Extending disidentification theory: The effects of stereotype threat on the self-concept, academic engagement, and school performance of African American and Latino high school students

Date of Completion

January 2005


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Black Studies|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




In elementary and secondary schools across the country, disproportionate numbers of African American students are performing below expected levels (Farkas 2003). Many researchers have explored the issue of African American academic underperformance (Sorenson and Hallinan 1977; Wilson 1987; Coleman 1988; Heiss 1996; Ogbu 1994). Yet most models are unable to account for the academic underperformance of African American students across social categories and contexts. ^ Disidentification theory has broader utility than many explanations of academic underachievement. Supporting research suggests that stereotype threat is a common factor in the schooling experience of African Americans that erodes academic outcomes. Stereotype threat is the event of a negative stereotype of one's group being perceived as self-relevant and potentially harming performance. Previous studies have suggested that stereotype threat causes lowered school performance. Studies have also shown that stereotype threat leads to academic disidentification: a phenomenon in which the student makes academic identity less important to overall self-definition (Steele and Aronson 1995; Osbourne 1995). ^ In this study, I investigate the effects of stereotype threat on a racially diverse sample of high school students in the Northeast. Unlike most disidentification research, I employ self-report measures of stereotype threat. I also investigate the moderating effects of racial identity and gender on the effects of stereotype threat. The results offer support for the major ideas of disidentification theory. Specifically, the study finds that stereotype threat diminishes the school related self-concept of African American students. It also finds that stereotype threat exacts a negative toll on the academic engagement of African American and Latino students, and that racial identity and gender do not moderate the effect of stereotype threat on academic engagement. ^