Teacher judgments of student competence can influence student achievement. Clothes, behavior, and physical appearance may all be used to infer student competence. We examined how fourth-grade teacher ratings of student physical appearance (e.g., appropriateness of clothing) relate to concurrent academic adjustment in terms of achievement, classroom engagement, teacher-child relations, parent-teacher partnership, and student academic self-concept and motivation, controlling for academic competence, ethnicity, and family characteristics. We followed 1,311 children from birth to grade 4. Children described by teachers more negatively in terms of their appearance had worse academic adjustment. Student physical appearance was also related to self-reported intrinsic motivation and academic self-concept, as well as to directly assessed math scores. Our results are consistent with social psychological and cognitive theories of stereotyping and classroom expectations, and suggest that school disengagement experienced by disadvantaged students may be partially rooted in elementary classroom dynamics.
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