Promoting Cultural Responsiveness and Closing the Achievement Gap with Standards Blending

Article excerpt

In this article, standards blending--the integration of core academic and school counseling standards--is demonstrated as a culturally responsive strategy to assist in closing the achievement gap for a group of third-grade African American males. The small-group intervention described resulted in knowledge gains in both the school counseling and academic curriculum content areas. All participants also reported experiencing increased self-esteem.

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Effective, equitable, culturally responsive school counseling practices are essential to successfully address the pernicious achievement gap pervasive in schools nationwide (Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Howard & Solberg, 2006). Historically, students of color and those from families with low income have experienced a significantly lower rate of academic achievement than their White middle-class peers (Gordon, 2006; Ratts, DeKruyf, & Chen-Hayes, 2007). Students of color make up 43% of the student census under age 5 in public schools (Lira & A'Ole-Boune, 2005), reflecting the rapid growth of diverse racial and ethnic groups in schools (Reitumetse & Madsen, 2005). Despite these seismic demographic shifts, schooling practices have not undergone significant changes to address the diverse student population (Lira & A'Ole-Boune).

Professional school counselors are uniquely trained and positioned to identify and alleviate the cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral barriers to student success and the schoolwide environmental conditions that interfere with academic achievement (Galassi & Akos, 2004; Hines & Fields, 2004). Through culturally responsive, data-driven practices, school counselors can address the need to use data to connect accountability with issues of equity (Grothaus, Crum, & James, in press). While the need to uncover and respond to systemic issues of bias and barriers to success is paramount and has been well documented (Erford, House, & Martin, 2007; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Stone & Dahir, 2006), this article offers an empirically supported framework for interventions that address the achievement gap in a culturally responsive fashion.

SHARING THE VISION AND ACHIEVING ALIGNMENT

Standards blending can be used as both a systems support and a responsive service mechanism. It is a systems-focused, integrative, standards-based, and student-centered crosswalking strategy that aligns school counseling programs with academic achievement while addressing an aspect of the achievement gap (Schellenberg, 2007, 2008; Hines & Fields, 2004). Standards blending provides research-supported curriculum activities, meeting the accountability and programming requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; U.S. Department of Education, 2001), the Transforming School Counseling Initiative (Education Trust, 1997), and the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005). It is illustrated here via a culturally responsive, small-group intervention with six low-achieving African American males in the third grade of an urban public elementary school located in a Southeastern U.S. state.

EDUCATIONAL EQUITY, CULTURAL RESPONSIVENESS, SELF-ESTEEM, AND STANDARDS BLENDING

Academic achievement has been consistently linked to self-esteem (Dalgas-Pelish, 2006; Purkey, 1970; Roberts, 2002; Task Force on the Family, 2003; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). Research indicates that students with higher levels of self-esteem attain higher levels of academic achievement, establishing a need for school programs that increase self-esteem. Researchers also have discovered a reciprocal relationship, whereby academic achievement improved student self-esteem (Liu, Kaplan, & Risser, 1992; Rosenberg, Schooler, & Schoenbach, 1989; Ross & Broh, 2000).

Unfortunately for students of color and those from families with low income, research indicates that students perceive that their peers from low-income families and students of color are not treated in an equitable fashion in U. …