Competence Acquisition and Learning Preconditions

Research question/goal: 

The project "Competence Acquisition and Learning Preconditions" addressed the following research questions:

  • Which learning preconditions do children bring with them when they start primary school?
  • Do teachers’ expectations towards various social groups of pupils differ?
  • How do teacher expectations affect the competence acquisition?

In order to examine these questions, we collected data on competencies, motivational characteristics and cognitive skills of 1,065 first graders in North Rhine-Westphalia at the beginning of their first school year and interviewed their parents by telephone. Furthermore, 77 teachers assessed the initial competencies and the expected performance development of the children. In the middle of the school year, lessons were filmed and the pupils were interviewed, e.g. regarding their learning motivation. At the end of the school year, data on competencies of the children as well as evaluations of teachers were collected again.

The results show that initial competence levels vary by social groups. Children of Turkish origin have lower mathematical competencies than German children and boys outperform girls in mathematics. Children of higher socioeconomic status show higher mathematical and language competencies than socially disadvantaged pupils.

Teacher expectations are – even after controlling for performance differences – related to ascriptive characteristics of the pupils. Teachers tend to hold lower expectations of children of Turkish origin and higher expectations of children of Eastern European origin compared to native pupils in German as well as in mathematics. Furthermore, teachers have higher expectations in German and mathematics of children of higher socioeconomic status. And finally, they expect better performances of girls in German and of boys in mathematics.

Competence acquisition during the first school year is affected by teacher expectations. On one hand, high expectations are associated with a higher increase in mathematical and language competencies, even when these high expectations cannot be accounted for by simply looking at learning preconditions. On the other hand, comparatively low expectations regarding German are associated with a lower increase in reading competencies. This indicates that teacher expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Fact sheet

Federal Ministry of Education and Research
2011 to 2015
Data Sources: 
Primary data collection
Geographic Space: