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Culturally Responsive Pedagogies in Arizona and Latino Students’ Achievement

by Francesca A. López - 2016

Background: Despite numerous educational reform efforts aimed at aggressively addressing achievement disparities, Latinos continue to underperform in school. In sharp contrast to the belief that the inordinate achievement disparities among Latino students stem from deficiencies, some researchers assert that culturally responsive teaching (CRT) improves academic achievement because it views students’ culture and language as strengths. The body of literature on CRT provides detailed depictions of classroom experiences for traditionally marginalized students, but is faulted as lacking an explicit link to student outcomes that prevents its consideration among policymakers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: To contribute to the body of work establishing an explicit link between CRT and student outcomes, the present study examines the extent to which dimensions of teacher-reported CRT beliefs and behaviors are associated with Latino students’ identity and achievement outcomes in reading across grades three through five in Arizona.

Research Design: Sources of data in this study consist of teacher (N = 16) questionnaires reflecting CRT dimensions and student (N = 244) questionnaires for ethnic identity, perceived discrimination, and scholastic competence, as well as reading achievement. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to address the research questions.

Findings/Results: Consistent with the assertions in extant literature that CRT is related to students’ outcomes, the study found that teachers’ beliefs about the role of Spanish in instruction, funds of knowledge, and critical awareness were all positively related to students’ reading outcomes. For teachers reporting the highest level of each of the aforementioned dimensions, students’ reading scores were associated with approximately .85 SD (Spanish), .60 SD (funds of knowledge), and 1.70 SD (critical awareness) higher reading outcomes at the end of the school year after controlling for prior achievement. Teachers’ reported CRT behaviors in terms of Spanish and cultural knowledge (formative assessment) were both also significantly and positively related to students’ reading outcomes after controlling for prior achievement. For teachers reporting the highest level of each of the aforementioned dimensions, students’ reading scores were associated with approximately 1 SD higher reading outcomes. Behaviors reflecting the use of Spanish in instruction was also significant, albeit very small (about a .03 SD increase).

Conclusions/Recommendations: Although the present study is not without its limitations, the findings support the extant work focused on CRT, suggesting that teachers who use instruction that considers students’ culture an asset can reduce educational disparities. As such, the findings also suggest that CRT merits serious consideration by policymakers and those who train teachers of Latino youth. Notably, most teachers in the present study held a bilingual endorsement, which requires coursework focused not only on bilingual methodology and linguistics, but also on culture and experiences with funds of knowledge practices. Teachers who have said training appear to have high levels of knowledge about critical awareness, and put into practice asset-based pedagogies that are related to student outcomes. This is particularly salient given that the setting for the present study is arguably one of the most restrictive states for Latino youth.

Thus, even though teacher-reported beliefs and behaviors regarding the role of Spanish in instruction were related to students’ outcomes, future studies are needed that examine the extent to which bilingual endorsement, which exceeds most programmatic requirements regarding diversity, might provide teachers with the necessary knowledge (i.e., critical awareness) that enables them to behave in ways consistent with CRT.

Despite numerous educational reform efforts aimed at aggressively addressing achievement disparities, Latinos continue to underperform in school. Researchers citing evidence that achievement disparities among Latino youth who are English Learners (ELs) are most pronounced often focus on ways to remove language as a barrier to achievement. Nevertheless, there is seemingly contradictory evidence that Latino youth who are members of the first or second generation have higher achievement outcomes than their English-proficient counterparts who are members of the third generation and beyond (Valenzuela, 1999).  

In sharp contrast to the belief that the inordinate achievement disparities among Latino students stem from deficiencies, some researchers assert that culturally responsive teaching1 (CRT) improves academic achievement because it views students’ culture and language as strengths (Banks, 1993; Gay, 2010; Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 1995b; Lee, 1993, 1995a, 1995b, 2001; Moll & Gonzalez, 2004). The research examining the role of CRT in promoting achievement, however, tends to be “overwhelmingly based on case study approaches and ethnographic or other qualitative methods” (Goldenberg, Rueda, & August, 2008, p. 107).  Moreover, although CRT is widely promulgated as ideal pedagogical practices for traditionally marginalized students, some scholars have raised issues with what is perceived as wide variation in conceptualization (Goldenberg et al., 2008) and a lack of contextual grounding that leads to essentialization (Sleeter, 2012). Consequently, although the body of literature provides detailed depictions of classroom experiences for traditionally marginalized students that can be overlooked by quantitative studies, CRT is faulted as lacking an explicit link to student outcomes that prevents its consideration among policymakers (Sleeter, 2012).

Ladson-Billings (1995a) asserts, “A next step for positing effective pedagogical practice is a theoretical model that not only addresses student achievement but also helps students to accept and affirm their cultural identity” (p. 469). Given that the teacher expectancy literature has already established that teacher expectations are related to students’ identities and their subsequent performance (e.g., Good & Brophy, 2010; Rosenthal, 1991), a similar framework can be applied to establish a link between CRT and students’ identities and achievement. Accordingly, the present study applies a framework that reflects salient themes across the extant CRT literature (see Figure 1), and examines the extent to which dimensions of teacher-reported CRT beliefs and behaviors are associated with Latino students’ identity and achievement outcomes in reading.

Figure 1. Framework for studies using CRT to establish evidence on student outcomes



Prior to the current extant conceptualizations of CRT that view students’ culture as strengths (e.g., Banks, 1993; Gay, 2010; Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 1995b; Lee, 1993, 1995a, 1995b, 2001; Moll & Gonzalez, 2004), attempts to address achievement disparities for students of color were inclined toward deficit orientations wherein “child traits are expected to be ‘brought up’ to school expectations” (Tharp, 1989, p. 349). Although deficit orientations are still evident in current practice (e.g., Gándara & Orfield, 2012), they were replaced in the extant research by difference orientations  that underscored ways students’ backgrounds were inconsistent with school (Au & Jordan, 1981; Au & Mason, 1983; Cazden & Leggett, 1981; Erickson & Mohatt, 1982). More recently, CRTs—at times known under the more broadly encompassing term multicultural education (Banks, 1993)—have evolved to numerous “culturally and racially defined strands of critical pedagogy” (Darder, 2012, p. 99). Among them are critical bicultural pedagogy (Darder, 2012), equity pedagogy (Banks, 1993), culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 1995b), culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2010), cultural connectedness (Irizarry, 2007), and culturally sustaining pedagogies (Paris, 2012).  

Reviews of the CRT literature focused on examining themes across different conceptualizations of CRT have been discrepant. Whereas some have found the literature “murky” (Goldenberg et al., 2008, p. 106), others have identified consistent themes that could be applied to a comprehensive framework (e.g., Brown-Jeffy & Cooper, 2011; Morrison, Robbins, & Rose, 2008; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Darder (2012) views the numerous conceptualizations as

important contributions to the field [that] serve as significant examples of organic resistance to the universalizing of critical pedagogy in ways that could potentially reproduce racism and cultural invasion. Hence, critical scholars from a variety of cultural traditions have challenged the Western predispositions toward orthodoxy in the field, reinforcing Freire’s persistent assertion that critical pedagogical principles must always remain open to reinvention. (pp. 99–100)

Indeed, many CRT scholars have taken great care in explaining why they chose the terminology they use (see Darder, 2012; Gay, 2010; Irizarry, 2007; Ladson-Billings, 1995a; McCarty & Lee, 2014; Paris, 2012), most often detailing the limitations with prior labels that did not fully portray the context of interest.

Sleeter (2012) has argued that CRT has failed to be institutionalized because of limited understanding about what it represents. She explains that CRT is too often “understood in simplistic ways” that include “cultural celebration, trivialization, essentializing culture, and substituting cultural for political analysis of inequities” (p. 568). Moreover, of the literature that does capture CRT, “far too little systematically documents its impact on student learning” (Sleeter, 2012, p. 573). Instead, much of literature either “[shows] what culturally responsive teaching looks like” (p. 573) or “connects culturally responsive pedagogy with student engagement, reasonably suggesting that academic learning follows engagement” (p. 573). This view is shared by other scholars who have conducted reviews on the CRT research (Goldenberg et al., 2008; Losey, 1995).

To address issues with the paucity of research, Sleeter recommends “evidence-based research that documents connections between culturally responsive pedagogy and student outcomes that include, but are not necessarily limited to, academic achievement” (p. 578). There has been some attention to this need, with scholars documenting favorable student outcomes across numerous domains including literacy outcomes (Ivey & Broaddus, 2007; Rios-Aguilar, 2010), students’ sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy (Chun & Dickson, 2011), scholastic competence (Rodriguez, Jones, Pang, & Park, 2004), participation and risk-taking (Gutierrez, 2002; Moje et al., 2004), improved conceptual understanding (Martin-Beltran, 2009), and graduation outcomes (Cabrera, Milem, Jaquette, & Marx, 2014). Although the contemporary literature examining the relationship between CRT and students’ outcomes is growing, a comprehensive framework that can uncover the ways CRT is related to student identity and achievement is necessary. I present the tenets of this framework in the sections below, represented in Figure 1.


Central to CRT frameworks is the notion that what teachers’ know and believe is a critical first step to ensuring that CRT can occur in classrooms. In a synthesis of research examining teacher beliefs, Pajares (1992) states

Little will have been accomplished if research into educational beliefs fails to provide insights into the relationship between beliefs, on the one hand, and teacher practices, teacher knowledge, and student outcomes on the other. It is easy to urge teacher educators, for instance, to make educational beliefs a primary focus of their teacher preparations programs, but how are they to do this without research findings that identify beliefs that are consistent with effective teaching practices and student cognitive and affective growth, beliefs that are inconsistent with such aims, and beliefs that may play no significant role? (pp. 327–328)

Despite more than two decades since the assertion, the body of research focused on CRT continues to focus extensively on how the preparation of teachers can influence teacher beliefs (e.g., Anderson & Stillman, 2013; Hollins & Torres-Guzman, 2005; Morrison et al., 2008). Pajares (1992) himself had suggested that “beliefs ultimately will prove the most valuable psychological construct to teacher education” (p. 308). Nevertheless, establishing evidence favoring particular beliefs, and their respective behaviors, is imperative in order to address the limitations that have prevented the institutionalization of CRT.

To gauge how beliefs are related to student outcomes, they must be operationalized in such a way to be able to capture discrete, albeit interrelated, beliefs—as well as their respective behaviors—reflected in the CRT literature. Collectively, the various conceptualizations of CRT represented in the extant literature (Banks, 1993; Darder, 2012; Gay, 2010; Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 1995b; Lee, 1993, 1995a, 1995b, 2001; Moll & González, 2004) reflect five requisite teacher beliefs: high expectations, cultural knowledge, cultural content integration, language, and critical consciousness.

High Expectations

The teacher expectations literature has established the relationship between high expectations and student achievement (e.g., Rosenthal, 1991). For Latino youth, however, teachers’ low expectations tend to be confounded with students’ cultural background (Tenenbaum & Ruck, 2007). Based on decades of evidence that Latino youth tend to be inordinately exposed to subpar curricula and materials (Moll, 1992), CRT underscores equity by demanding access to a rigorous curriculum. In contrast to the low-level curriculum reflected in many classrooms, CRT is reflected in settings where “students [are] not permitted to choose failure in their classrooms” (Ladson-Billings, 1995a, p. 479). Villegas and Lucas (2002) elaborate by stating, “Teachers’ attitudes toward students significantly shape the expectations they hold for student learning, their treatment of students, and what students ultimately learn” (p. 23).  

Cultural Knowledge

The literature presenting conceptualizations of CRT focused on Latino youth has not drawn solely on the extant work focused on Latino students. For instance, Banks (1993), Ladson-Billings (1995a, 1995b), and Gay (2010) are among the most often cited in the CRT literature focused on Latino youth (e.g., Antrop-González, Velez, & Garrett, 2004, 2008; Nieto & Irizarry, 2010; Norton & Bentley, 2006; Villegas & Lucas, 2002), although their own work has not focused on this population. Nevertheless, Ladson-Billings (2014) explains the reason she focused on African American students as follows:

. . . our work to examine success among the students who had been least successful was likely to reveal important pedagogical principles for achieving success for all students. A literature that tells us what works for middle-class, advantaged students typically fails to reveal the social and cultural advantages that make their success possible. But success among the “least of these” tells us more about what pedagogical choices can support success. (p. 76)

Moreover, even though much of the extant work by scholars who gave us culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2010) and culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995a) excludes a focus on Latino youth, the foundational premise of culture requires that CRT not be fixed, but malleable to the particular context in which it is applied.  

The ways culture has been represented in practice, however, have proven to be problematic, as reflected by Ladson-Billings (2014) in her statement, “Many practitioners, and those who claim to translate research to practice, seem stuck in very limited and superficial notions of culture” (p. 77).  She elaborates, “The idea that adding some books about people of color, having a classroom Kwanzaa celebration, or posting ‘diverse’ images makes one ‘culturally relevant’ seem to be what the pedagogy has been reduced to” (Ladson-Billings, 2014, p. 82).

Cultural knowledge: Modalities. To accurately ground their work in the contexts of students with whom they work, many scholars have addressed the problematic construct of culture that results in scenarios such as the ones described by Ladson-Billings (2014). Gutierrez and Rogoff (2003), for example, find that when cultural differences are treated as traits, there is an assumption that “[leads] to a kind of tracking in which instruction is adjusted merely on the basis of group categorization” (p. 20). The treatment of differences as traits, however, may be in part due to the emphasis on differences in ways students learn, and how these merit considerations by teachers. Gay (2002), for example, states that

Culture encompasses many things, some of which are more important to know than others because they have direct implications for teaching and learning.  Among these are ethnic groups’ cultural values, traditions, communication, learning styles, contributions, and relational patterns. (p. 107)

Although the consideration of cultural values, communication, and relational patterns has support in the extant CRT literature, the notion that an ethic group has a tendency toward a particular learning style is challenged by many. Often cited as one of the earliest conceptualizations of learning differences that merit consideration in classroom practices, Cazden and Leggett (1981) claimed inherent differences in the cognitive styles of ELs and recommended “multisensory instruction” (p. 86) as one of the teaching strategies that went beyond bilingual education.2  The notion that an ethnic group shares a particular cognitive style, however, has been contested on the basis that it potentially leads to trait-based beliefs and has no evidence to support its utility (see Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003). Banks (1993), for instance, cited a review by Kleinfeld and Nelson (1991) that had not found evidence supporting visual style learning for Indigenous students. Nevertheless, “. . . the paradigm is a contentious one. Both its advocates and its critics are strongly committed to their positions” (Banks, 1993, p. 31).  

Cultural knowledge: Constructivism. The CRT literature is consistent in the need to validate students’ cultural experiences as knowledge. Avoiding the reduction of cultural experiences as traits, cultural knowledge is also represented in constructivist views of learning, where “learners use their prior knowledge and beliefs . . . to make sense of the new input” (Villegas & Lucas, 2002, p. 25). Ladson-Billings (1995a) shares the constructivist view in her conceptions of self and others, where teachers “believed in a Freirean notion of ‘teaching as mining’ or pulling knowledge out” (p. 479), as well as the “use of student culture as a vehicle for learning” (Ladson-Billings, 1995b, p. 161). Accessing students’ cultural knowledge is also often viewed under the hybridity or third space (Gutiérrez, Baquedano-López, & Tejada, 1999) paradigm, wherein “alternative and competing discourses and positionings transform conflict and difference into rich zones of collaboration and learning” (pp. 286–287). Therefore, the cultural knowledge dimension embodies teachers’ ability to access students’ prior knowledge, as well as assess the new knowledge that results, in genuine ways. To that end, formative assessment (Black & Wiliam, 2009)—with its emphasis on examining “engineering effective classroom discussions and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of student understanding” (p. 5), “activating students as instructional resources for one another” (p. 5), and “activating students as the owners of their own learning” (p. 5)—can be viewed as central to the cultural knowledge dimension that reflects constructivism.

Cultural knowledge: Funds of knowledge. One way to access students’ cultural knowledge is the incorporation of students’ home experiences into classroom instruction, requiring teachers to become researchers willing to learn from students and their families. Often referred to within the funds of knowledge paradigm in the literature, the approach considers “the multiple dimensions of the lived experiences of the students” (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005, p. 10). Indeed, in their seminal book, González et al. state, “The concept of funds of knowledge, which is at the heart of this book, is based on a simple premise: People are competent, they have knowledge, and their life experiences have given them that knowledge” (p. x).

Cultural Content Integration

In addition to representing students’ culture as a way to create new knowledge, the CRT literature reflects the requirement that teachers incorporate cultural information, resources, and materials reflected in all subjects taught in schools. Banks (1993) described this dimension as content integration, which reflects decisions about what is validated as knowledge given the choices of “what information should be included in the curriculum, how it should be integrated into the existing curriculum, and its location within the curriculum” (p. 8).   

CRT scholars explain that incorporating students’ culture into the curriculum affirms “the legitimacy of cultural heritages of different ethnic groups, both as legacies that affect students’ dispositions, attitudes, and approaches to learning and as worthy content to be taught in the formal curriculum” (Gay, 2000, p. 29). It is believed that students who are represented in the curriculum are provided with exemplars of ways their cultural background is a valuable component of knowledge represented in schools.  


CRT views students’ native language or vernacular as a strength that should be incorporated as students develop academic English proficiency. In her examination of the identities of Latino children and their mothers, I Am My Language, González (2001) states

to speak of language is to speak of our “selves.” Language is at the heart, literally and metaphorically, of who we are, how we present ourselves, and how others see us. . . . The ineffable link of language to emotion, to the very core of our being, is one of the ties that bind children to a sense of heritage. (p. xix)

Research syntheses have consistently favored approaches that support students in their native language (e.g., August & Shanahan, 2008; Salazar, 1998; Slavin & Cheung, 2005), and the benefits of using students’ non-English native languages in instruction are not limited to cognitive benefits (e.g., Peal & Lambert, 1962). The matter of examining language and its role in achievement trajectories, however, is not simply a conceptualization that applies to non-EL students. As described by García (2009):

In cases when bilingualism is developed after the language practices of a community have been suppressed, the development of the community’s mother tongue is not a simple addition that starts from a monolingual point. . . . Therefore, bilingualism is not simply additive, but recursive. (p. 52)

Consistent with the view of language as not being limited to ELs, Darder (2012) asserts, “It is critical that educators recognize the role language plays as one of the most powerful transmitters of culture, and as such, its central role to both intellectual formation and the survival of subordinate cultural populations” (p. 36).  

Critical Awareness

CRT represents this dimension as teachers’ knowledge about the ways the dominant curriculum reflects hegemony and deficiency-orientations for traditionally marginalized students. The tenet undergirding this dimension is that teachers can enact CRT in ways that avoids essentialization only by possessing the knowledge about (1) the historical context of traditionally marginalized students, (2) the discrepancy between what is typically validated as knowledge and the challenges to those assumptions, and (3) the ways the dominant curriculum reflects and perpetuates the power hierarchy in society (see Banks, 1993; Darder, 2012; Gay, 2010; Ladson-Billings, 1995a).  

Among the scholars explicit on the role of emancipation is Darder (2012), who elaborates on critical bicultural pedagogy (CBP) based on Mexican American educators Ramirez and Castañeda’s (1974) notion of cultural democracy:

. . . individuals have the right to be educated in their own language and primary culture, and have the right to cultivate and maintain a bicultural identity—that is, to retain identification with their culture of origin while learning to survive effectively within the institutional values of the dominant society. Further, this view argues for the necessity of institutional milieus, curricular materials, and educational approaches that are in sync with students’ histories, sociopolitical realities, economic contexts, and primary cultural orientation. (p. xix)

Darder’s conceptualization of CBP reflects many of the dimensions evident in the other frameworks, which include: (1) the educational importance of students’ language, heritage, cultural values, bicultural3 identity development, and learning styles reflected in practice and the curriculum; (2) the need for teacher education to provide training in ways to incorporate students’ home culture; and (3) the notion that teachers are critical agents of change who work toward changing “the educational style of the school” (p. 56). Despite the overlap in Darder’s conceptualization of CBP and other asset pedagogies, however, she extends the framework to address the limitations in Ramirez and Castañeda’s (1974) model:

The deficits of the model are most apparent in the fact that it can too easily deteriorate into a positivist instrumentalist modality that perceived culture as predictable, deterministic, neutral, oversimplified, and at moments even relativistic in nature. And although it argues for changing the cultural realities of classrooms, it fails to address critically the necessary shift in power relationships required in schools and society, in order to involve bicultural students in an active process of empowerment, one that can assist them to effectively find their voice, enhance their intellectual formation, and support the development of both individual and collective identity and political solidarity. (p. 57)

To address this limitation, Darder incorporates critical democracy into her framework “to expand on the emancipatory intent” of Ramirez and Castañeda’s (1974) model (p. 57).   

Critical democracy. Unlike other asset pedagogies, CBP reflects the need to “address critically the necessary shift in power relationships required in schools and society, in order to involve bicultural students in an active process of empowerment” (p. 57).  To develop skills necessary for emancipation, students require lived experiences that involve both “preexisting and developing ‘funds of knowledge’” (Darder, 2012, p. 64). The ultimate goal is that bicultural students reach cultural negotiation, wherein students “mediate, reconcile, and integrate the reality of lived experiences in an effort to retain the primary cultural identity and orientation while also functioning within the dominant culture for social transformation of the society at large” (p. 52).  

Although much of the CRT literature includes both empowerment and emancipatory education as key facets, Darder’s conceptualization gives considerable attention to how this can be accomplished. Incorporating the work of Dewey (1916), Foucault (1977), and Giroux (1981, 1983, 1985, 1988a, 1988b), among others, Darder (2012) explains that bicultural students are typically indoctrinated in a hegemonic curriculum that replicates the power structure inherently linked to students’ culture:  

At the heart of hegemonic control is political power—a power derived from control of social structures and natural configurations that embody routines and practices inherent in different social relationships resulting from both the content and the manner in which knowledge is structured and produced in society. (p. 32)

Darder also incorporates Freire’s (1970) notion of cultural invasion, explained as a process wherein

The invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression. (p. 150, as cited in Darder, p. 34)

Thus, to be able to create critical democracy in classrooms, teachers must understand the “assimilative curriculum of standardized knowledge,” Darder emphasizes (p. 80). With this knowledge, teachers can access students’ cultural knowledge, integrate their culture into the curriculum in non-essentialist ways, and behave in ways that reflect high expectations of all students.


Whereas teachers’ knowledge and beliefs, as well as what CRT represents, are often described in detail in the CRT literature, the assumption about the role of CRT in promoting achievement tends to hinge on students’ identities—though this is often implicit in the literature.

Given the centrality of students’ identities in CRT, however, they must be considered in empirical frameworks that aim to establish a link between CRT and student achievement.

Scholars have found that youth with an ethnic identity that relates positively to both their ethnic group (in-group) and the mainstream group (other-group) outperform peers who are aschematic (had no preference in terms of ethnicity), as well as those who prefer an identity consistent with either the in-group or other-group only, regardless of generational status (e.g., Hurtado-Ortiz & Gauvain, 2007). This finding is comparable to the belief that CRT provides a bridge connecting the dominant school culture to students’ home culture, thus promoting academic achievement for traditionally marginalized students.

Although CRT and teacher expectancy research considers children adept at evaluating the ways others behave toward them within school settings and, as a result, making inferences about their academic abilities, ethnic identity is grounded in developmental theories that confine it to later stages of development (Phinney, 1992). Accordingly, the research examining the role of ethnic identity on students’ achievement has been largely restricted to adolescent populations.  Nevertheless, Quintana and Scull (2006) have detailed children’s awareness of ethnicity from middle to late childhood. They state, “Their understanding includes the implications of such ethnic attitudes as prejudice in their experience of ethnicity and ethnic self-concepts. During this development period, children are able to understand how others perceive them based on ethnic group status” (p. 91). Considering evidence that children from academically stigmatized groups tend to “show earlier and greater awareness of broadly held stereotypes” (McKown & Weinstein, 2008 p. 511), examining students’ ethnic self-concepts and perceptions of discrimination within CRT frameworks is critical to understanding how CRT might address educational disparities for students of color.

Students’ cultural/ethnic identities have not typically been directly examined in the context of CRT (although they are also pervasively understudied in the context of discrimination and other schooling practices that were the catalyst for CRT; see Umaña-Taylor & Updegraff, 2007). Nevertheless, scholars have established that scholastic competence (e.g., Bandura, 1997) and a positive sense of one’s ethnic identity (Altschul, Oyserman, & Bybee, 2006) are among the strongest predictors of academic achievement, whereas perceived discrimination is predictive of academic underachievement (e.g., DeGarmo & Martinez, 2006). Thus, it is likely that support for how CRT positively influences students’ identities can be established—but a comprehensive framework that unambiguously examines student achievement and identity outcomes, and how they are influenced by teachers’ practices, must be applied.


Arizona policies reflect numerous efforts to eliminate Latino cultural and linguistic heritage in schools (see Jiménez-Castellanos, Combs, Martínez, & Gómez, 2013). Although Arizona has a long history of discriminatory and segregative practices against students of color (e.g., Fisher-Mendoza v. TUSD, 1978), state policies enacted over the past 15 years appear to have exacerbated inequity for Latino students. In spite of empirical support for educational approaches that affirm Latinos’ ethnic identity (Cabrera et al., 2014) and ELs’ native language in instruction (Rolstad, Mahoney, & Glass, 2005), Arizona has bolstered cultural and language restrictions in classrooms (see Jiménez-Castellanos et al., 2013). Arizona now leads the nation in the proportion of students who drop out of high school (NCES, 2013). Among them, close to 30% of Latino youth fail to complete high school within four years (NCES, 2013). When Latino youth are ELs, the dropout rate soars to 75% (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).  

Prior to the language restrictions that resulted from Proposition 203 (2000), a voter-approved amendment to the Arizona Constitution declared, “all political subdivisions of this State shall act in English and no other language” (Yniquez v. Arizonans for Official English, 1995). The amendment, however, was found to be in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the Court’s opinion, the amendment’s impact fell “almost entirely upon Hispanics . . . since language is a close and meaningful proxy for national origin, restrictions on the use of language may mask discrimination against specific national origin groups” (Yniquez v. Arizonans for Official English, 1995).  

A few years after the Court’s decision, Arizona replaced bilingual education with Structured English Immersion (SEI), a term that had not been “in current use in the language education profession but is a confusing combination of terms” (Krashen, 1997). Lacking a foundation in the applied linguistics literature, SEI was equally unclear to the teachers charged with its implementation in classrooms (Combs, Evans, Fletcher, Parra, & Jiménez, 2005). Rather than rectify the policy with research-based evidence, proponents of SEI misrepresented the sentiments of noted language acquisition scholars to create an image of support for SEI. For example, a research summary presented by the Arizona Department of Education states that August and Hakuta (1997) “concluded that little scientific research had been conducted with school-age ELs and expressed their concern about how ‘politics have constrained the development of sound practice and research in this field.’” The politics August and Hakuta referenced, however, were the very ones that have maintained SEI in Arizona (as well as California and Massachusetts). Indeed, in a declaration to the State of California, Hakuta (1998) explicitly states that citations of his and other scholars’ work “misrepresent its main findings.” He further asserts that “there is no defensible theory base to the programs prescribed by Proposition 2274” and “outcomes for students placed in programs similar to those proposed by Proposition 227 are alarmingly poor, hardly worthy of state-wide prescription, and harmful to students.” Despite Hakuta’s declaration, SEI continues to be implemented in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts, with his work cited by the Arizona Department of Education as support for SEI.

Many of the legislative efforts that have persistently failed to meet the needs of ELs—the overwhelming majority of whom are Latino (see Gándara & Orfield, 2012; Thompson, 2013)—have been promulgated with the guise of meeting their needs (see Jiménez-Castellanos et al., 2013). In response to a federal district court decision that “had begun fining Arizona $500,000 a day for failing to respond to court orders to increase funding for EL education in a way that reflected the actual needs of the students” (Gándara & Orfield, 2012, p. 10), Arizona HB 2064 (2006) created a Task Force charged with implementing a program that had explicit guidance in contrast to the nebulous formulation of SEI that had existed up to that time. As a result, since 2006, Arizona policy has expressly required the segregation of ELs given its self-appointed status as an “English first” state. Namely, the new SEI model used in Arizona requires that ELs are grouped homogenously to the extent possible based on English proficiency, and that they receive explicit English instruction in four-hour blocks (ADE, 2008). Thus, ELs are typically segregated from students with different English proficiency levels as well as from academic content that is covered while they attend the four-hour block of English instruction. In a review using various sources of evidence to determine the extent to which Arizona’s SEI implementation was addressing the needs of ELs, Martinez-Wenzl, Perez, and Gándara (2012) found that

SEI as implemented in Arizona carries serious negative consequences for EL students stemming from the excessive amount of time dedicated to a sole focus on English instruction, the de-emphasis on grade level academic curriculum, the discrete skills approach it employs, and the segregation of EL students from mainstream peers. (para. 4)

In contrast to SEI, the evidence favoring dual-language5 approaches is overwhelming (see Thompson, 2013). One reason dual-language programs are considered the solution to traditional methods of providing equitable learning opportunities to ELs is that they are viewed as assets to their peers (Collier & Thomas, 2004). As Thompson (2013) explains,

Dual-language programs hold appeal for another important reason, as well. Some critics of attempts to equalize opportunities within education via compensatory programs, such as temporary English as a Second Language pull-out programs, charge that these programs are inadequate because they do not capitalize on or develop the unique abilities of marginalized students. In the case of linguistic minority students, such compensatory programs leave the status quo, in this case the monolingual English norm, unchallenged, while ignoring the valuable bilingual skills that linguistic minority students bring to school. (p. 1267)

For ELs to participate in dual-language programs in Arizona, however, they must demonstrate proficiency in English—limiting both the extent to which they can be assets to peers and acquire English.

Although a review of the extant research on dual-language approaches reveals a focus on the benefits to ELs, long ignored is the potential of these programs to address the needs of Latino, English-proficient youth. Teachers in dual-language programs, however, tend to receive explicit training in not only language and linguistics, but also culture. Indeed, considering work by scholars who assert that English-proficient Latinos are also pervasively underserved in schools (Valenzuela, 1999), as well as evidence that language is key in informing students’ identity and achievement (e.g., González, 2001; Ovando, 2003), it is important to examine how CRT—including the reintroduction of a heritage language—may ameliorate disparate achievement outcomes for all Latino youth.


Setting and Participants

Three schools located in an urban district that is 63% Latino located in southern Arizona participated in the study. Approximately 46% of the Latino student population in the district qualifies for free or reduced lunch and close to 5% of Latino students are classified as ELs.  Demographics for the participating schools and their comparison to district demographics are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Latino Demographic Information for Participating and Non-Participating Schools

Dual-language school, Brea, n = 80




Latino ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino non-ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino density



Total school grades 3–5 Latino population participation



Dual-language school, Acacia, n = 144

Latino ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino non-ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino density



Total school grades 3–5 Latino population participation



Non-dual language school, Clark, n = 20

Latino ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino non-ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino density



Total school grades 3–5 Latino population participation



Non-participating, non-dual language schools

Latino ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino non-ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino density



Total school grades 3–5 Latino population participation







Latino ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino non-ELs who qualify for free/reduced lunch



Latino density



*Effect size h is presented as an index of the magnitude of the difference in the proportion of each school or group of schools and the district. A negative coefficient indicates that there is a higher proportion represented in the school compared to the district overall.

One school, Clark, is located in the Southeastern area of the city and received a “D” rating from the state accountability system. The other two participating schools are dual-language magnet schools6 located in the Southwestern area of the city, and both received a “B” on the state accountability system. One school, Brea,7 incorporates a language arts block in Spanish in first through fifth grades, with classes in kindergarten and first grades conducted almost exclusively in Spanish. Brea strongly emphasized multicultural education and social justice, and has been chosen to receive visits from labor union activist Dolores Huerta. The other dual-language school, Acacia, alternates instruction in English and Spanish via a 50/50 model. Both dual-language schools offer cultural extracurricular activities that include mariachi music, which is “the primary musical representation of Mexican nationalism in Mexico, a representation sustained and elaborated when Mexicans migrated to the United States” (Clark, 2005, p. 227). Folklorico dance is also offered at both schools, and “[stands] as public symbols of Mexican culture” (Ramírez, 1989, p. 15). Although the mode of delivery of Spanish is distinct across the schools, both schools share goals of bilingualism and biliteracy. Moreover, the emphasis on language and culture in the participating dual-language schools is reported to have a particularly strong appeal to Latino families, many of whom select the schools so that their children can gain biliteracy and bicultural skills that have been lost due to generational status and the limited opportunities for fostering bilingualism in Arizona schools (C. Campuzano, personal communication, October 2, 2013).

Participants included 244 Latino students and their teachers (N = 16) across grades three through five; 10% of the participating students were ELs. To address the needs of ELs, the district requires that ELs receive four hours of English language development daily, until proficiency in English is acquired. To enroll their children in the magnet schools, parents must submit a Waiver Request for Dual Language. Approximately 80% of the teachers self-identified as Latinas; all are female. All of the teachers in the dual-language schools (N = 11) were certified in bilingual education, a requirement in the dual-language schools; the remaining two teachers held the state-mandated SEI endorsement.


After the school district Institutional Review Board granted permission to conduct the study in seven schools identified for recruitment in consultation with school district personnel, principals were informed of the study and subsequently contacted via telephone and email to request a meeting. Six principals granted site authorization to recruit teachers and students. Once the university Institutional Review Board granted permission to conduct the study, teachers in grades three through five (N = 65) in the six schools were informed of the study. Only 18 (28%) teachers across four schools gave voluntary, informed consent; in two schools, no teachers agreed to participate. In one school, only two teachers agreed to participate but no student permission forms were returned, thus reducing the participation of teachers across three schools to a total of 25% of the initial 65 teachers recruited. Demographics for the participating schools, the non-participating schools, and the district are presented in Table 1.

In the participating classrooms, approximately 450 students were asked to provide parents/guardians with informed consent forms and return the forms to their school; 54% of the students returned informed consent forms that indicated the students had permission to participate in the study. Members of the research team, which consisted of the principal investigator and four graduate students, subsequently scheduled the administration of the surveys with teachers. The research team collected informed consent forms and asked students to fill out assent forms to complete the ethnic affirmation, scholastic competence, and perceived discrimination measures. The instruments were administered during regularly scheduled classes. Research team members read directions to the students in English and/or Spanish and answered questions before children began to fill out the instruments. Research team members were available to answer questions during the administration of the instrument.



Achievement Outcomes: Reading Benchmarks

The participating school district uses standardized formative reading assessments that are aligned with the state’s academic standards. All assessments reflect the “knowledge of standards representing what [students] should know by March” (District page, 2013, p. 1). The assessment results include students’ performance in terms of raw items and percentage correct (out of 50 across all grade levels); the items are generated based on the difficulty and discrimination parameters that reflect parallel assessments across administrations within each grade level (ATI, 2011, p. 21). The mean marginal reliability was reported as .88. Descriptive statistics for each grade level are presented in Table 2. The assessment was administered four times throughout the school year between September and May. The first benchmark scores were used to control for prior achievement.

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Level 1

Grade 3, n = 57






Ethnic Affirmation





Perceived Discrimination





Reading Scholastic Competence





Pretest Reading





Posttest Reading





Grade 4, n = 63







Ethnic Affirmation





Perceived Discrimination





Reading Scholastic Competence





Pretest Reading





Posttest Reading





Grade 5, n = 124







Ethnic Affirmation





Perceived Discrimination





Reading Scholastic Competence





Pretest Reading





Posttest Reading





Student Achievement Identity

To establish students’ achievement identity, the reading domain in the Self-Description Questionnaire I (Marsh, 1992) was used. The measure was designed to capture different facets of self-concept among children between the ages of 8 and 12. The scale uses Likert-type items that are scored from 1 (false) to 5 (true). Internal consistency analyses resulted in α = 89 for the reading subscale. Items include statements such as “Work in reading is easy for me” and “I am good at reading.”

Student Ethnic Self-Concept

Ethnic self-concept was examined in the present study using Quintana’s (1994) developmental framework. Accordingly, two questionnaires for children between the ages of 8 and 12 were used.

Ethnic Affirmation

Phinney’s (1992) Multi-Ethnic Identity Measure items are scored from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The in-group ethnic affirmation subscale comprises seven items that resulted in a coefficient alpha of .79. The items include statements such as “I have a strong sense of belonging to my ethnic group” and “I feel good about my cultural/ethnic background.”

Perceived Discrimination

The perceived discrimination subscale from the Societal, Attitudinal, Familial, and Environmental Acculturative Stress Scale for Children (Chavez, Moran, Reid, & López, 1997) was used. The measure has been validated for use with children as young as 8 years of age and resulted in coefficient alphas of .71. Items include statements such as “I feel bad when others make jokes about people who are Latino/Mexican” and “People think badly of me when I practice customs or I do the ‘special things’ of my group.”

Level 1 Controls

Individual-level control variables included students’ gender (0 = male, 1 = female) and EL-status (0 = not EL, 1 = EL). It is important to note that EL classification does not reflect students who have been reclassified from EL to non-EL. In Arizona, ELs are assessed in English proficiency twice a year (ADE, 2014). Approximately 80% of ELs in the participating schools are reclassified in a given year according to the participating schools’ demographic information.  


Teachers’ Reported CRT Beliefs

The Culturally Responsive Teaching Beliefs survey8 was designed to assess teachers’ beliefs about the role of each of the five CRT dimensions reflected in the review of the literature, with cultural knowledge reflected in two sub-dimensions: modalities and funds of knowledge. Teachers were asked to report the extent to which they agree (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree) with 25 statements. Examples of the statements and descriptive statistics are presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Teacher-Reported CRT Beliefs, Scored 1–5


Number of items


Coefficient alpha



High Expectations


Latino students can close achievement gaps if teachers provide them with rigorous instruction.




Cultural Knowledge: Instruction (modalities)


Teachers should incorporate instructional strategies that complement students’ strengths.




Cultural Knowledge: Funds of Knowledge


Getting to know parents is necessary to be able to access students’ prior knowledge.




Cultural Content Integration


Teachers should incorporate class materials that reflect the contributions made by individuals who share their students’ cultural heritage.






Students who do not speak English are at an advantage to become bilingual.




Critical Awareness


The traditional classroom has been set up to support the dominant (White) culture.




Teachers’ Reported Culturally Responsive Behaviors

The Culturally Responsive Teaching Behaviors survey was designed to assess the degree to which teachers report incorporating the five dimensions of CRT. The survey also asks teachers to report their training background, ethnicity, years taught, and certification. The measure is a modified version of the questionnaires developed for the National Indian Education Study (NIES), the only large-scale, nationally representative study that has collected information about the degree to which teachers incorporate culture into the educational experiences of Native American students (López, Heilig, & Schram, 2013). For the present study, the questionnaire was modified to reflect CRT for Latino youth. In the survey, cultural knowledge is reflected in two sub-dimensions: formative assessment and funds of knowledge. Examples of the Likert-type items and descriptive statistics are presented in Table 4; correlations among the belief and behavior dimensions are presented in Table 5.

Table 4. Teacher-Reported CRT Behaviors


Number of items


Coefficient alpha




High Expectations


How much do you rely on content or standards developed by the district?





Not at all to a lot

Cultural Knowledge: Instruction (Formative Assessment)


To what extent do you use performance-based assessments to inform your teaching?





Not at all to large extent

Cultural Knowledge: Funds of Knowledge


How often do you assign work that requires students to interview family members?





Never to every day or almost every day

Cultural Content Integration


To what extent do you integrate lessons and materials about current issues affecting Latino people and communities into your curriculum?





Never to every day or almost every day



To what extent do you use Spanish when you teach any core subject (reading, mathematics, science, and social studies)?





Never to whenever it is feasible

Critical Awareness


To what extent have you acquired knowledge, skills, and information specific to teaching Latino students from college courses focused on diversity?





Not at all to large extent


Table 5. Intercorrelations Among CRT Dimensions













1. Language: Beliefs












2. Cultural Content Integration Beliefs












3. High Expectations Beliefs











4. Critical Awareness Beliefs










5. Cultural Knowledge: Instruction Beliefs









6. Cultural Knowledge: Funds of Knowledge Beliefs








7. Language: Behaviors







8. Critical Awareness Behaviors






9. High Expectations Behaviors





10. Cultural Content Integration Behaviors




11. Cultural Knowledge: Instruction Behaviors



12. Cultural Knowledge: Funds of Knowledge Behaviors


Note. *Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed). **Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed). Correlations between corresponding beliefs and behaviors in bold.



With the above measures for both individual student and classroom-level attributes, I used SPSS version 22.0 to manage and clean the data; HLM 7.0 was used to estimate the two-level models. I assumed that the student-level intercept varied across classrooms, while the slopes of control variables at level 1 did not. A proportional reduction of error approach was used to determine fit for the hierarchical models (Hox, 2002). In the first model, only the intercept for reading achievement was estimated, providing a baseline deviance value. The deviance from each subsequent model was compared to the one preceding it to determine whether the variables improved model fit. HLM models do not result in typical effect size measures (Luke, 2004); however, within-classroom variance scores were used to estimate the amount of within- and between-classroom variance explained by each model.  


To address the research questions in the present study, I ran two separate models to examine the extent to which (a) teacher-reported CRT beliefs were related to students’ reading achievement; and (b) teacher-reported CRT behaviors were related to students’ reading achievement (see Table 6). For the present study, the variance component in all four of the null models (p < .001) indicated that a significant amount of variance in students’ reading outcomes remained to be explained; the intra-class correlation (ICC), or the proportion of the variance in reading that was explained by the grouping structure (which in this case was classrooms), was .26, supporting the use of hierarchical linear modeling (Luke, 2004, p. 22).

Table 6. HLM Models of Reading Achievement and Teacher-Reported CRT Beliefs and Behaviors (244 Students, 16 Classrooms)


Model 1: Null

Model 2: Level 1

Model 3a: Level 2 Beliefs

Model 3b: Level 2 Behaviors

Fixed Effects














Level 1





Prior Score
























Ethnic Affirmation








Perceived Discrimination








Scholastic Competence








Table 6 (continued)

Level 2





Years Teaching








High Expectations

















Cultural Context Integration








Cultural Knowledge: Instruction








Cultural Knowledge: Funds of Knowledge








Critical Awareness








Table 6 (continued)

Random Effects





Intercept (Variance between teachers)





Level 1



(Variance within classrooms: Children nested within classrooms)





Intraclass Correlationa





(Proportion of variance between teachers)b

Level 2 Proportional Reduction of Error (%)





Student-Level Proportional Reduction of Error (%)















p, df


< 0.001, 7

< 0.001, 7

<0.001, 7

Note. ŧ Variable is a suppressor. *p > .01. **p > .05. ***p > .10. Standard errors are in parentheses.

Prior reading achievement was a significant covariate, with each point earned at the beginning of the year associated with an increase of .76 of a point (≈ .02 SD) in reading achievement at the end of the year—a total potential increase of 1 SD for students earning the highest score. Students’ reported ethnic affirmation was also significant, with each point increase associated with an increase in reading achievement of 1.60 points (≈ .05 SD) at the end of the year. This translates to an increase of about .20 SD for students with the highest levels of ethnic affirmation. Gender, EL-status, reported scholastic competence in reading, and perceived discrimination were not significant.


The first set of classroom-level variables reflects teachers’ reported CRT beliefs, as well as the number of years they reported they had been teaching (see model 3a in Table 6). The addition of teachers’ beliefs resulted in the reduction of almost all error at the classroom level (99%), but only 1% proportional reduction of error at the student level. Using 7 df for the added parameters and the respective residual deviance across both samples, the model is significantly better than the prior model with only student-level variables.

Although teachers’ reported years teaching (M = 14.05, SD = 8.62) was not significant, teachers’ beliefs about Spanish instruction, funds of knowledge, and critical awareness were all positively related to students’ reading outcomes. For teachers reporting the highest level of each of the aforementioned dimensions, students’ reading scores were associated with approximately .85 SD (Spanish), .60 SD (funds of knowledge), and 1.70 SD (critical awareness) higher reading outcomes at the end of the school year. It is important to note that the positive relationships between the aforementioned variables and reading outcomes occurred only after including the cultural content integration variable, which shows a significant, negative relationship to reading outcomes. All level 2 variables, however, were positively correlated with the outcome. Thus, there is evidence that the cultural content integration variable acts as a suppressor of variance in the other predictors that are irrelevant to achievement (i.e., net suppression; see Cohen & Cohen, 1975). Once the suppressor is included in the model, the variables increase their respective b, resulting in the coefficients reported here. Finally, teachers’ reported high expectations were negatively associated with students’ reading outcomes, although there are potential issues that I elaborate on in the discussion.


The second set of classroom level variables reflected teachers’ reported CRT behaviors (see model 3b in Table 6). The addition of teachers’ behaviors resulted in the reduction of 37% of error at the classroom level, but increased error at the student level by over 3%. Nevertheless, using 7 df for the added parameters and the respective residual deviance, the model is significantly better than the prior model with only student-level variables.

Teachers’ reported CRT behaviors in terms of language and cultural knowledge (formative assessment) were both significantly and positively related to students’ reading outcomes. For teachers reporting the highest level of each of the aforementioned dimensions, students’ reading scores were associated with approximately 1 SD higher reading outcomes. The use of Spanish in instruction was also significant, albeit very small (about a .03 SD increase). Once again, net suppression was evident in the model, this time with the critical awareness variable.


Prior to elaborating on the findings from the study, several caveats merit elaboration. In terms of the participating teachers, all but two held bilingual certification, although this was not the intent of the study. Namely, 56% of the recruited teachers were not certified in bilingual education. A majority of these teachers (87%), however, declined to participate in the study. Students of two of the four non-bilingually certified teachers who agreed to participate (both in one non-dual language school) did not return permission forms. Given that voluntary consent must be granted, the work presented here depended on teachers seeing value and agreeing to participate in a study that asks of their already limited time. As such, it appears that teachers in schools that promote bilingualism in recursive settings share characteristics that make them more likely to participate in the kind of research presented here (see Table 1).

Along similar lines, parents who enroll their children in the dual-language schools may also share characteristics that increase their propensity to allow their children to participate in the kind of research represented here. Namely, the participation rates of the two dual-language schools were markedly higher than those in non-bilingualism promoting schools (see Table 1), and this must be considered in the interpretation of findings. This may be in part an artifact of the emphasis on language and culture that has appeal to Latino families, as reported earlier. Accordingly, although one of the strengths of the present study is that it contributes to evidence supporting the role of CRT in Latino students’ achievement in settings that tend to be discriminatory toward Latinos (e.g., Gándara & Orfield, 2012), findings from the present study must be considered in context.

A final consideration is that despite the importance of controlling for socioeconomic status and students’ EL status, schools did not provide information on students’ eligibility for free or reduced lunch and whether students had been considered ELs prior to the study. Nevertheless, the potentially sensitive nature of the questionnaires that were included was considered in the decision not to ask parents about their socioeconomic status. Instead, the study relied on the overall socioeconomic status of the participating schools that are not unlike other urban settings (i.e., relatively high levels of low-socioeconomic status). The dual-language schools, however, had higher proportions of Latinos who did not qualify for free or reduced lunch than the other recruited schools, as well as the district overall (see Table 1), which runs counter to the notion that Latino youth are a homogenous group.

The purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which teacher-reported CRT beliefs and behaviors are associated with Latino students’ outcomes as a first step in addressing concerns that have prevented the institutionalization of CRT (e.g., Sleeter, 2012). Despite numerous measures that have been created to assess teachers’ beliefs (see Brown, 2004), research examining beliefs in the context of teachers’ behaviors and student outcomes remains limited. Moreover, prior work examining teacher beliefs has relied on a unidimensional conceptualization of CRT despite the literature reflecting factors that although related, are conceptually distinct. The present study addresses these issues by using CRT measures that reflect the distinct dimensions in the extant literature, examining both the extent to which teacher-reported beliefs correspond to teacher-reported behaviors, and how both are related to student outcomes.


A review of the extant research on CRT resulted in five distinct dimensions that are reflected in the two measures used in the present study. Inspection of the correlations between teacher-reported beliefs and behaviors (see Table 5) suggests that some beliefs are more consistent with behaviors than others. For example, teachers’ beliefs about the use of Spanish in instruction are consistent with their reported behaviors. A majority of the teachers (N = 11), however, were in dual-language schools, thus partly explaining the strength of this correlation (r = .61). Namely, the teachers in the dual-language schools all had bilingual endorsements (a requirement to teach in the dual-language schools) and were required to use Spanish in instruction. In this case, teachers’ training was reflected in their beliefs (although why they chose to seek bilingual endorsement is not), and the requirements in the schools in which they taught (i.e., teaching in Spanish) were consistent with their beliefs. The consistency between beliefs and behaviors in other dimensions, however, is not as clear.

Teachers’ reported beliefs and their corresponding behaviors regarding cultural content integration, critical awareness, and cultural knowledge via funds of knowledge practices are negatively, albeit weakly, related to one another; however, context is important to consider in interpreting these results. In terms of cultural content integration and funds of knowledge, beliefs are generally quite high (see Table 3). Nevertheless, the schools that participated in the study must adhere to Arizona policies that are quite restrictive (HB 2281), underscoring students’ “individuality” as opposed to any emphasis on their ethnicity.9 It is also important to consider the time required of teachers who use funds of knowledge approaches with the growing demands placed them (Simbula, 2010). That is, as much as teachers may believe in the benefits of using funds of knowledge approaches, they must reconcile the increasing responsibilities placed on them. Thus, the discordance between beliefs and behaviors in these two dimensions is likely to be an artifact of the restrictive setting rather than teachers’ failure to do what they report they believe they should.

Whereas items reflecting critical awareness beliefs are grounded in the extant literature focused on factors that contribute to, for example, student stratification, the items reflecting behaviors reflect the extant literature on how teachers acquire this knowledge (i.e., coursework, reading, living in the community). In the present study, teachers reported high levels of beliefs that the extant literature attributes largely to training; however, teachers did not report accordingly. If knowledge about teaching Latino students is not acquired through preservice training, where are teachers’ beliefs (which have been associated with knowledge; see Pohan & Aguilar, 2001) informed? Nevertheless, the fact that a majority (80%) of the teachers held bilingual certification is consistent with the high levels of critical awareness beliefs, underscoring the need for future work to examine better ways to assess the source of teachers’ knowledge.

Teachers’ beliefs and behaviors reflecting the cultural knowledge instructional dimensions were moderately correlated (r = .34) and were significant predictors of students’ reading outcomes, but closer inspection of the measures reveals inconsistencies that must be reconciled in future work. Namely, whereas the cultural knowledge instructional beliefs items reflect modalities that are informed by culture (see Table 3), Modalities are a construct not generally supported in the CRT literature (e.g., Banks, 1993) despite its presence in many conceptualizations (e.g., Gay, 2010). Indeed, cultural knowledge beliefs related to modalities were not significantly related to students’ reading outcomes, whereas items related to behaviors consistent with formative assessment strategies were (see Tables 4 and 6). Future work should modify the CRT beliefs instrument so that teacher-reported beliefs reflect the behaviors that were found to be related to achievement in the present study (i.e., formative assessment) while avoiding trait-based notions of learning (i.e., modalities). The issues with trait-based notions of learning have long been criticized, and future work examining teachers’ CRT beliefs should likely abandon the practice of modalities as a viable conduit to achievement. In their place should be a focus on practices that focus on accessing students’ prior knowledge and the assessment of the new knowledge that results.


Evidence suggests that achievement disparities are due in part to the finding that Latino students tend to receive a watered-down curriculum (Moll, 1992). Villegas and Lucas (2002) assert, “Teachers’ attitudes toward students significantly shape the expectations they hold for student learning, their treatment of students, and what students ultimately learn” (p. 23). However, in contrast to the extant literature that emphasizes the role of high expectations on students’ achievement, teacher-reported beliefs regarding high expectations were negatively related to students’ outcomes. Moreover, teacher-reported beliefs and behaviors regarding high expectations were not significantly related to each other. In the beliefs items, the dimension is represented by the expectation of rigor to improve achievement outcomes; in the behaviors items, the dimension reflects high standards applied to all students. Thus, although the dimensions are seemingly consistent with each other in terms of content, the weak correlation (r = .10) may be in part attributable to a restricted range for the reported beliefs. Namely, in the present study, no one “strongly disagreed” and only one teacher “somewhat disagreed” with the statements associated with high expectations beliefs. The remaining teachers all either “somewhat agreed” or “strongly agreed” that Latino students can achieve if they are provided with rigorous instruction. Nevertheless, even though a restricted range may have impeded a coefficient in the expected direction, other dimensions may be more accurate gauges of teachers’ high expectations than the explicit statements themselves. That is, rather than ask teachers about whether they agree that rigorous instruction can address achievement disparities, teachers’ beliefs about students’ capabilities for high levels of achievement may be more accurately assessed by examining beliefs (and behaviors) related to how Latino youth can achieve and what may impede their success.

Teacher-reported beliefs associated with (1) validating students’ culture and (2) the ways in which the traditional curriculum underserves many traditionally marginalized students were both positively related to students’ outcomes. They are also likely a more accurate gauge of high expectations (e.g., low achievement is an artifact of stratification) than simply asking teachers if they believe all students are capable of high levels of achievement. In the present study, teachers’ knowledge about issues that reflect critical awareness was positively related to students’ outcomes, and teacher-reported behaviors that are related to this construct served as a suppressor of variance in the other behavior dimensions that was irrelevant to achievement. This highlights the importance of teachers’ knowledge about the ways schools have contributed to the stratification in student outcomes. Moreover, teacher-reported beliefs about assessing students in multiple ways (i.e., cultural knowledge: formative assessment) to inform instruction were also related to students’ outcomes, and despite the fact that it is one of the most underused strategies in classrooms (Stiggins, 1988, 2002), exemplifies high expectations. To wit, with formative assessment strategies, teachers’ beliefs about achievement reflect what they can do to ensure all students are successful. Both of these dimensions run counter to placing an inordinate amount of the blame on students for their lack of achievement, a deficiency perspective that continues to be pervasive (see Darder, 2012). Thus, beliefs about what teachers should do to ensure Latino students access rigorous instruction, taking into account the infrastructure that has led to lower achievement, may be the most accurate way to conceptualize and assess high expectations.


In spite of prior work that has established a robust relationship between students’ scholastic competence and achievement (e.g., Marsh, 1990), that finding was not readily replicated in the present study. Prior achievement, however, is believed to inform scholastic competence (Marsh, Byrne, & Yeung, 1999), and explained some of the variance10 in the models that would otherwise be explained by scholastic competence when prior achievement is not considered. Indeed, when reading competence is included in the HLM model without prior achievement, it is significant (p < .01); each point on the measure explains about one-third SD of reading achievement at the end of the year. Thus, the inability of reading competence to explain students’ reading outcomes is an artifact of its conceptualization as contingent on prior achievement.

Although the present study is a first step in addressing the pervasive limitations that have prevented the institutionalization of CRT by examining how these teacher-reported beliefs and behaviors are related to achievement, still needed are studies that can examine how students’ identities are informed by culturally centered practices (Ladson-Billings, 1995a). In the present study, cultural content integration acted as a suppressor of error variance in the analysis examining teacher-reported beliefs and may be the most explicit link to students’ ethnic affirmation. Ethnic affirmation was significantly related to student outcomes, but this effect disappeared once teachers’ beliefs and behaviors were included in the models. This may suggest, much like prior achievement explains students’ reading competence, that teachers play a central role in students’ ethnic identity. To examine the ways ethnic affirmation is related to teachers’ CRT, however, a measure of ethnic affirmation both as a covariate (i.e., at the beginning of the school year) and as an outcome is needed to capture the developmental and contextual nature of the construct.


Consistent with the assertions in extant literature that CRT is related to students’ outcomes, the following were found to be related to Latino students’ achievement: teacher-reported CRT beliefs and behaviors about Spanish instruction, beliefs about funds of knowledge approaches, behaviors consistent with cultural knowledge instruction, and knowledge about critical awareness. This is a particularly salient finding in consideration of the restrictive context in Arizona classrooms (e.g., Gándara & Orfield, 2012).

What is especially noteworthy about the role of Spanish beliefs and behaviors in students’ achievement is that a majority of the students were not ELs, underscoring the recursive role of instruction in Spanish (García, 2012) that is central to Latinos’ culture (González, 2001). As such, this finding suggests that dual-language settings may ameliorate Latino achievement disparities in ways other approaches have failed for reasons inextricably tied to culture. Also noteworthy is the role of teacher-reported beliefs about funds of knowledge approaches, particularly in light of the literature reviewed that is at odds with what cultural knowledge represents. Namely, the CRT literature represents cultural knowledge as the need to validate students’ cultural experiences as knowledge, which tends to reflect a constructivist view of learning. When that view is represented in terms of a particular modality, the present study is consistent with critiques that question modalities’ utility and more egregiously, its potential role in essentialization. Indeed, the present study finds no relationship between teachers’ beliefs about varying modalities and learning styles and students’ achievement (i.e., the construct represented in beliefs about cultural knowledge instruction).

In contrast to modalities, both of the following were found to be positively related to students’ outcomes: (1) teacher-reported behaviors consistent with cultural knowledge instruction that represent authentic means of accessing and assessing students’ knowledge (e.g., performance assessments), and (2) teacher-reported beliefs about accessing students’ prior knowledge by incorporating authentic experiences via funds of knowledge approaches. Whereas teacher-reported beliefs associated with funds of knowledge were predictive of students’ outcomes, teacher-reported behaviors were not. As mentioned previously, however, the contexts teachers find themselves in must be considered. Namely, teachers who have been trained in funds of knowledge approaches may be unable to apply these practices in today’s increasingly demanding settings.


The debate about the role of teachers’ expectations has a long history (see Jussim, 2005). Some have argued that teachers’ beliefs about students’ abilities are not expectations, but rather accurate judgments (i.e., not the cause of student achievement, but informed by student achievement). Nevertheless, scholars have described the ways differential teacher expectations are influential for students who belong to stigmatized groups (Jussim, 2005) and attributable to differential teacher behaviors (e.g., Eccles, 2004). In the present study, I examined how teacher-reported beliefs and behaviors regarding CRT—a body of literature that is grounded on challenging the differential expectations based on students’ backgrounds—are related to students’ outcomes. Although many have asserted that CRT holds promise as a way to ameliorate achievement disparities, prior critiques about the absence of achievement outcomes have generally been unheeded. The present study attends to these critiques and supports the extant work focused on CRT, suggesting that instruction that considers culture an asset can reduce educational disparities. Teachers who have training in linguistics, bilingual methods, and culture appear to have high levels of knowledge about critical awareness, and put into practice asset-based pedagogies that are related to student outcomes. This is particularly salient given the settings for the present study, arguably one of the most restrictive states for Latino youth.

Although the present study is not without its limitations, findings suggest that CRT merits serious consideration by policymakers and those who train teachers of Latino youth. Given that bilingualism is associated with cognitive benefits (Adesope, Lavin, Thompson, & Ungerleider, 2010), but has been elusive for Latinos in Arizona, it is possible that dual-language approaches can ameliorate achievement disparities because language is inseparable from culture and politics (González, 2001; Riciento & Hornberger, 1996). In the present study, most teachers held a bilingual endorsement, which requires coursework focused not only on bilingual methodology and linguistics, but also on culture and experiences with funds of knowledge practices. Thus, even though teacher-reported beliefs and behaviors regarding the role of Spanish in instruction were related to students’ outcomes, future studies are needed that examine the extent to which bilingual endorsement, which exceeds most programmatic requirements regarding diversity (see López, Scanlan, & Gundrum, 2013), might provide teachers with the necessary knowledge (i.e., critical awareness) that enables them to behave in ways consistent with CRT.


The work reflected in the manuscript was supported in part by a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. The author takes full responsibility for the work, and no endorsement from the supporting agency should be assumed. I would like to thank Benjamin Caldera, Mitzy Ocegueda González, Isabel Kelsey, and Marylyn Valencia for data collection assistance; Thomas L. Good, Ron Marx, Mary McCaslin, Augustine Romero, and H. T. Sanchez for their support of this project; and the administrators, teachers, and students of the participating school district for their participation and support. I would also like to thank Carol D. Lee and Geoffrey Saxe, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for their thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts of the manuscript.


1. To capture the breadth of culturally responsive educational practices, I use culturally responsive teaching (CRT) but retain authors’ terminology when quoting their work

2. Cazden and Leggett’s (1981) chapter elaborated on Lau Remedies II, which explicitly called for teaching practices that were important for linguistically diverse youth beyond the bilingual education practices that were required at the time.

3. Darder (2012) uses the term biculturalism “to project a more accurate picture of the worldview that these students must negotiate” (p. xix). Namely, bicultural students must manage “two cultural/class systems whose values are very often in direct conflict” and “sociopolitical and historical forces” that have perpetuated a subordinate, disempowered status that reflects bicultural students’ cultures as deficient. Darder asserts that the conceptualization of biculturalism in CBP is grounded on the political and economic reasons behind inequitable power, and is not synonymous with the “psychological or anthropological paradigms” that are individualistic and relativist.

4. Proposition 227 is the California ballot initiative that replaced bilingual education with SEI in 1998. The author of Proposition 227, Ron Unz, also authored Proposition 203 in Arizona that replaced bilingual education with SEI in 2001 and Question 2 in Massachusetts in 2002.

5. Dual-language settings tend to include students who speak English as their native language and students who share a native non-English language. In the present study, the majority of students speak English as their native language in part due to constraints placed on the enrollment of ELs in these programs.

6. The schools’ magnet status was prompted by a desegregation case, wherein funds are received to promote integration within the district.

7. All names are pseudonyms.

8. The measure includes some items from Pohan and Aguilar’s (2001) questionnaire developed to assess teachers’ beliefs about diversity, but has been modified to reflect the CRT dimensions in the present study.

9. HB2281 (2010) reads, “A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that . . . advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (Section 15-112).

10. The zero-order correlation between prior achievement and scholastic reading competence was r = .32. When scholastic reading competence is included in the HLM model without prior achievement, it is significant (p < .01) and for each point on the measure, explains about 1/3 SD of reading achievement at the end of the year.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 5, 2016, p. 1-42
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About the Author
  • Francesca López
    University of Arizona
    FRANCESCA A. LÓPEZ is an associate professor in the Educational Policy Studies and Practice Department at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on examining the ways educational settings promote achievement for Latino youth.
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