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Increasing Latina/o/x Student Success

Photo Credit: Hispanic Network Magazine

(A. Solano)
In a longitudinal comparison study, there was a 41% gain in student achievement above and beyond the comparison group, and a 54% gain for Latina/o/x students. Why did Latina/o/x students outperform other students by 13 points? The study/intervention occurred in high poverty area schools, and what lesson can be applied to community college and open access university students?

Years ago I worked with a group of UCLA and Stanford researchers and practitioners who developed a model for instructional improvement that went beyond compelling workshops and general ideas about reflective inquiry. To make a long story short, when significant gains were made at the sites that received ongoing coaching support, an external evaluator asked the teachers in the intervention group and the comparison group the same question:

"To what extent do you attribute student outcomes, positive or negative?"

Teachers from the comparison group focused on external factors. For example, the parents don't speak English, students are not academically prepared, etc.

When the evaluator asked the intervention group the same question, they focused on their instruction. The teachers didn't dwell on things that were out of their control.

In a nutshell, the comparison group focused on external attributions. The intervention group focused on internal attributions.

Link to Article
We can hypothesize that Latino/a/x students, in particular, benefited significantly when teachers didn't play the student-blame game. Latina/o/x students thrived when teachers focused on continually improving their practice.

In terms of higher education, I've witnessed significant student blaming at Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Until faculty can make the transition from saying:

"I teach math" [or any other subject] to "I teach students"...

I'm afraid that student success will continue to be flat or grow at a snail's pace. Colleges tinker too much around the edges (e.g., tutoring and advising/counseling) and don't focus where students spend most of their time at community college and open access universities--the classroom!

My message, again, is that the Guided Pathways fourth principle--ensure learning--is about instruction and not student learning outcomes. At Greater Los Angeles area HSI Citrus College, for example, Latino/a/x students one-year completion rates in transfer-level math nearly doubled (15% to 28%) within a three-year period, and nearly tripled for African-American students (10% to 27%). There's still a long way to go but these dramatic improvements will continue so long as campuses like Citrus establish, nurture, and sustain a culture of continuous improvement in instruction.

What does it mean to have a culture of continuous improvement? When a campus creates the conditions for people to shift from focusing on external attributions to internal attributions. It's no easy feat, but it's not impossible either.

It took a focus on internal attributions for Citrus College to go from this:

To this:

(To learn more, visit Transforming Instruction in Math)

Campuses also need to have conversations about race. Meaningful equity work requires it. Focusing on one disproportionately impacted student population such as veterans is important but insufficient (I'm a veteran). Research suggests that educators that are not critically race conscious are unaware of how their racial identities may impact who they focus on (or not), and the ways in which their racial identity can have a significant impact on the results they produce (USC CUE).

However, it's important for campuses to set the conditions to have these critical conversations. It's pivotal to understand the difference between "calling in" and "calling out" campus personnel as it relates to race and equity. The former uses pedagogy and empathy to create allies and sustain the equity work. The latter often dismisses people's personal stories, paints people with broad strokes, and makes some people feel like they're the enemy. Calling out people as opposed to calling them in often results in stalled equity work (I've seen this first-hand at many campuses).

In addition, one or two-day drive-by workshops on race rarely have a long-lasting impact, if any. For workshops to have any impact there needs to be an internal attributions culture that follows through on what personnel learn. Campuses that establish a culture of continuous improvement are better equipped to make the equity work that much more meaningful and sustainable. If campuses fail to soften the ground to plant and grow the seeds of equity, there's a good chance that the work will wilt away, and we will continue to see a growing frustration among the Latina/o/x community.

Improving the quality of instruction is the student equity issue of our time. Ensuring that culture doesn't eat strategy (i.e., addressing equity) for lunch requires campus leadership--from the campus president and executive staff to academic senate president and executive staff to classified leadership staff--to establish a culture of continuous improvement to ensure that endeavors, initiatives, mandates, etc., are planned and implemented in such a way that gets positive results for students.


Note: Significant student gains in the research noted required ongoing external coaching from expert facilitators to help get results. Depending on the campus, it can sometimes take courage to ask for external assistance. Therefore, campuses need to thoroughly vet who they bring in to help. Some initial questions campuses should consider: What's the coach's approach? What references does she or he have, and do they include a significant number of faculty? What's his or her record of getting results?

Also visit:

Elephant in the Room: Instruction in Higher Education

Guided Pathways: Is Your Campus Stuck?

Transforming Instruction in Math

Why Transformation Efforts Fail

Kindness & Transformational Change

Teaching Dual Enrollment

Contact me about customized trainings or ongoing coaching support to help your campus plan and implement grants, projects, or comprehensive efforts such as guided pathways.  Use the contact form on the right (bottom of the page for mobile users).


(A. Solano)

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