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Teaching Strategies | May 21, 2024

5 Steps to Reaching Academic Equity in Your Schools and Classrooms

Are you interested in the possibility of changing academic outcomes for all your learners? In this article, learn five steps to reaching academic equity in your schools and classrooms for culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

Understanding Academic Equity for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners

Academic equity refers to every child getting what they need to be as successful as possible. Unfortunately, many learners in our schools are underserved, especially those learners whose home cultures are not the mainstream, and whose languages are not the language of school.

Ways to Achieve Academic Equity

There are five steps to reaching academic equity but two caveats. First, these five steps must be taken in sequence. This is a systematic, mapped excursion to a place of academic equity. Second, you can't get there unless you address more than just your school's structure. You must also address school culture.

TCM_5StepsReachAcademicEquitySchClassroom-650x520-2Step 1: Connect with your learners' cultures

This means the cultures of their homes and of their community. Often, professionals commute into and out of the neighborhoods in which they teach. If we don't connect with our learners on a cultural level, how can we fully understand their wants, needs, and desires in the classroom?

Step 2: Examine the methods you use to teach your learners

We've got to go back to school on how to teach, with the focus being on what's appropriate for the children whose eyes look back at us when we're in the front of our classrooms. They are uniquely diverse in many aspects that effect teaching and learning.

Step 3: Examine the tools you use to teach your learners

What works for your learners may not be what works for others. Your choices must connect to the lived experiences of your learners. I often share the example of my own lived experience as a child and my school’s use of the iconic, albeit oversimplistic, Dick and Jane as the basal series of the time. I just couldn't relate.

However, I did relate to a book called Negro Congressional Medal of Honor Winners that my teacher, Mrs. Gowdy, handed me. On those pages, I saw people who had accomplished extraordinary things—and they all looked like the men in my family. That was inspiring. That was relevant. The experience has stuck with me for some 42 years now. Our learners deserve the same.

Step 4: Examine the academic assessments you use

Just as instructional content can be culturally biased, so can the assessments you use to measure and monitor the progress and outcomes of your learners. It's not just about the pictures. The vast majority of assessments produced for English language instruction are created by test designers representing the White, middle-class, mainstream, School English-speaking culture. Consequently, they are not culturally connected to the learners in our public schools, who are overwhelmingly representative of other cultures, ethnicities, and languages.

Step 5: Make all decisions about teaching and learning based on data

Whether it's a decision to adjust a group size, increase time in instruction, reteach a concept, or change methods or content, it should be based on data that comes from appropriate assessment. This then takes you back to step four.

The CARTI Framework for Professional Learning

Those five steps are built as a framework with a laser-like focus on the academic outcomes of each of your learners. As mentioned above, the steps must be taken in sequence. When you begin at step one, taking each in turn and then repeating the steps once you finish step five, you engage in a cycle of incremental improvement. As a result, you learn more each time the five steps are completed. Typically, this occurs over one to three years.

Addressing the framework's steps often requires that educators receive professional learning opportunities to do the work. That is why a companion, or mirrored, framework—the CARTI Framework for Professional Learning—stands in tandem. While steps one through five are the same, we shift the focus to professional growth with the framework for professional learning.

Structure and Culture

"Educator, teach thyself" is not a best practice. We address the two lanes of structure and culture on the professional learning side, restructuring and re-culturing, to reach academic equity in your schools and classrooms. Were it merely a matter of the structure of schools, we'd have finished the work long ago. We're pretty proficient at changing the way our schools, bell schedules, classrooms, and professional learning are set up.

My observations usually find that it is not the structure, but rather the culture of our schools and classrooms that prevents us from creating a system that works. That is why as we take the five steps, we do so with professional learning focused on both culture and structure, with culture taking the lead. You see, it is structure that gives us the physical tools to set up our systems.

At the same time, it is culture that opens our eyes to see the richness in what each of our learners brings to our classrooms. It is culture that opens or closes our minds to the benefits and joy of teaching culturally and linguistically diverse learners. It is culture that sees the value in our learners and their lived experiences and how those experiences impact the way our teaching is received, processed, assimilated, and retained. It is culture that creates a community within a school or district that sees value in teaching each and every child without favoritism for or bias against any group.

And it is the synergy, the combined effect of re-culturing and restructuring, that creates the unstoppable momentum needed to reach academic equity. Take the first step and continue on with the steps in this article and in the CARTI Framework. Learn more in my book, Effecting Change for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners, 2nd Edition.


On-Demand Webinar

Five Steps to Reaching Academic Equity in Your Schools and Classrooms

Learn how to be culturally connected to the learners you serve. Re-culture and restructure your classrooms and schools to reach academic equity with Dr. Berry’s five-step framework to culturally appropriate response to instruction (CARTI).



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Author Bio:

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Almitra L. Berry, Ed.D.

Almitra L. Berry, Ed.D. is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and consultant on the topic of culturally and linguistically diverse learners in America’s K12 education system. Dr. Berry’s research focuses on equity and academic achievement for marginalized learners – particularly in majority-of-color,low-wealth, large, urban school districts. During her extensive career, Dr. Berry has worked with leaders and systems throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. She has presented...

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