What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Labeling Students?

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.

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.