Von Hippel & Cañedo (2021) reported that US kindergarten teachers placed girls, Asian-Americans, and children from families of high socioeconomic status (SES) into higher ability groups than their test scores alone would warrant. The results fit the view that teachers were biased.
This comment asks whether parents’ lobbying for higher placement might explain these results. The answer, for the most part, is no. Measures of parent-teacher contact explained little variation in children’s ability group placement, and did not account for the higher placement of girls, Asian-Americans, or high-SES children. In fact, Asian-American parents had less teacher contact than did white children. It appears that the biases observed by von Hippel & Cañedo resided primarily in teachers, not in parents.
We also ask whether teachers who used more objective assessment techniques were less biased in placing children into higher and lower ability groups. The answer, again, was no. Unfortunately, biases persisted in the face of objective information about students’ skill. Fortunately, the biases were not terribly large.
Half of kindergarten teachers split children into higher and lower ability groups for reading or math. In national data, we predicted kindergarten ability group placement using linear and ordinal logistic regression with classroom fixed effects. In fall, test scores were the best predictors of group placement, but there was bias favoring girls, high-SES (socioeconomic status) children, and Asian Americans, who received higher placements than their scores alone would predict. Net of SES, there was no bias against placing black children in higher groups. By spring, one third of kindergartners moved groups, and high-SES children moved up more than their score gains alone would predict. Teacher-reported behaviors (e.g., attentiveness, approaches to learning) helped explain girls’ higher placements, but did little to explain the higher placements of Asian American and high-SES children.