Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Lisa Weyandt

Abstract

The present study sought to determine the impact of diagnostic labels, gender, and ethnicity on teachers' perceptions, expectancies, and attributions. Following a pilot study to determine if the measure had adequate reliability, approximately 3630 instructional letters were distributed to 65 schools in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The Teacher Attitude and Attribution Scale (TAAS; Voisine, 2008), a 42 item questionnaire, measured teachers' perceptions, expectancies, and attributions (for parent/family factors, student factors, and teacher/school factors) for a hypothetical student. Vignettes at the start of the questionnaire detailed the student's behavioral problems and had the student's gender (male/female), ethnicity (Hispanic/Caucasian), and diagnostic label (anxiety disorder/ conduct disorder/ learning disability/ no label) manipulated. Three questions on the TAAS assessed the degree to which labels provide a sense of closure, acceptance, or stigmatization. It was hypothesized that a) students with a diagnostic label would be perceived more negatively, would have lower expectations from teachers, and would have different attributions from teachers than non-labeled students, b) that minority students would be perceived more negatively, would have lower expectations from teachers, and would have different attributions from teachers, and c) that teachers would have different perceptions, expectations, and attributions for male students and female students. Results revealed no differences between labeled and non-labeled students, and no gender differences were found. Results also indicated no differences in teachers' expectations or attributions for minority students, but revealed that Hispanic students were perceived significantly more positively than Caucasian students. This study also explored the possible meditational role of students ' gender and ethnicity on teachers' perceptions and expectancies, however a meditational relationship was not found. Teachers reported the highest rating for the stigmatizing effect of labels, followed by closure, then acceptance. Teachers most often attributed a child's behavioral difficulties to student factors, followed by family factors, then school factors. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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