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Minority status, social origin, gender, and weight can all count against a kid’s grades

Students experience grading bias based on their gender, body size, ethnicity and parental socio-economic status. These negative biases stack on each other.

Photo by Scott Webb from Unsplash.com

Students experience grading bias based on their gender, body size, ethnicity and parental socio-economic status. These negative biases stack on each other, meaning that students with multiple intersectional identities get significantly lower grades than their peers regardless of their true abilities.

This is according to a study – “Does chubby can get lower grades than skinny Sophie? Using an intersectional approach to uncover grading bias in German secondary schools” by Richard Nennstiel and Sandra Gilgen – that appeared in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

For this study, Nennstiel and Gilgen used data from the National Educational Panel Study in Germany, which tracked seven cohorts of German school children since 2008. They focused on a nationally representative sample of 14,090 students who were in the ninth grade in 2010. Nennstiel and Gilgen compared grades handed by school teachers to results on standardized competence tests to find out whether some students had an advantage over others. The scientists looked at the effects of gender, body mass index (BMI), parent socio-economic status (SES), and ethnic background.

Gender bias was evident in teacher-assigned grades in all subjects except for chemistry. Girls had an advantage in German, math, and biology, while boys benefitted in physics. Higher BMIs were associated with significantly lower grades from teachers in every subject, while students with higher parental SES had higher grades.

While these results can’t determine the exact mechanisms behind this bias, the researchers suggested that grading bias is widespread. They recommend that further studies focus on why students receive biased grades, and how such biases could be tackled in the classroom.

The authors added: “Even after controlling for three different measures of ability and attended school track we find widespread additive intersectional effects of gender, social and ethnic origin as well as body weight on grading.”

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