I’m sure there’s a reason why nobody’s tried this yet…

I’ve done some reading about stereotype threat lately, and multiple sources seem to agree that reminding people that they are in Category X, which they have been told is bad at Y, will make them worse at Y. While it’s clearly impossible to thoroughly remove harms of this nature, it seems that they can easily be reduced.

Here’s an idea for all test-producing companies out there:

Change your testing instructions such that the demographic sections of your answer sheets are filled out last. This way, you won’t be reminding students of their membership in demographic categories more likely to fail the test before they take the test, which will apparently raise the scores of people in discriminated-against groups with no real expended effort on your part.

You can further reduce score differences in girls and minority students by stating that your test designers have taken sociology-supported measures to equalize scores across all demographics. It won’t even be a false statement.

I realize that a side effect of filling out the name-address-ethnicity section of the answer sheet first may be allowing late students some margin of error, but considering how much the test instructions call for test administration at the same time across the country, making things easy for late students does not appear to be a priority of any sort.

This appears to be a rather obvious partial solution. However, most ideas that seem (to an outsider) to be an obvious way to get good things for free turn out to be things that people within the field have considered and dismissed. (See: perpetual motion machines.) People remember outsiders coming up with amazing, creative ideas precisely because it’s a rare event.

I estimate the probability that this idea is feasible to be rather low. If anyone can spot a reason why this isn’t feasible, or why my estimate is wrong, please let me know in the comments.


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