Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Enhances Student Achievement

In an important article in Education Week, Willis D. Hawley and Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, explain why students’ cultural identities are integral to “measuring” teacher effectiveness.

As it stands now, student achievement test scores are being used as the measure of teacher effectiveness in terms of the value added measure (VAM).  VAM is a data driven measurement that is totally based on changes in test scores from one year to the next for an individual teacher.  Critics of VAM have noted that research studies show that VAM scores are very inconsistent.  Furthermore, the Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) of The National Academies issued a letter to the Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund (RTTT).  The essence of the letter was a critique of the RTTT Fund’s insistence on linking student test scores to teacher effectiveness.  In the letter, the BOTA had this to say:

The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches, which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students’ performance, to reward or punish teachers.

Drs. Hawley and Irvine  believe that the practices that teachers use should be part of any teacher assessment system.  Teaching practices, to be used in teacher assessment, need to be observed, or need to be described by teachers themselves.  In particular, the authors suggest that there are teaching practices that are called “culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP), and that these need to be included in any “high-stakes teaching evaluation.”

As Hawley and Irvine point out, culturally response teachers,

  • understand that all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, bring their culturally influenced cognition, behavior, and dispositions to school.
  • understand how semantics, accents, dialect, and discussion modes affect face-to-face interactions.
  • know how to adapt and employ multiple representations of subject-matter knowledge using students’ everyday lived experiences.

Hawley and Irvine identify six examples of CRP that taken individually can make a huge difference in embodying the racial and ethnical effects on student learning.  These practices are not new, but they reflect a more indirect approach to teaching and learning, and in all cases, the nature of the students is seen as fundamental in teaching.  Highly effective teachers use practices such as these, and they should be an integral part of the assessment of teachers.

  • Learning from family and community engagement
  • Developing caring relationships with students
  • Engaging and motivating students
  • Assessing student performance
  • Grouping students for instruction
  • Selecting and effectively using learning resources

As you look back at this list (see their article for details on each), these practices ought to be used as measures of culturally responsive teaching, and as the authors point out “these describe the practice of all effective teachers, regardless of the characteristics of their students.  By making sure that teaching practices such as these become part of the evaluation of process, we make assessment more closely aligned to what teachers are really doing in their classrooms, rather than simply depending on an average test score that students score during a one-two hour period in the spring.



About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.