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What are the advantages and disadvantages of labeling students?

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Quick Answer

The primary advantage of labeling students is being able to get them formal and informal assistance to improve their educational experience more easily. A primary drawback is that labels may shape the way a teacher interacts with the student, possibly creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that limits student success.

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Full Answer

Federal and state aid for special education programs is often tied to a formal diagnosis or assessment of a student's special needs. Thus, formalizing a label, such as learning disability or autism spectrum disorder, enables the school to get the funding it needs to provide support services. Informally, labeling inside a school may draw attention to the special needs of certain students. Faculty and staff may develop extra support systems and invest time with students deemed "unmotivated" or "at-risk." The school can also build communication with parents to work through challenges.

When a teacher labels a student based on observed traits or behaviors, the attitude the teacher projects toward that student may put a ceiling on the student's performance. A student may also conform to the perceived expectations of the teacher. If a student senses a role of "troublemaker," characteristic behaviors may follow. A teacher may also brighten the spotlight on a child's flaws, which are common at a particular age. Labeling students with disabilities or concerning traits in a classroom can also affect how peers treat the student.

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