Remembering the Child

Arlene Hambrick
January 1, 2005


The diversity of learners in today's classrooms forces teachers to rethink how they teach and what they teach on a regular basis. Thinking of a healthy ecosystem as an analogy to a healthy learning environment allows us to look at classrooms from an inclusive perspective: Greater diversity is an advantage in the classroom where each student "contributes important ideas and energies that promote diversity by honoring difference through interrelationships, interdependence, and the unique qualities in each classroom" (Southwest Consortium for the Improvement of Mathematics and Science Teaching [SCIMAST], n.d., p. 4). To honor the student diversity so that the entire society can benefit, sociocultural and developmental differences of learners should receive equal attention regarding curriculum, instruction, and learning materials.

Ensuring equity and excellence lies at the core of systemic reform efforts, especially in science and mathematics, the two academic areas that historically have not been widely open to females, ethnic minorities, or students from less affluent communities and families (SCIMAST, n.d.). In the last 50 years, we have witnessed how education has battled issues of segregation resulting in the removal of some legal or policy barriers based on race and gender (Parks, 1999). We observed the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to outlaw segregation in public schools. But the time for celebration has not come yet. Not when the country is still plagued with issues of inequity.

Although the concept of equity penetrates the entire education system, it has profound implications in teaching and learning mathematics and science. The 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores nationwide reveal that the achievement gap still exists: Even though white, black, and Hispanic students at Grade 4 and Grade 8 made gains in mathematics since 1990, large gaps among these subgroups remain relatively unchanged (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2001b). By Grade 12, just 3 percent of black students and 4 percent of Hispanic students reach the proficient level in mathematics, as opposed to the 20 percent of white students (NCES, 2001a; Blair, 2003, p. 2). When comparing student achievement in special as opposed to general education in 30 states, Education Week found that an achievement gap of 30 percent or more exists on fourth-grade reading tests, widening even further in Grades 8 and 10 (Olson, 2004; as cited in Gingerich, 2004). The core of educational equity is to ensure that every student has access to challenging curriculum that supports his or her personal, academic, and professional goals. Regardless of their differences of race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, language, disability, or prior academic achievement, all students deserve equitable access to challenging and meaningful academic learning and achievement. Equally important factors are high expectations and strong support (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000, p. 12).

While in 1970s and 1980s there was much progress in narrowing the achievement gaps in mathematics and reading, between 1988?90 that progress came to a halt, and gaps began to widen once again (The Education Trust, 2004). What is being done to remedy this negative trend? Since the most recent landmark legislation No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act came into effect in 2001, substantial changes have been taking place all across the country's schools. This Critical Issue examines definitions of equity and major changes that are already in place and that are still necessary to address equity in mathematics and science classrooms so that every student reaches academic and professional success. While providing general recommendations regarding equity, the paper also will zoom in on equity issues regarding student groups singled out in NCLB: students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, are from major racial and ethnic groups, have disabilities, or have limited English proficiency.

Overview | Goals | Action Options | Pitfalls | Different Viewpoints | Cases | Contacts | References


Defining Equity

The term equity has a number of different meanings. For example, equity may mean physical access, inclusion and capacity building, multiculturalism and diversity, or it may mean special services (Powell, 1994). From a multicultural perspective, equity is "the equal understanding and appreciation of the various cultures from which the students come (by both the students and the teachers), the development of knowledge within those cultural frameworks, and an understanding of mathematics [and science] within varying cultural frameworks" (Hill, n.d.-a, p. 1). In 2000, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics released the Equity Principle, which states that making equity a reality for all students "requires raising expectations for students' learning, developing effective methods of supporting the learning of mathematics by all students, and providing students and teachers with the resources they need." Yet, Powell (1994, p.3) articulates "equity" in the most inclusive way: "equity means that each student will be addressed as an individual, with instructional opportunities, content, and approaches that meet his or her specific needs, strengths, and interests. All students will be engaged in meaningful learning, in a school environment that values differences and encourages students to participate actively in the learning process."

Capitalizing on the importance of high expectations, effective instruction, and support, the principle further warrants that equity does not mean equality?it does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction or the same quantity of instruction (Hill, n.d.-b; Sutton, 1991). Rather, the principle calls for appropriate accommodations, learning opportunities, high expectations, and adequate resources and support so that outcomes for every student are equitable (Krueger & Sutton, 2001). In other words, the focus should not merely be on opportunities and access, but also on educational achievement and desired outcomes: "To ensure student success, an educational system must focus on student outcomes and provide the support necessary for students to achieve those outcomes. [?] The greatest student success occurs with different instructional strategies addressing the learning needs of all students" (Krueger & Sutton, 2001, p. 2). Along with these critical parts, the effectiveness of the Equity Principle is tightly related and depends on other principles, such as curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment, and technology. Without all of those principles in effect, systematic reforms will hardly happen.

After NCTM coined the Equity Standard in 1995 in Assessment Standards for School Mathematics and the Equity Principle in 2000 in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, the National Research Council in 1996 released its equity concept in the publication of National Science Education Standards. Embodying both excellence and inclusiveness, the equity approach in National Science Education Standards can be expressed as one phrase, "Science is for all students" (National Research Council [NRC], 1996, p. 20). The premise behind the phrase presupposes the underlying expectation that all students are capable of developing the knowledge and skills described in the standards, regardless of their age, gender, cultural or ethnic background, or disabilities; that all students should have opportunities to engage in multiple experiences to develop understanding in science; and that resources should be allocated to both advantaged and disadvantaged students alike. The goal and the commitment of the science standards document is to involve every student and give them access to ongoing conversations in science because "science is one avenue through which humans can seek understanding of our place in the universe" (Hoffman & Stage, 1993, p. 2). Besides generally acknowledging that "considerations of equity are critical in the science teaching standards," however, the equity concept as such is not clearly articulated in the standards document or refined any further beyond the concept that science is for all students (NRC, 1996, p. 4).

With NCTM's publication of Principles and Standards for School Mathematics in 2000, concepts of equity have been progressively developed, defined, and articulated to the school communities across the country. As a result, the document highlights the following components or critical aspects of the Equity Principle:

Equity requires high expectations and worthwhile opportunities for all (NCTM, 2000, p. 12).

Equity requires accommodating differences to help everyone learn mathematics (NCTM, 2000, p. 13).

Equity requires resources and support for all classrooms and all students (NCTM, 2000, p. 14).
Even though the equity definitions in both mathematics and science standards documents are not identically verbalized, they both center on the same principles: (1) high expectations, (2) learning opportunities, (3) accommodations, and (4) support for all students. Enhancing instructional practices that are multicultural and address different student learning styles requires teachers to develop guiding frameworks that address all of these equity components and ensures that students receive high-quality mathematics and science education.

For example, creating personal guiding frameworks in science can allow science teachers to be inclusive in their instructional practices. National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Director Cherry Brewton (2004, p. 12) recommends that science teachers look at the following three documents when designing and implementing high-quality multicultural and equity teaching practices:

NSTA Position Statement on Multicultural Science Education (NSTA, 2003?04).

NSTA Position Statement on Gender Equity in Science Education (NSTA, 2003?04).

National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996).
To support the review of the above documents and to enact the recommendations of building equitable and quality education for their students, science teachers should take the following steps when creating a lesson unit (Brewton 2004, p. 12):

Review the NSTA position statements' preamble/introduction, rationale, and declarations.

Identify declarations and other ideas that apply to the science instructional unit.

Create a checklist of the declarations and other ideas that apply to the science instructional unit.

Research topics for answers to why (rationale), what, how to, and other questions.

Keep a journal.
A similar process can be adapted by mathematics teachers. For each lesson unit, mathematics teachers should use their knowledge and understanding of an equitable and multicultural instruction based on the review of key documents, such as Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000). Each state's standards also will provide guidelines informing equitable and effective instructional practices.

Effective Practices for Equity

Effective K?12 practices for equity in a multicultural mathematics and science classroom are continually shaped by multiple factors in today's schools. The world is changing rapidly, and this change is extraordinary and accelerating, permeating each level of the education system. For example, science instruction is now more frequently delivered in interdisciplinary contexts and less in bounded disciplines like physics or biology; it is becoming more socialized and humanized as it reflects both ethics and values (Krueger & Sutton, 2001; Hoffman & Stage, 1993). Likewise, mathematics also has been taken to different directions by schools; it is no longer confined to numbers, formulas, and figures. Mathematics today focuses all around culture (Hill, n.d.-c). Attaining individual competence in the modern life requires schools to teach students mathematics for life, for the workplace, for the scientific and technical community, and as a part of cultural heritage (NCTM, 2000, p. 4). Some researchers use the term "ethnomathematics" to refer to the mathematics that builds upon student cultures and everyday realities in the context of mathematics.

To address specific needs of culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse student populations in mathematics and science, recommendations from research and best practice should be followed. Below are key practical recommendations to help schools ensure equitable instruction for their disadvantaged students.

Increase expectations

Make meaningful connections

Support teachers

Broaden curriculum

Integrate technology

Engage parents
Addressing equity across the school system by looking at research-based recommendations discussed above on enhancing equitable access to learning opportunities and success for all students, however, does not provide a complete picture. Given the impetus of NCLB requirements to hold schools accountable for increasing the adequate yearly progress of each student subgroup?not just all students as one entity?educators have to look at specific research-based recommendations on increasing learning for individual student subgroups, based on poverty, race and ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency (NCLB, 2002, Title I, Part A, Subpart 1, Sec. 1111 [G]). Below, we will take a look at some key equity issues based on research that applies to specific student subgroups in learning mathematics and science.

Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Students

It is a given that all societies are stratified to some degree, including persons who are members of any sort of caste system. These stratification systems in society are called class systems. Intellectual traditions in the social sciences approach the conceptual definition of social classes from three perspectives: functionalist perspective, conflict perspective, and interpretive and/or critical perspective. While each of the perspectives recognize the economic roots of class, they all give it a different meaning and in varying degrees, attach to the concept other social, political, and cultural attributes, especially as they relate to schooling and academic achievement among class groups.

Functionalist perspective. Researchers who hold this perspective believe that the most important function of school is the transmission of mainstream culture and the preparation of citizens for technical demands of modern society (Bennett & LeCompte, 1990). For these researchers and followers, differential treatment in schooling such as tracking are justified by knowing the importance of preparing students to perform different types of occupations once they enter society as working adults. From this perspective, schools are perceived to be the link between individual cognitive abilities and his or her later occupation and/or social class. The purpose of schooling then is to sort students and their talents into the role they will rely upon later in life or to serve as an opportunity for upward social and economic mobility, especially for the lower classes.

Conflict perspective. Conflict theorists, originally from Marxist thought, believe that differential treatment in schooling, such as tracking and other school phenomena that promote the social and political status quo, are only there to serve the interest of the elite class. That schooling, as an institution, intentionally reinforces class inequality by attempting to instill in the minds and hearts of the students the attitudes and values sought by future employees, including attributes such as loyalty, compliance, promptness, submission to authority, docility, and the credentials and "status cultures" that are the "tickets of admission" to positions in the societal hierarchy (Bennett & LeCompte, 1990; Hurn, 1992). Marxist thinking and thereby conflict perspective thought acknowledge the power and control over production in the organizing of society that the elite class has; supporters go on to note that unless there is an uprising among the lower and working class to overthrow those in power, there will continue to be an inevitable struggle among the classes.

Interpretative and critical perspective. Interpretative and critical perspectives focus on the construction of meaning in social interactions. First, interpretative theorists use qualitative research methods focused at the micro level on the interactions among teachers, students, and peers and schooling, unlike functionalist and conflict researchers, who use quantitative methods. The main focus for critical theorists is injustice and oppression in modern society. Critical theorists assume that individuals and social groups construct their own reality regardless of the oppressive elite-dominated social hierarchy in which they exist. While participating at this level, each has the opportunity to resist and reconstruct their relationship to the occurring events.
In this perspective, learners are not just passive recipients of mainstream elite worldview curriculum. Each individual meaningfully reflects, reacts among themselves and others involved in schooling (e.g., students, teachers, parents, and community), and create objective realities. These realities provide the stimulus to and the basis for class-based resistance to oppressive conditions.

Although each perspective arrives differently at how class interacts with schooling, they all agree that there is an enduring correlation between social class and educational outcomes. For example, it is almost universally true that averages of educational attainment (measured by years in schools or dropout rates) and educational achievement (measured by grade and test scores) vary by social class (e.g., Coleman, et al., 1966; Jencks, 1972; Natriello, McDill, & Pallas, 1990). It also is generally noted that the higher level of education and achievement one has, the higher class status they are in; just like lower levels of education and achievement correlate with lower class status (Persell, 1977; Percell, 1993). Acquiring varying levels of education credentials follow the same pattern: Upper class members hold more credentials than middle-class or lower class members (Coleman et al., 1966; Goldstein, 1967; Mayeske et al., 1972). These correlations hold over time and across cultures (Persell, 1977; Hurn, 1992). As a matter of fact, the most powerful predictor of how much education individuals could obtain is the social class background of their parents, as measured by their income level, occupation, and education (Bennett & LeCompte, 1990, p. 170). However, when we look at all this information of social class and the role that it may play in the attainment of mathematics and science achievement, it is very difficult because social class is itself a contributor to achievement outcomes. Social class influences academic outcomes of mathematics and science achievement through the following:
Community context

Conditions under which teachers work

The learners as individuals and peer groups

Social interests inside and outside the school system
When placed together, these class-based dynamics allow learners from high SES to perform much more effectively in the traditional school setting, while learners from lower SES are likely to do less well. Social class does contribute to an increasingly differentiated pattern of academic achievement in mathematics and science education over time, and that differentiation is at least one determinant of educational outcomes.

Students from Major Racial and Ethnic Groups

Issues affecting equitable mathematics and science learning appear to be pervasive across major ethnic groups in this country. Over the last 20 years according to NAEP, science and mathematics scores have increased for all students with the greatest increases occurring in the 1970s and 1980s (Snyder & Hoffman, 2000). In addition, there has been a steady decrease in the gender gap demonstrated in the 1996 NAEP scores where students in fourth and eighth grades did not show a significant difference between male and female students. Although the gender gap exists at the secondary level in both mathematics and science, internationally it is the lowest gap.

Despite the general gains in mathematics and science achievement, there continues to be a significant gap between white and African-American, Hispanic/Latino(a), and Asian-Pacific American groups. Hispanic 13-year-old students score lower in science than white 9-year-olds, while 12th-grade African-American and Hispanic students do not score at the advanced level in mathematics, and only 1 percent of Hispanic students score in the advanced level in science, according to the 2000 NAEP Test. Although there have been major efforts to close the gender gap, minority groups continue to exhibit gender gaps. For example, underrepresented minority males fall far behind their female counterparts: In the 1990s, African-American males only received 36 percent of bachelor degrees awarded (College Board, 1999). On the other hand, 50 percent of high school Asian graduate students take advanced mathematics, while 31 percent of African-American and 24 percent of Hispanic graduates take remedial mathematics courses compared to 15 percent of white and Asian students; females are more likely to take biology and chemistry with males more likely to take physics (National Science Foundation [NSF], 1999 p. 16). Latino(a) students have a 50 percent dropout rate, while African-American and Hispanic students have greater dropout rates than whites or Asians. Some factors that contribute to this state of affairs are as follows:

Discrimination in practice and policy in school systems allows 40 percent of schools serving urban and rural students to not offer eighth-grade algebra, while 80 percent of suburban schools do (Cogan, Schmidt, & Wiley, 2002).

Discriminatory practice and policy in school systems allow minority, low socioeconomic status (SES) elementary schools to offer course content that focuses on basic facts and skills while white high-SES elementary schools focus on challenging, problem-based, and enrichment activities.

Discriminatory practices and policy among school systems allow segregated minority schools to offer higher level and advanced mathematics and science courses less often. When higher levels are offered, they contain less content coverage, depth, and laboratory time while emphasizing standardized test preparation (which focuses on low-level skills). Students cannot access courses schools do not offer.

Discrimination in practice and policy in school systems generally places teachers in low-SES schools and high-minority schools who are underqualified and inexperienced than their suburban peers and are more likely to be placed to teach mathematics and science out of field.

Some teachers also do not feel prepared to teach students from cultural backgrounds different from their own, and it is not necessary for a teacher to be underqualified or inexperienced to be placed in a school whose community culture and values are different, thereby causing differences in teaching-learning styles.

Discrimination in practice and policy in school systems generally place mathematics and science teachers in high-minority schools that use textbooks that do not address the culture of the students and who do not attempt to help their minority students to make cultural connections.

Discrimination in practice and policy in school systems fail to notice that although more than 75 percent of mathematics and science teachers believe that almost all students can develop mathematics and science understanding, most do not believe that they can achieve results in heterogeneous classes. Thirty percent of elementary teachers and 70 percent of high school teachers favor ability grouping (tracking), which increases minority students' probability of limited opportunity and access to high-level, highly rigorous mathematics and science courses.
Some progress in raising the levels of course taking and closing the achievement gaps among and between ethnic groups has occurred. However, society must redouble its efforts and investments to promote minority opportunities and high achievement in mathematics and science learning. Educators and policy makers must promote the idea that diversity is valued not merely for diversity's sake but that it is actually needed to better us all. Efforts must be in place to insist that states, districts, and schools undo present structures of uneven resources, uneven teacher placement, and tracking practices both within and among schools, and translate the knowledge base on these issues to real-world implementation.

Students with Disabilities

Broadening strategies and increasing learning activities for all students means that teachers also need to be knowledgeable about instructional strategies that work with students with disabilities. Currently, more than 10 percent of the nation's students are identified as having a disability (Krueger & Sutton, 2001). About one third of them are students from culturally diverse backgrounds, especially African American, Native American, and Hispanic (Jarrett, 1999b). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act ensure that all students with special needs are provided with free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment and have broad educational rights. These mandates have helped create inclusive classrooms across the country.

However, challenges still remain. The need for highly qualified teachers and the problem of overrepresentation of certain racial and ethnic groups in special education are some of the most acute challenges (Gingerich, 2004). Diverse learning needs of special education students call for adequate equipment, facilities, and instructional strategies, and present teachers with unique challenges. If we take a look at science, for example, we notice that science teachers often find that the design of the facilities for students' laboratory work and field investigations are not supportive of students with disabilities (Krueger & Sutton, 2001). To accommodate the students with special needs requires an individualized educational program (IEP) written by a team of individuals including teachers, specialists, administrators, and parents. When the IEP is approved by the parents, it becomes mandatory for teachers to follow it. The IEP should serve as the best source for determining strategies to assist the student to learn.

One way of accessing curriculum is the use of assistive technologies. Assistive technology may be virtually any device that increases, maintains, or improves a functional capability of a student with a disability. It helps a student do something he or she cannot do successfully without. Using strategy-embedded digital science books, for example, gives students different opportunities to work with the text with more concentration and depth (Gordon, 2002). Students feel encouraged and motivated as they are supported with a device that can make them a strategic, engaged, and self-aware learner? (O'Neill, 2001; O'Neill & Dalton, 2002).

The Minnesota Department of Education published a revised edition of assistive technology guidelines, Minnesota Assistive Technology Manual (Adobe? Reader? PDF 809 KB), which is a manual for the consideration and evaluation of assistive technologies for students with special needs. It provides updated information on issues such as assistive technology competencies, legal requirements, quality indicators of assistive technology services, and various regional and state resources.

The Georgia Department of Education compiled resource lists providing accommodations for students with various special needs. Click on each of the below links to view the recommended options that can accommodate different student needs:

General accommodations for students with attention/behavior difficulties.
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General accommodations for students with physical impairments.
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Specific learning disability.
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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
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Emotional and behavior disorder.
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General accommodations for nonreaders.
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Mild intellectual disability.
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Speech-language impairment.
(Adobe Reader PDF 93 KB)

General accommodations for students with sensory impairments.
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General accommodations for students with visual impairments.
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Deaf/hard of hearing.
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Significant developmental delay.
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Orthopedic impairment.
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Tourette syndrome.
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Traumatic brain injury.
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The above strategies suggested by the Georgia Department of Education address multiple student needs across curriculum. It also is worthy to examine specific subject areas, such as mathematics and science. To work effectively in inclusive classrooms, science and mathematics teachers can employ a number of strategies that address the particular needs of students with learning disabilities. Research identifies a number of specific strategies and classroom implications that may be used with students with disabilities to help them learn important concepts and skills in mathematics and science. Examples include the following:

Organize lesson units around big ideas and interdisciplinary themes to help establish connections between mathematics/science and real life (Jarrett, 1999b).

Allow students more time to complete science and mathematics activities, if they need it (NRC, 1996, p. 32, 36?37; NCTM, 2000, p. 13).

Encourage collaboration and cooperation among peers so that students can improve their mathematical problem-solving abilities and raise the level of scientific discourse (Leikin & Zaslavsky, 1999, cited in Jarrett, 1999b; Pressley & McCormick, 1995, cited in Jarrett, 1999b; Krueger & Sutton, 2001).

Provide students with explicit instruction of multiple strategies in problem solving. Jarrett (1999b) draws on many research studies to suggest strategies such as working backward, simplifying and reducing, recognizing patterns, drawing and modeling, making a table or graph, as well as acting it out and simulating.

Allow students to work in same-age groups (Krueger & Sutton, 2001).

Structure instruction around a variety of learning styles (Krueger & Sutton, 2001).

Use a multisensory approach to maximize the learning of students with special needs.

Provide authentic assessment for each learner.

Allow students to develop scientific and mathematical knowledge over time through repeated exposure to and integration of a particular scientific or mathematical concept.

Create a learning environment that is nurturing and supportive for all students. Teacher-student conversations and prompting questions can help teachers identify individual student needs (Jarrett, 1999b).

Involve parents so that teachers are aware of the challenges in the family and work with them to let children develop to their fullest (Jarrett, 1999b).

Employ multiple instructional strategies, such as direct instruction, inquiry-based activities, and performance assessments (Jarrett, 1999b).

The above examples do not provide an exhaustive list of all recommendations available for mathematics and science teachers for working with students with special needs. Such considerations should be made on a daily basis in the caring and supportive classroom to ensure the inclusion of underserved populations. Eisenhower National Clearinghouse's Focus magazine dedicated an entire issue in 2003, Volume 10, Number 2, to share innovative, practical ideas for teachers to use with students with disabilities in mathematics and science classrooms.

Students with Limited English Proficiency

Sharing a common language is important in construction of meaning and mutual understanding. Linguistic overlaps allow not only understanding of phonological or syntactical structures, but also of colloquial and cultural usage of the language between the learner and the bilingual teacher (Chapman, 1994). However, practice and research show that a teacher does not necessarily have to be bilingual to help students succeed (Secada & De La Cruz, 1996). There are instructional strategies that are effective in teaching mathematics and science to limited English proficient (LEP) students, and in developing meaningful verbal communication with a bilingual student (Chapman, 1994).

Such strategies or techniques that both bilingual and monolingual teachers may use to involve their minority students in the complex mathematics and science worlds include the following:

Using a student's native language as well as English (NRC, 1996). Research shows that content knowledge acquired in home language is retained when content is taught in English, therefore improving student performance in English (Kang & Pham, 1995; Latham, 1998; Crawford, 1995; Tikunoff, 1985).

Providing LEP students with assistance that allows them to participate fully in classroom discussions (NCTM, 2000, p. 13). For example, explicit instruction of vocabulary in context and of strategies such as questioning, explaining, describing, clarifying, observing, predicting, analyzing, summarizing, and presenting are inherent in scientific inquiry and mathematical problem solving, as well as developing second language acquisition (Jarrett, 1999a; Lee & Fradd, 1996). Teachers also can ease the linguistic complexity for their LEP students by simplifying their speech, providing visuals, expanding utterances, scaffolding language, and expressing understanding of the content (Secada, 2001).

Providing LEP students assessment accommodations so that their understanding is assessed based not on their command of English but on their understanding of content (NCTM, 2000, p. 13). NCLB does not put any limits as to how long LEP students can take mathematics and science tests in their native languages (Rooney, 2004).

Linking instructional strategies with second-language acquisition techniques, such as cooperative learning, which provides opportunities to develop English proficiency in the context of mathematics and science learning (Jarrett, 1999a; Lee & Avalos, 2003).

Supporting science and mathematics curricula by a strong language program (Minicucci, 1996).

Linguistic scaffolding?"teacher use of language that matches students' levels of communicative competence in length, complexity, and abstraction, and ideally communicate at and slightly above students' level of communicative competence" (Lee & Avalos, 2003, p. 22). To give explicit guidance to support LEP students' English language development, teachers can use strategies (e.g., adjust the language load for students, use multiple modes of communication, practice key vocabulary with students in a variety of contexts, explicitly teach particular words to describe objects and events, and allow students to work in different group settings) so students learn meaningful engagement and authentic communication (Lee & Avalos, 2003).

Giving students structured opportunities so that they can engage in science inquiry and hands-on activities with their peers (Lee & Avalos, 2003).

Providing hands-on activities tied to real-life context as such activities reduce linguistic dependency for LEP students (Lee & Avalos, 2003).

Providing inquiry-based instruction to introduce students to mathematical and scientific practices; inquiry occurs when students "generate questions, plan procedures, design and carry out investigations, analyze data, draw conclusions, and report findings" (Lee & Avalos, 2003, p. 26).

Incorporating explicit reading instruction for LEP students and focusing on all four components: word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension, and speech.

Meaningful, Multicultural Learning Opportunities

All students, particularly at-risk students, should have access to meaningful, engaged learning in science and mathematics (Hoyle, 1994) and be served adequately by science and mathematics programs. Traditional patterns of science and mathematics education have contributed to widespread scientific and mathematical illiteracy among students and a serious underrepresentation of minorities and females in scientific and technical careers. To increase at-risk student participation, teaching and learning for understanding should underlie every instructional practice so that students from diverse backgrounds can learn the linguistic conventions of mathematics and science as well as engage in practices of doing and expressing themselves as professional scientists and mathematicians (Secada, 2001, p. 4). In the mathematics and science classrooms, normally two types of discourse take place: social language and academic language (Jarrett, 1999a). In social discourse, where the social language is contextual allowing students to infer meanings aided by verbal and physical cues, meaning is built collaboratively (Jarrett, 1999a). On the other hand, academic discourse is abstract and hence requires explicit teaching of vocabulary and its meanings (Jarrett, 1999a).

Besides linguistic peculiarities, all multicultural approaches should span disciplines and grade levels and draw from all cultures of the world, enabling students to recognize the important contributions made by people from cultures both different from and similar to their own. By bringing a multicultural awareness into the teaching of mathematics and science, educators can create a learning environment in which students feel their cultural and linguistic heritage is recognized in the classroom. Such an approach can help students perceive their own connection to science and mathematics, become more confident in their own abilities to do mathematics and science, and develop a greater understanding of other cultures and a motivation to learn.

Teacher Professional Development

When it comes to schooling?and especially when it comes to diversity pedagogy?nobody can be as effective in closing the achievement gaps as a teacher. According to the director of Center for Research on Education Diversity and Excellence (CREDE), Roland Tharp (2004, p.1), "the single most important key to closing that gap [is] adequately preparing America's teachers to work with diverse student populations." Tharp (2004, p. 1) believes that teachers not only need to be highly qualified, as recognized by NCLB, but also "highly qualified to teach students on both sides of the achievement gap?mainstream English-speaking students and students of cultural, language, and racial minorities." Effective program implementation largely depends on teacher knowledge and skills. A Horizon Research study, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that high-quality instruction in schools is observed in less than 20 percent of school districts across the country: 59 percent of the 300 mathematics and science classroom sessions that were observed across 31 school districts nationally were rated as low in quality; 27 percent as medium quality; and 15 percent as high quality (Borsuk, 2003, p. 8A). Likewise, the majority of the country's teachers?80 percent?report to be ill-prepared to teach diverse student populations (Futrell & Bedden, 2003, cited in Tharp, 2004).

Providing high-quality, sustained, and ongoing content-specific professional development for teachers is one way of addressing the issue (Sutton & Krueger, 2002). Professional development should include activities that focus on increased teacher effectiveness and improved student academic achievement. According to NCLB, quality professional development activities are those that target teachers' content knowledge, schoolwide and districtwide improvement plans, classroom management, instructional strategies, technology integration, and other aspects of education as long as those activities are not one-day or short-term workshops or conferences. Currently, the data on teachers receiving professional development varies tremendously, ranging from 12 percent in North Dakota to 100 percent in states such as Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Keller, 2003).

Diversity among teachers also is a concern. The Southwest Consortium for the Improvement of Mathematics and Science Teaching (SCIMAST, n.d.), which serves the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas reports having approximately 86 percent white mathematics teachers, 86 percent white biology teachers, 91 percent white chemistry teachers, and 94 percent white physics teachers in their schools (the data for Louisiana is not reported). A Southwest teacher diversity chart for each state is available online.

It is doubtless that "despite the influences of other forces in education, the teacher holds the banner when it comes to equity" and is the only person in school who deals daily with the students, their needs, their cultures, their ideas, and is the one who exerts most influence over what and how mathematics and science content is taught (Hill, n.d.-a; Secada, 2001). Reflecting diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds among school personnel and administration can provide students more opportunities to find role models and thus be supported and encouraged to achieve high in mathematics and science. A teacher's input (e.g., knowledge, beliefs, expectations, pedagogical style, cultural knowledge, and understanding) is one of the predetermining factors for student success. Effective teachers ensure equitable learning opportunities for each one of their students. In fact, what defines effective pedagogy with diverse populations can be condensed into five strategies. Those five strategies are a result of almost 40 years of CREDE's research and observations of effective teaching strategies. They are as follows (CREDE, 2004, p. 3):

Teachers and students working and producing together.

Developing language skills in all curriculum.

Connecting lessons to students' lives?meaning making.

Engaging students with challenging lessons to teach complex thinking.

Emphasizing dialogue over lecture.
In mathematics and science in particular, teachers exhibit diversity pedagogy by engaging in the following (Hoyle, 1994; Wallace, 1997; Krueger & Sutton, 2001; Sutton & Krueger, 2002):

Developing an understanding about justice and equality.

Highlighting how mathematics and science affects every person in real life.

Incorporating practical approaches in instruction.

Exhibiting knowledge of various proved and new methods to present content.

Collaborating and discussing with colleagues.

Using inquiry in student learning of mathematics and science.

Employing student use of manipulatives and experiments.

Making content connections for students across all subject areas.

Engaging students in higher-order thinking activities.

Giving equitable attention to all students.

Giving attention to different student needs and learning styles.

Encouraging active participation of all students.

Using various presentation styles so that all students are engaged.

Analyzing student interactions.

Fostering learning in small and/or cooperative diverse student groups.

Encouraging students to take more mathematics and science classes.

Allowing students to do mathematics and science activities in informal settings.

Communicating high expectations to students.

Using inclusionary language in all classroom communication.

Creating an interesting and inclusive physical environment of the classroom.

Involving parents in student learning.


The reforms and support through resources in science and mathematics education are necessary to improve and enhance the science and mathematics learning and achievement for all students. The following goals offer educators best-case scenarios to aim for in providing their students equal access to quality learning:

Set high expectations for students. In exemplar districts, high expectations prevail throughout the school community for the science and mathematics achievement of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, females, minorities, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency.

Make decisions based on data. In exemplar districts, districts base their program decisions on the systemic analysis of student performance data disaggregated by race, gender, ethnicity, language, and disability when appropriate to the issue under consideration (e.g., equitable access to opportunities to learn).

Support instructional practices based on equity and excellence. In exemplar districts, content standards and assessments reflect equity and excellence to ensure that teachers avoid culturally biased instruction and assessment practices.

Design professional development to reexamine belief systems. In exemplar districts, educational leadership supports teachers' and school personnel's participation in mathematics and science professional development experiences designed to support the reexamination of beliefs, expectations, and cultural and linguistic diversity; to develop skills in teaching multicultural classrooms; and to improve practice in new curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies.

Engage parents. In exemplar districts, parents are equal partners in the science and mathematics education of their children.

Involve community. In exemplar districts, community members, particularly members from a variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences, serve as role models, tutors, career speakers, consultants, advocates, and partners in schooling.


Achieving long-term, systemic science and mathematics education reform presents challenges for students, parents, community members, teachers, school administrators, and policymakers. The summary of recommendations below is to be used as an opportunity for stakeholders to continue quality conversations and research while action is being taken to reach the goals outlined above:

Create personal guiding frameworks in science and mathematics using national documents such as National Science Education Standards or Principles and Standards for School Mathematics to ensure inclusive instructional practices.

Take every step to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination in schools. Each student should be expected to be judged by her or his abilities rather than by gender or skin color. The media must be an integral part of this process by highlighting the accomplishments of educated community professionals and not just sports and music icons (Ogbu, 2003).

Reexamine teacher belief systems, address and solve any unconscious assumptions of teachers toward equity during their preservice and inservice education and professional development.

Hold annual extended workshops on how race, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender, disabilities, and languages shape teacher expectations (Ogbu, 2003).

Recruit and maintain diverse school personnel and administration.

Establish a clear school vision.

Increase student access to curricular materials by making meaningful connections and varying instructional strategies.

Build strong school leadership.

Provide a safe and supportive school atmosphere.

Monitor student progress and closely track academic performance of all student subgroups and individual students within each group.

Encourage each individual student to set high goals for themselves and foster the opportunity of postsecondary education in their career plans. (For example, the federally funded Upward Bound Math and Science program helps students strengthen their mathematics and science skills so they can discover their potential and pursue professional degrees in such fields.)

Create multicultural science and mathematics classrooms.

Design lessons and assessments that address different learning styles.

Refer to IEPs for inclusion of students with special needs.

Accompany higher standards and alternative testing with the necessary resources and support (e.g., modifying the language on the tests for LEP students).

Implement minority achievement support programs in both the middle school and secondary school to address issues of school success, distinguishing between the affective and the pragmatic value of schooling, peer pressure, or discipline and its effect on academic work (Ogbu, 2003).

Build strong school, family, and community relations and involvement.


A successful reform requires creating a supportive climate for implementation. The supportive climate means changing the way teachers are trained to teach mathematics and science; changing their belief systems; ensuring that teachers are qualified to teach their subject areas; building strong research and development programs to highlight effective instructional strategies; and changing curricula (Blair, 2003, p. 2, 28). It also means giving educators time for ongoing, effective professional development as they learn new curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies; integrating community services; engaging families and communities; and developing guidelines for effective collaborative planning. However, when establishing goals and taking steps to ensure quality learning for all students, schools often face implementation pitfalls such as the following:

Some educators might be unwilling or unprepared to avoid a one-size-fits-all pedagogy and teach all students in one way.

Educators may not recognize that their own views toward their students may be affected by the effects of racism. Parks (1999) suggests that educators need to examine their own unconscious individual assumptions; recognize their own resentments; acknowledge their own values, priorities, and attitudes and those of other cultural groups, and how those values are expressed within the community.

Insufficient or inadequate student motivation may be an obstacle in raising student expectations. If students have few incentives to study; if school policies unintentionally discourage student effort (e.g., by awarding diplomas to students who merely stay the course); if high achievers face peer pressure; if teachers excuse disadvantaged students from the effort that learning requires, it may all backlash and impede achievement of student subgroups (Florida Department of Education, Office of School Improvement, 2004).

The school community might not be familiar with or might not understand inclusion laws, hence remediate and reintegrate students in a regular classroom.

Teachers, school leaders, students, parents, and community members may have differing conceptions of equity. The widely held and deeply rooted belief that poor and minority students, students with disabilities, and female students are inherently incapable of attaining high levels of mathematics achievement may be internalized by students, parents, community members, and educators, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Discriminatory attitudes are still pervasive in society. For example, many people tend to believe that anyone can be successful in the United States if he or she tries hard enough, and public education often is seen as the key to that success. Such beliefs often support the misconception that adults living in poverty lack motivation and intelligence and that their children have the same "inadequacies." These attitudes about socioeconomic status, racial minorities, gender differences, and labeling must be recognized and reexamined to promote equity and excellence (Century, 1994).

Educators and community members also must learn to develop a shared vision before they can determine their new roles and responsibilities in supporting equitable science education for all. Many of the recommendations available through the Action Options outlined earlier will prove helpful in these efforts.


One premise of traditional instructional design strategies calls for linking curriculum and teaching methods so as to provide the most efficient means for the greatest number of students to acquire the greatest amount of knowledge. Much of schooling has been built upon this belief?a theory of control that requires teacher-centered classrooms. It assumes that properly managed instruction enables most students to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to continue to learn. Practice and repetition, with frequent tests of recall and recitation, characterize this approach. This approach is the only one that many parents (and educators) have ever known, and their level of comfort with this model will make it very difficult to supplant.

With the science curriculum revolution in the early 1960s, new content and fields of study were added to science programs. America needed to increase the level of knowledge to reach its new goal of putting a man on the moon. While most of the curriculum reformers of that period would argue that process was always included, actual practice generally reduced hands-on activities in favor of more and more complex and abstract concepts. Many of today's educators entered the field during this period and still believe in focusing on content.

As well, many educators argue that future success for students is contingent on their ability to read, write, and compute, and therefore these skills deserve the greatest emphasis. The curriculum and instruction strategies generated by this belief may place science outside of the "basics"?except for certain facts and processes. In such a scheme, the time allocated for science instruction may not hold the same priority as reading, writing, and mathematics. Science should be taught from a textbook rather than being hands-on, minds-on, and authentic. Moreover, teachers may feel unprepared to use technology as a learning tool with their students, especially in the mathematics classroom. They believe that students in mathematics classes will never learn problem solving or mathematical facts and processes when relying upon calculators, computers, and other mathematical technology tools.


Research that focuses on moving the public agenda of equitable practices, while struggling with political resistance, must become a sobering example of what it is educators really believe and advocate about education opportunity in the United States. High expectations are an intrinsic part of American identity. Lee V. Stiff, former NCTM president, strongly believes that even the hardest obstacles must be overcome for the sake of opening the world of educational opportunities for each and every child in the country:

"When we talk about our identity, we have to understand that we have to help young people recognize that they are where they are supposed to be. And even though there's a challenge to providing algebra to every child, we cannot step back from that child because we know that algebra is the gatekeeper to all of the future successes of our young people. And if it's difficult to do, then so be it. And if it's hard to do, then we have to knock it down."
Truly believing in every child is the only way we can encourage Americans to move more harmoniously toward a diverse, high-achieving, and equitable society. According to Carol Tomlinson (2004), Ed.D., University of Virginia, striving for excellence has a lot to do with who we are as Americans. Equity, for Americans, means excess of excellence, which requires quality of learning, quality of living, and quality of succeeding. If we lose one, we lose the other. Hence, regarding each student as a producer of knowledge, not a consumer of knowledge, and focusing on giving individual attention to each learner, raising expectations, and supporting persistence will bring success for high-risk learners (Tomlinson, 2004).


Minicucci's educational practice report, published in 1996 by the National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning and titled "Learning Science and English: How School Reform Advances Scientific Learning for Limited English Proficient Middle School Students," presents an overview and detailed exploration of successful strategies and programs that four exemplary middle schools in the country implemented to successfully teach their LEP students. The schools featured include Graham and Parks Alternative Public School (Cambridge, Massachusetts); Hanshaw Middle School (Modesto, California); Horace Mann Middle School (San Francisco); and Harold Wiggs Middle School (El Paso, Texas).

Teacher Mario Godoy-Gonzalez has developed an exceptional English as a second language (ESL) program at Royal High School in Royal City, Washington. Trying to decrease the high dropout rate of Hispanic students, most of whom were recent immigrants to the school, the teacher searched for innovative ways to teach science through integration of language arts. The Winter 2004 issue of the Northwest Teacher (pp. 6?9) (Adobe Reader PDF 457 KB) shares Mr. Godoy-Gonzalez's teaching tips and strategies that increased academic achievement of his students and made them successful lifelong learners.

In his book Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement (2003), Ogbu describes how Shaker Heights School District in Ohio implemented several strategies that have proven to be effective for all students, especially black students. There was a major change in the school reform that brought a shift from traditional skill-based classroom work to the use of large mathematical and science ideas and processes in the classroom, as recommended by NCTM and Science for All. The district implemented a program called Minority Achievement Committee (MAC) to help black students integrate their collective identity with academic identity. Programs such as MAC are effective in allowing schools to address issues of how to succeed in school, deal with peer pressure, or value schooling.

Equity 2000: The project's support services are described in detail in What it Takes: Creating a Supportive Climate for Implementation (Jones, 1994). Created in 1990 by the College Board, the project aimed at ending tracking and enrolling underserved students in mathematics courses that served as an incentive to aim for college. It was built on the premise that all children can learn. The data from six years show the positive impact among African-American and Hispanic students at the pilot sites.

Multicultural Approaches in Math and Science is a selection of multicultural materials and perspectives from ENC Focus to help teachers use this approach in their classrooms. Included are interviews with educators from different parts of the country, in both rural and urban settings. A few examples include the following:

The Jesse Sanchez Elementary School in Salinas, California, is raising up a harvest of enriched science and language learning and cultural validation for the mostly Hispanic students who work and learn there. The LASER program combines science instruction and ESL in a way designed to make science relevant to the students and to honor the students' primary language.

San Diego's Ulysses S. Grant Math/Science Elementary Magnet School, situated in an urban section of San Diego, enrolls 607 students, 57 percent of whom are minority, and there are approximately 700 students on the waiting list. Carolyn Goohs, science lab coordinator for Grades 3?6, believes that a large part of the state's appeal can be traced to its efforts to promote a "level playing field" in which each student has the same opportunities to succeed. The philosophy of equal opportunity is demonstrated at Grant School on a daily basis. The article provides glimpses into some of such opportunities.

Western Hills Elementary near Denver, Colorado, serves approximately 600 K?5 students. The mobility rate is high and the student population is diverse: Alice Lopez estimates a minority population of 36 percent, which includes Native American, Hispanic, African American, and Asian. Add to these figures a class of bilingual special education students, and Lopez has her share of challenges. Judging from her recent acceptance of a Milliken Award, an honor bestowed on four teachers each year based on their commitment to education, she is more than able to meet that challenge.

In Yale, Oklahoma, third-grade teacher Clara Southerland meets the challenges posed by her nondiverse classroom. "It's so important to have some basic understanding and respect for different cultures," she says. "Students need to have exposure to the differences among people, and to celebrate those differences. They need to know that, while we are different, there are so many things about us that are basically the same: family, the things we value as a culture." As a result of incorporating multicultural themes into many areas of the curriculum, Southerland says she has noticed a greater sensitivity in her students, particularly in how they interact with one another.

Additional Links

Adventures in Supercomputing.
AiS is a program started by the Department of Energy to encourage girls and minority students to take more math and science.

ERIC's resources on topics such as American Indian and Alaska Native education, Mexican American education, and migrant education are available through this Web site.

Association for Science Education.
This resources list includes articles on equity and inclusion.

Eisenhower Consortia and the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse.
These two groups collaborated in 1999 to produce the Making Schools Work for Every Child CD-ROM (available through, and in 2001, the Southwest Eisenhower Regional Consortium at SERVE developed A Professional Developer's Guide for Addressing Equity in Mathematics and Science Education.

Eisenhower National Clearinghouse.
This Web site houses selections of materials and resources for teachers and administrators on topics pertinent to equity:

Equity and Diversity.

Multicultural Approaches in Math and Science.

ENC Focus magazines address the equity issue in math and science:

Vol. 12(33): "Speak to Our Mathematical Roots: Teaching Mathematics of World Cultures."

Vol. 12(32): "Speak to Our Mathematical Roots: Why Teach Mathematics of World Cultures?"

Vol. 12(11): "Differentiated Instruction."

Vol. 10(2): "Mathematics and Science for Students with Special Needs."

Vol. 7(4): "Making School Work for Every Child."
Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The center publishes WCER Research Highlights, of which Vol. 15(2) tackles the issue of equity in science education: "Toward Equity in Science Instruction." (Adobe Reader PDF 2.4 MB)


Applied Research Center
ERASE (Expose Racism & Advance School Excellence)
3781 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: 510-653-3415
Fax: 510-653-3427

Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE)
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Phone: 831-459-3500
Fax: 831-459-3502

Chicago Urban League
4510 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60653
Phone: 773-285-5800

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
1110 North Glebe Road, Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
Toll-free phone: 888-232-7733
Local phone: 703-620-3660
TTY: 866-915-5000 (text only)
Fax: 703-264-9494

Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC)
1929 Kenny Road
Columbus, OH 43210
Toll-free phone: 800-621-5785
Local phone: 614-292-7784
Fax: 614-292-2066

Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA)
5835 Callaghan Road, Suite 350
San Antonio, TX 78228-1190
Phone: 210-444-1710
Fax: 210-444-1714

Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN)
1600 Dodge Avenue
Evanston, IL 60204
Phone: 847-424-7185
Fax: 847-424-7192

National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science (NCISLA)
Wisconsin Center for Education Research
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1025 West Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608-263-3605
Fax: 608-263-3406

National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO)
University of Minnesota
350 Elliott Hall
75 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Phone: 612-626-1530
Fax: 612-624-0879

Tom? Rivera Policy Institute
University of Southern California
School of Policy, Planning, and Development
Ralph and Goldie Lewis Hall
650 Childs Way, Suite 102
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626
Phone: 213-821-5615
Fax: 213-821-1976


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Date posted: 2005

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