The National Bureau of Economic Research released a study this week that examines the effect a graduate teaching assistant’s (TA) racial or ethnic background has on his or her students’ grades. The study found that student performance is influenced by a TA’s race or ethnicity.
Researchers from the University of California at Davis and the New Economic School in Russia assessed grades and demographics of students and TAs in economics courses at a diverse and unnamed university in California. They chose class sections for which TAs were assigned after students had enrolled to avoid issues with students selecting classes based on the TA’s race.
The study found that students earned significantly higher grades from TAs whose race or ethnicity matched their own. This discovery was consistent across all ethnic groups.
Students across all ethnicities were also more likely to attend optional discussion sessions or schedule office visits with TAs if their TA was of the same race, which likely contributed to students’ improved performance.
But the study’s authors also suggest that academic success could be related to TAs’ behavior.
“We interpret this result as evidence of ‘teaching to the exam,’ where TAs divulge information that is pertinent to class exams if given the opportunity,” the authors wrote. “Students who are more likely to interact with TAs by attending the TAs’ discussion sessions and office hours are the beneficiaries of ‘teaching to the test.’”
The authors of the study also said they hope these findings will be used to benefit minority students by examining how the race of TAs influences student performance.