Veronica Betancourt, M.A.
When dealing with curriculum, we often do just that – focus on curriculum. We buy the ancillary materials that have already been “aligned” with the standards. Yet all too often, these material investments pump up the hype and fall flat in delivery. Ultimately, such investments become empty promises because these efforts are not responsive to students who are considered culturally and linguistically diverse thus ensuring they are unable to effectively meet the expected achievement on state-mandated tests.
Consequently, a blaming effect of nuclear proportions radiates to students and parents, further disconnecting families from the educational experience. This scenario is not a fairy tale or a recount of an isolated incident. It is an epidemic that is creating panic and pressure for educators.
But the real question isn’t about how to fix this problem, it is about evaluating ourselves and asking if we are really focused on being responsive to the needs of the learner, or if we are responding to someone else’s mandates. It is about asking how we define student success or how it is defined for us.
Student success is really an ambiguous term, as it can have multiple meanings based on the context from which it is referring. Within the context of academics, student success is synonymous with standardized testing. The term can be so elusive that it isn’t even listed in the Facts and Terms Every Parent Should Know About NCLB (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) actually delineates measures that define achievement, not success. This reliance on standardized measures creates parameters that are then used to define who is successful and who is not.
The focus on using standardized measures excludes the process of identifying other means of determining student success. This becomes especially true when accountability at the national level is not all-inclusive unless it is focused on math and reading. All the while, social studies and science aren’t even deemed important enough to collect progress measures. Yet children are required to partake in each of these content areas as a minimum standard for graduation.
However, this should not be the only method of determining whether or not a child is deemed successful, as children cannot be labeled and simply categorized as “pass or fail.” The elements for student success can vary, but they are certainly more expansive than this. It is critical to consider the whole child and not define or predict the success of the child based on a standardized test that was randomly constructed from a bank of questions that at one point or another were deemed statistically valid. It is as absurd as quantifying teacher success based solely on passing rates of their classrooms or attempting to identify current student weaknesses by analyzing test scores from the previous year’s cohort.
Before we can fully define and determine indicators for student success, we must first visit the influences that contribute to student success (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010). We must consider the whole child, the whole teacher, the whole environment. We must be cognizant of the culture of the learner and create a classroom and campus culture that is responsive to them if we are to ensure equitable learning opportunities for every child.
The Campus and Classroom Culture
So, what does it take to help make the environment conducive for students to be successful? The culture of the campus radiates and influences the culture of the classroom, which in turn, determines the relationships and learning opportunities that students experience. As such, it is necessary for educators to realize that “regardless of culture, educational attainment and socioeconomic standing, all families have strengths” (Delgado-Gaitan, 2007; Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010), and children bring those strengths to school. If we turn a blind eye to the rich cultural experiences that students bring, we are essentially sending a message that their family heritage, their family knowledge, their family beliefs, and their family traditions are insignificant and have no place in education.
The shift in perceptions is a difficult task, because public schools have a long tradition of transmission-based education – one where we simply transmit knowledge to students, with no regard to the shifting trends of society or the knowledge and cultures of its people. It is a hierarchy of trickle-down power that silences the stakeholders who most need to be heard.
There are behavioral, curricular and emotional expectations of the campus and the classroom. And unless these factors are responsive to learner needs and the strengths and assets they bring forth, we will continue to have the achievement gap that has existed for so long. Betancourt & Grayson (2010) note, “When teachers are compelled to enforce behavioral expectations from a culturally monochromatic lens, there is little or no consideration for students’ experiences [or] cultural perspectives.”
There must be a shift in the operating principles that are often deficit-driven and instead embrace the need for establishing: (1) a caring school climate that is responsive to those it serves; (2) a focus on learning that is meaningful and relevant for students; and (3) a culture of high expectations from all students (Waxman, et al., 2007).
Establishing the kind of classroom and campus environment that is conducive to the needs of its children requires that we reflect honestly at the current conditions we have helped to create, the manner in which we help contribute to and sustain it, and the courage we need to challenge and change it.
Betancourt, V., & K. Grayson. “An Unspoken Culture Clash – The Deeper Culprit of Teacher Beliefs,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2010).
Delgado-Gaitan, C. “Fostering Latino Parent Involvement in the Schools: Practices and Partnerships,” in Gullotta, T.P., & H.J. Walberg, R.P. Weissberg (eds.), Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Strategies for Educating Latino, Black, and Asian Students (New York: Springer Science, 2007) pp. 17-32.
Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman (eds). Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
U.S. Department of Education. “Facts and Terms Every Parent Should Know About NCLB,” website (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, no date).
Waxman, H.C., & Y.N. Padrón, & A. García. “Educational Issues and Effective Practices for Hispanic Students,” in Gullotta, T.P., & H.J. Walberg, R.P. Weissberg (eds.), Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Strategies for Educating Latino, Black, and Asian Students (New York: Springer Science, 2007) pp. 131-151.
Veronica Betancourt, M.A., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at
[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2011 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]