The purpose of the present study is to determine the effect that learner-centered classrooms and schools have on the academic performance of minority and non-minority groups. A diverse sample of schools at the elementary school level were selected. Teachers were also asked to complete the Assessment of Learner Centered Practices questionnaire, an instrument designed to assess the level of learner-centered orientation of teachers and schools. Data was collected on student's performance on state standardized tests, but in addition, students were assessed in a number of non-traditional learning criteria, such as creativity, motivation, self-regulation, cooperative skills, openness to diversity, and metacognitive skills. Results indicate that minorities in schools and classrooms with higher learner-centered orientations not only have test scores statistically equal of those from their white peers, but also that students in Learner-Centered schools have higher scores in the non-traditional measures, including tolerance and openness to diversity.
The performance gap on standardized tests between historically underrepresented ethnic minority groups (African American, Latino and Native American) and non-minority (mostly White/European American, but lately also Asian American) students in the United States is a problem that has become more severe as new federal initiatives increase the amount and importance of such tests. However, as an increasingly sophisticated and service-oriented workplace emerges in the 21st century, many researchers and educators have called into question the basic relevance of these tests to reflect higher thinking skills and complex knowledge (e.g., Williams, 2005; Kohn, 2000; Meier & Wood, 2004; Camara & Brown, 1995). Moreover, an increasingly larger body of literature suggests that factors other than grades are more important to predict success in academic performance, career accomplishments, and life in general. For example, factors such as self-efficacy (e.g., Saks, 2006; Gore, 2006; Malka & Covington, 2005; Zimmerman, 2006), motivation (e.g., Carmichael & Taylor, 2005; Cecchini, Gonzalez, Prado, & Brustad, 2005; Malka & Covington, 2005; Turner & Johnson, 2003), creativity (e.g., Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2005), collaboration (e.g., Killian, 2005; Prather & Jones, 2003), innovation (e.g., Utsch & Rauch, 2000), learning strategies (e.g., Zimmerman, 1996), and goal setting or orientation (e.g., Zimmerman, 1996; Cecchini, Gonzalez, Prado, & Brustad, 2005) have each been shown to predict success in certain aspects of life. It is, therefore, increasingly important not only to identify factors that can decrease this gap in the educational performance of our children, but re-focus our educational outcomes in terms of the skills and knowledge that are actually relevant for the world of the new millennium.
One model that proposes to look at these issues from a systemic perspective is the learner-centered model of education. In 1990, the APA appointed the Presidential Task Force on Psychology in Education whose task was twofold: (a) to determine ways in which the psychological knowledge base related to learning, motivation, and individual differences could contribute directly to improvements in the quality of student achievement and (b) to provide guidance for the design of educational systems that would best support individual student learning and achievement (McCombs & Whisler, 1997). The result was an integrated set of principles that reflect the best practices, as supported by psychological and educational research, to improve education for all students. "Taken as a whole [the learner centered principles] provide an integrated perspective on factors influencing learning for all learners. Together, they are intended to be understood as an organized knowledge base that supports a learner-centered model" (McCombs & Whisler, 1997, p. …