Race and Social Problems

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 93–111 | Cite as

Of Promise and Penalties: How Student Racial-Cultural Markers Shape Teacher Perceptions

  • Yasmiyn IrizarryEmail author
  • Emma D. Cohen


Scholars document considerable disparities in teacher perceptions of students, yet absent from this literature is an examination of how race, ethnicity, and immigration status intersect to influence teacher ratings. This study extends previous research by examining variation in teachers’ ratings of academic ability across four conventional racial/ethnic groups as well as thirteen racialized subgroups. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999, we find that black first-graders receive lower ratings in language and literacy, a pattern that holds for both black Americans and black immigrants. In contrast, Asian first-graders receive higher ratings in math; however, this is primarily driven by teachers’ much higher ratings of East Asian and Southeast Asian immigrants. These subgroup differences remain even after controlling for a host of background and contextual factors, as well as students’ tested ability and academic growth in math and reading. Teacher perceptions of student academic behavior explain lower language and literacy ratings for black Americans and higher math ratings for Southeast Asian immigrants that are present net background and performance, but higher math ratings for East Asian immigrants remain. We conclude by discussing implications of our approach and findings.


Race Racialization Racial disparities Teacher perceptions Stereotypes 



The authors would like to thank Brian Powell, Matthew Hughey, Becky Schewe, Ryan Cobb, and anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback on previous drafts of this manuscript.


This research was supported by a Ford Foundation Fellowship through The National Academies and by a grant from the American Educational Research Association which receives funds for its Grants Program from the National Science Foundation under NSF Grant #DRL-0941014. This research was also supported in part by Grant, 5 R24 HD042849, Population Research Center, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Opinions reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of African and African Diaspora StudiesThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Indiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

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