Does the 'Learning Disability' label lower teachers’ performance expectations?


Teachers' expectations are known to influence students' outcomes. Specifically, better performance is observed among students for whom teachers have high expectations, and vice versa. Teachers not only form their expectations on the basis of previous achievements, but also on the (presumed) group affiliation of students. One group for whom teachers have low-performance expectations are students with learning disabilities. Studies in English-speaking countries have shown that the explicit mention of the diagnosis learning disability lowers teachers' performance expectations for students labelled in this way. Our study aims to explore (1) whether the effects of this label on performance expectations can be replicated in a sample of prospective teachers in Germany, (2) whether regular and special education teachers generally differ in their expectations, and (3) whether the learning disability label influences the two professional groups differently. In an experimental design, N = 276 participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental or the control group. In both groups, they read the description of a fictitious student showing major academic problems. The student was labelled as having a learning disability in the experimental group only. Different dependent variables concerning performance expectations were evaluated. The results show that while no main effect of the learning disability label was observed, prospective special education teachers partially seem to have lower performance expectations than prospective regular education teachers. Further analysis showed that the participants in the experimental group and special education teachers suspect a learning disability more frequently. Limitations and directions for the further research are discussed.

Social Psychology of Education, 26, 971-1000
Timo Lüke
Timo Lüke
Professor of Inclusive Education and Improvement of Instruction

Interested in instruction, and assessment, especially for learners with disabilities or at risk. Special educator with a focus on learning & intellectual disabilities, and enthusiastic user of single-case research methods.