NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Names, Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap

David N. Figlio

NBER Working Paper No. 11195
Issued in March 2005
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED

This paper investigates the question of whether teachers treat children differentially on the basis of factors other than observed ability, and whether this differential treatment in turn translates into differences in student outcomes. I suggest that teachers may use a child's name as a signal of unobserved parental contributions to that child's education, and expect less from children with names that "sound" like they were given by uneducated parents. These names, empirically, are given most frequently by Blacks, but they are also given by White and Hispanic parents as well. I utilize a detailed dataset from a large Florida school district to directly test the hypothesis that teachers and school administrators expect less on average of children with names associated with low socio-economic status, and these diminished expectations in turn lead to reduced student cognitive performance. Comparing pairs of siblings, I find that teachers tend to treat children differently depending on their names, and that these same patterns apparently translate into large differences in test scores.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11195

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