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.