As racial inequities continue to pervade school systems around the world, further research is necessary to understand the factors undergirding this pressing issue. Here across three studies conducted in the United States (N = 8,293), we provide evidence that race-based differences in student achievement do not stem from a lack of motivation among Black, Latinx and Indigenous (BLI) students, but a lack of equitable motivational payoff. Even when BLI and non-BLI students have the same levels of motivation, BLI students still receive maths grades that are an average of 9% lower than those of their non-BLI peers (95% confidence interval 7 to 11%). This pattern was not explained by differences in students’ aptitude, effort or prior achievement but was instead linked to teachers’ diminished expectations for their BLI students’ academic futures. We conclude by discussing statistical power limitations and the implications of the current findings for how researchers consider the sources of, and solutions for, educational inequity.
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Per the ethics board agreement, the complete datasets for studies 1 and 2 will be made available upon request pending approval from the University System of Georgia. The datasets provided will be limited to the variables relevant to the current analyses. The complete dataset for study 3 is publicly available on the National Center for Education Statistics website: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/els2002/avail_data.asp.
The complete analytic code for each study may be found here: https://osf.io/bfv2x/files/osfstorage.
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We would like to thank I. A. Hernandez and D. C. Molden for providing valuable feedback throughout our work on the project. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (no. DGE-1842165, D.M.S.), Joyce Foundation (grant number 16-37550, C.S.H. and Y.T.) and National Science Foundation (grant number EHR 2000507, C.S.H. and Y.T.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Silverman, D.M., Rosario, R.J., Wormington, S.V. et al. Race, academic achievement and the issue of inequitable motivational payoff. Nat Hum Behav (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-023-01533-9