Do School Counselors Exhibit Bias in Recommending Students for Advanced Coursework?

Research Rundown Issue: February '21
Publisher: The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy
Date Published: October '19


This study observed what happened when counselors evaluated student transcripts that were identical except for the names, which suggested different race and gender combinations. One of the main findings was that counselors were significantly less likely (20 percentage points) to recommend Black females for AP Calculus even when they have a strong transcript with high academics and good behavior. In fact, the counselors were equally as likely to recommend Black females who had the weakest academics and behaviors as those who had the strongest academics and behavior.

To address these implicit biases, the researchers recommend doing blind reviews of transcripts or involving multiple stakeholders—students, parents, and school professionals—when making decisions about rigorous coursework enrollment.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

In Minnesota and around the country, students of color experience inequitable access to rigorous coursework, including Advanced Placement, concurrent enrollment, Postsecondary Enrollment Options, and Gifted and Talented programming. To address these inequities, over the past couple of years, multiple states have passed automatic enrollment policies that aim to add an objective pathway for identifying students for advanced classes. An automatic enrollment policy—also referred to as an acceleration policy—defaults students into the more rigorous course option if they meet or exceed standards on the annual standards-aligned state assessment in a particular subject area. For example, if a sixth-grade student is proficient on the math MCA, they would automatically be enrolled in the more advanced seventh-grade option.

And these policies are working. In Washington, the first state to pass an automatic enrollment policy, districts have seen large increases in the percentage of students of color who are enrolled. For example, in Tacoma Public Schools—the state’s fourth-largest school district—enrollment in advanced classes more than doubled from 28% to 71%, and for students of color, enrollment tripled from 20% to 60%. North Carolina passed a math automatic-enrollment policy in 2018 and in just one year 10,000 more students were enrolled in advanced math courses. Minnesota policymakers should follow suit and pass a statewide automatic enrollment policy.

Read the full study