Finding a Different Mindset: Girls Learn from Positive Stereotypes

Inspired by the work noted social psychologist Claude Steele began on stereotype threat, Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls designed programming to counteract the effects that girls, a group negatively stereotyped in terms of math and science ability, may feel in high-stakes testing situations.

For the past five years, Laurel has educated its upper school students—and other schools around the country—on this topic, knowing that once a girl understands the phenomenon, she is more likely to be protected from it. Stereotype threat can induce anxiety in testing situations, increase blood pressure, or cause a girl to “blank out,” feel like giving up, or second-guess herself.

The programming begins with a ninth grade seminar on how stereotype threat works, how it undermines test performance, and how to fight it. Booster sessions for the girls, training for teachers, and the presence of strong female role models in math and science in the school community help girls feel confident as they face the standardized tests associated with the college admission process.

Arming girls with positive stereotypes helps reduce the effects of stereotype threat, so every Laurel junior receives two G.A.T.O.R.S. pencils before taking college admissions tests highlighting both the school’s mascot and the acronym for its educational mantra—girls get higher Grades than boys, the benefits of an All-girls education, high math and science ACT Test results, Our Laurel teachers believe in us, Laurel girls score 26% higher on Reading and English ACT and 20% higher on the SAT.

Today, Laurel students report feeling more powerful and confident during testing situations. Programming around growth mindset throughout the year continues to complement the school’s work to counter stereotype threat.

Does your school do something similar?

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