Expectancy Effects

Expectancy Effects
The term self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP) is a familiar one, heard often as a verbal prompt to redirect or refocus the thought pattern so that a desired outcome occurs. For instance, if a predominent thought pattern is negative, SFP says that a sort of negative energy perpetuates action which consequently results in the originally anticipated negative outcome.

Over the years, the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecy has matured into a concept known as expectancy effects. Used often to research the impact that high vs. low expectations may have on students with disabilities, some interesting results were noted.

Students who receive special education services and supports are subject to a battery of tests to evaluate areas of strength and concern in their academic performance. Still a mainstay, the IQ test, though not the most appropriate test for many students, carries a great deal of clout as far as the way that educational programs are created. Research continues to show that educators are highly influenced by IQ test results. Ironically, it also shows that teachers who are given falsely high IQ results for students who actually tested much lower, expect these students to perform better and—not surprisingly—they do!

“According to EE research, expectations expressed by an authority figure via verbal and nonverbal communication often influence self image and behavior of the supervised person (student) in such a way that the expectations held come to pass.” This quote is taken from the body of a wonderful article “Expectations for Students with Cognitive Disabilities: Is the Cup Half Empty or Half Full? Can the Cup Flow Over?” from the National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Expectancy effects are why it is so critical that the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance section of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) stress both the student's strengths and areas of need in regard to how the child's disability impacts his or her learning. The wording of the PLAAFP is critical. If words infused with negativity are pervasive, it will limit the entire IEP. I have personally seen this happen. It is a powerful, heavy effect. Just as powerful, if not moreso, is the effect that a shift in language has in awakening the passion and creativity of the IEP team.

Parents, teachers and students are wise to remain cognizant of the unintended effects that low test scores can cause. Proponents of multiple intelligence theory and those who foster a culture of high expectations for all students encourage these positive practices to ensure that all students receive an enriching, quality education that ultimately supports them to achieve their post-school goals.

For more information, see the links on the left side of the Special Education homepage.

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