the court system re-enslaving them. I don’t care what anyone says, I believe that this is a contrived way of doing away with all Black people. If you don’t educate them, kill the one’s that have slipped through the cracks, and incarcerate the rest – what do you have? It is a conspiracy racked up by the white man to destroy the Black man.

    • Wow………

      Your reply doesn’t leave a lot of room for discussion.
      But, if you think “the white man” is clever enough and homogenous enough to devise the scheme you’re describing then you give us way too much credit.

      The results of the study aren’t surprising to me. Practically eveyone has built in biases that would lead to this outcome. I’m not sure how they could be overcome, but the study points out a real issue that should be addressed somehow.

      (I grew up in a small community of Dutch speaking immigants in Utah, of all places. At some point we went from a Dutch enclave of perhaps 200 to a Dutch enclave of 200 with perhaps 200 S.E. Asian refugees that the Dutch were helping to settle. It was easy to see exactly the bias that this article pointed out, in spite of the best intentions of many people. P.S. If you run into a first generation American of Cambodian, Loatian or Vietnamese descent who speaks proper English with a heavy Dutch accent, thank my family. :-) )

  • Eunice,

    I’m sure you don’t think yourself racist in the least but, but, alas, you are.

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