Examining Biases in Everyday Practices

What makes achieving equity in education difficult? Perhaps our own subtle biases and perceptions still pose challenges when considering how to allocate funds, secure fair and effective assessments, promote great teaching practices, and interact with students. I reflected on these biases when I looked across the classroom at the results of a friendly competition between fourth-grade students. The scoreboard defied so many remarks I had heard in the past.  Comments like “girls are better readers than boys” and “boys are more difficult to motivate when it comes to reading” triggered a smile because the boys in the competition smoked the girls by nearly double the points. The boys defied all the odds determined by biases. This incident triggered a reflective thought. As educators, there are so many underlying biases that are less commonly discussed than those dealing with race, gender, and socio-economic status. 

In my coaching role, I am fortunate to work with teachers as well as students. This allows me to participate in curriculum and instructional design and I also have opportunities to observe the impact of those decisions. These experiences helped me realize the importance of reflecting on our biases. While planning with a fourth-grade writing teacher, we decided that I would work with a small group of students who were struggling based on our state’s scoring rubric and our classroom observations. After putting the group together for a whole class assessment, we quickly realized that our advanced readers were struggling with the development of ideas as well. Our biases about their abilities interfered with their success. Since we believed them to be “advanced” students we assumed that they did not need the strategies we practiced with the remediation group. This incident caused us to mindfully reflect on other practices and the many interactions we have with students. 

If biases are present in these everyday occurrences, no doubt they are present in the larger decisions we make as educators. Especially decisions or mandates that affect instruction and assessments. In Mississippi, teachers work with Questar to produce assessment items for the state assessment. In the Fall, several Content and Bias Review (CBR) committees met to review assessment items. Participants were selected from a pool of qualified teachers. The committee members received training and served to review each item. This was part of Mississippi’s plan for teachers to write, review, and approve items for all state assessments. The state department also offers training, across the state, teaching educators to write fair and effective assessment items. 

Personally, I feel confident knowing that our students’ assessment items will be more fair and unbiased because of the care that went into examining the items. In addition, I plan to continue to use reflective practices that make me aware of those subtle judgments that are less obvious but certainly impact teaching and affect student growth and success. As for my group of fourth-graders, they decided that the teams were unbalanced and to make the competition fair they needed to restructure the groups. 

Trish Stoll has served as an educator for over 17 years. While she is currently working as an instructional mentor, Trish has also served as a 1st and 2nd-grade teacher, PreK-5th grade visual arts teacher, reading interventionist, and Reading First Literacy Coach. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Elementary Education with endorsements in literacy and science from Alcorn State University and recently completed a Specialist’s Degree in Instructional Leadership at William Carey University in MS. Trish also has endorsements in visual arts and is a National Board-Certified Teacher in Early and Middle Childhood Art.