Excerpt: Susan Engel's 'Red Flags or Red Herrings?: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become'

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Thus, while an IQ test might in fact accurately reflect a white student's intellectual ability, it might not be as good a measure of a black student's intellect. The fact that the black students' test scores could be improved with such a simple yet specific intervention is quite stunning. Since Steele's early studies showing this, researchers have followed up with equally important findings.

Intelligence: As Smart As the Day You Were Born

Steven Spencer and his colleagues reasoned that even if you assume that black students are not showing their true potential in a standard testing situation, that doesn't explain why those students continue to underperform in school. Spencer and his colleagues decided to try to remove the "threat in the air" from students' ongoing academic experiences. If those kinds of threats make it hard for a student to show his true ability on a test, why wouldn't they also hinder his performance in classes throughout school? Spencer contacted black students who had been accepted at Yale and told them that if they came to Yale, they would be part of an honors group within the college. During the next four years at Yale, the students in this group spent time together, talked about the issues facing black students on campus, and stayed connected.

He tracked their success at Yale, compared with other black students with similar entering test scores who were not included in the group. Lo and behold, the black students in the group fared better when it came to grades than the others. In a second version of this intervention, conducted at a junior high school in Connecticut, students were asked four times during the year to write a story about a personal value. These students also did better than students matched on race and test scores who did not write the essays. It seems that by supporting a minority student's sense of identity, you reduce the impact of stereotype threat.

Many students might not show their true potential during a test of their cognitive ability. Black students are not the only ones to experience stereotype threat. And there might be other invisible threats that depress a child's expression of cognitive ability. For those who run schools and design college admissions requirements, identifying those kinds of inhibitors and removing them are hugely important. But here's the twist: barring any powerful interventions, the same conditions that might influence a child's test score or his apparent intellectual ability when he is four years old are likely to go on shaping him throughout childhood.

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