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Research-Based Practice

Strengthening Competence in Working With Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

By Janeann M. Lineman & Gloria E. Miller

It has been projected that by 2020 one out of three children will be from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) background (Rogers & Lopez, 2002). Rapid changes in school demographics and student needs are already presenting new challenges to school-based service-delivery methods and there have been calls for increased professional development efforts to better meet the needs of our diverse population (Guerrero & Leung, 2008).

To most effectively address this need, professionals must first perceive a value of such services and assign them a high level of importance (Cleary, 2009; Kim & Omizo, 2003; Roeser, Eccles, & Sameroff, 1998; Wigfield & Eccles, 1994). New professional skill development also requires a strong foundation that progresses from awareness, to knowledge, and then to skill mastery (Connerley & Pedersen, 2005). There is evidence that perceived value and skill levels do predict implementation practices. For example, Chafouleas, Riley-Tillman, and Eckert (2003) conducted a study using a sample of 188 school psychologists (65% female; 35% male) who were members of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Approximately 70% of the participants reported little to no training in new experimental and analyses methods, which aligned with the approximately 78% who reported they also did not use a specific method.

Stoiber and Vanderwood (2008) evaluated the extent of use, value, and competency as related to the day-to-day practices of 115 school psychologists (70% female and 30% male) from an urban school district. As expected, consultation yielded one of the highest mean ratings for use, importance, and competency, providing evidence that these skills serve as a foundation to most frequently implemented practices. Consistent with conventional school psychology training models, higher ratings were reported for assessment procedures, whereas ratings for intervention services were lower. These results suggest that the implementation of new professional practices is strongly related to practitioners' perceptions of the value of that practice and their competency in using the practice.

While studies have linked perceptions of value and skill levels to general servicedelivery practices, there is little research on such perceptions as related to CLD problem- solving practices. Yet such information is a critical issue in identifying professional development needs regarding one of the foundational practice domains identified in the NASP Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services (NASP, 2010). Understanding of diversity in development and learning is a key competency area that underlies and supports all areas of practice. This domain emphasizes essential professional skills that serve as a cornerstone for effective school-based service delivery that can promote the success of students, families, and schools with diverse characteristics, cultures, and backgrounds.

Unfortunately, there continues to be a need for guidance on the implementation of specific CLD practices that occur in daily practice (Sullivan & A'Vant, 2009). Thus, the goal of this study was to develop a survey to directly assess practitioners' perceptions of effective CLD strategies that occur within a problem-solving consultation framework. The results of such a survey could help initiate discussion of future training needs. It is also hoped that results will help align professional development opportunities regarding effective evidence-based strategies to enhance services related to Domain 8 of the NASP (2010) Practice Model.

Present Study

In the current study, 232 practicing school psychologists responded to a newly developed 27-item CLD problem-solving practice survey. Data from the United States Census Bureau (2007a–e) was used to identify states with large CLD populations in relation to the following ethnic categories: American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Pacific Islanders. Based on population demographics, permission to participate in the study was requested from 23 school psychology state associations. Twelve states agreed to participate and share their association e-mail rosters: AZ, CO, CT, FL, IL, MA, NV, NJ, NY, NC, UT, and WA. Participation was anonymous. The final sample of 232 school psychologists was 78% female, 22% male and 85% reported working full-time in school settings. Approximately one third of the sample identified as early career, with fewer than 6 years of experience. The percentage of reported ethnicity reflects current NASP demographic statistics (82.3% = European American/Caucasian, 3.4% = African American/Black, 8.2% = Hispanic/Latino, 1.7% = Asian American, 0.9% = Native American, 0.9% = Pacific Islander, 2.6% = other; Curtis, Hunley, & Grier, 2002). More than half of the respondents held a specialist degree, and an additional third held a doctorate degree. Frequencies by region were as follows: Western = 51.3%, Southeastern = 25.4%, Northeastern = 22.9%, and Central = 0.4%.

The electronically administered survey consisted of 27-items representing specific CLD best practices organized within a five-stage problem-solving model. Item content was derived from scholarly literature and included a review of past and present practice standards. The five problem-solving stages included: (a) Establishing Relationships; (b) Problem Identification; (c) Problem Analysis; (d) Plan Implementation; and (e) Plan Evaluation. Specific CLD strategies were developed as survey items and assigned to each stage. For each item, a real world illustration was developed that served as contextual example of day-to-day practice (Rogers et al., 1999).

Initial items developed for the survey were validated by a three-person expert panel that consisted of licensed school psychologists with a minimum of 10 years of experience working with children from CLD backgrounds. The original items were revised based on feedback from the panel and the revised survey was piloted with an in-state sample of 30 practitioners. Items for the final survey were retained if they met reliability standard of .90 or higher. Participants were asked to report their level of perceived value, skill, and frequency of implementation for each of the 27 CLD strategies included as items on the final survey. Perceived value was defined as level of importance using a 5-point scale (1 = Not Valuable to 5 = Valuable). Perceived skill was defined as level of awareness, knowledge, and/or skills related to a particular CLD strategy (1 = Beginning, 2 = Trained, 3 = Skilled, 4 = Expert/Specialist). Lastly, participants were asked to report on the percentage of time they believed they implemented each strategy (1 = 0%, 2 = 25%, 3 = 50%, 4 = 75%, 5 = 100%).

Results. The respondent ratings regarding the value of the identified CLD strategies were high, with a mean range from 4.13 to 4.87 across all items. This suggests that most participants perceived the CLD strategies as valuable to their daily practice. From the Problem Analysis stage, “Consider cultural sources of information that relate to culture specific confirming data” yielded the lowest mean (4.13), whereas “Recognize and address the impact of prior schooling experiences for CLD populations when analyzing a targeted concern” from the Problem Identification stage yielded the highest mean (4.87).

Greater variability was observed when respondents rated their skill level. It also was noted that 4% of all items (n = 12) yielded mean ratings that indicated a Beginning to Trained skill level (mean range = 1.93–2.50). For all items except two, the mean rating across participants indicated that most respondents felt they were trained but not yet at a skilled or expert level on most CLD strategies. In addition, there were significant differences observed across the mean ratings of specific items (range = 1.93–3.00). Again from the Problem Analysis stage, “Consider cultural sources of information that relate to culture specific confirming data” yielded the lowest mean of 1.93 (Beginning). In comparison, “Understand the limitations and pitfalls associated with the prescribed use of standardized instruments that have not been normed or validated with CLD populations” from the Problem Identification stage yielded the highest mean of 3.0 (Skilled).

Finally, frequency ratings showed most strategies reported to be implemented, ranged from approximately 25% to 75% of the time (i.e., mean ratings from 2.2 to 4.2). Surprisingly, only two strategies were reported to be implemented at least 75% of the time in daily practice: “Account for one's own cultural values and biases when working with CLD populations (Establishing Relationships) and “Assess a CLD student's biculturalism to identify a targeted concern” (Problem Identification). Again, “Consider cultural sources of information that relate to culture specific confirming data” yielded the lowest mean of 2.20 (25% to 50%), whereas “Account for one's own cultural values and biases when working with CLD populations” (Establishing Relationships) yielded the highest mean of 4.20 (more than 75%).

Summary. While practitioners who responded to this survey highly valued the CLD problem-solving strategies identified here, they rated their skill and implementation of these practices at a much lower level. In fact, when one considers which items were rated lowest in terms of skill level and also were used less than 50% of the time in daily practice, most of these items were aligned with the plan implementation stage. This might indicate that participants had the least amount of skill development in these associated CLD strategies; hence, pointing to a fruitful target for future professional development efforts.

It also is notable that mean skill level ratings for all CLD strategies items except two suggest that most practitioners feel trained in most strategies, but do not think they have persistent skills or mastery of these critical strategies. These results are surprising, given that school psychologists are now highly involved in indirect consultative service delivery (Chafouleas, Volpe, Gresham, & Cook, 2010; NASP, 2010). Indeed, the data reported here suggest that only 14 of the 27 evidence-based CLD problemsolving strategies were implemented at least 50% of the time. Thus, a major conclusion is that practitioners would benefit from increased and prolonged opportunities to practice and implement CLD strategies, which can promote more effective team problem-solving.

In the current study, lower overall skill ratings may reflect one or more of the following three issues: (a) insufficient access to appropriate training opportunities to develop adequate CLD competencies, (b) insufficient practice of CLD competencies, and/or (c) prior models of CLD training that are insufficient to address gaps in professional practice related to CLD problem-solving strategies. This work further substantiates similar calls in the past (Curtis, Hunley, & Grier, 2002) for professional development efforts that provide opportunities to practice the foundational skills and competencies highlighted in the Diversity in Development and Learning domain of the NASP Practice Model (2010).

Without a clear understanding of effective CLD problem-solving strategies, school psychologists are often left with little direction on how to best serve the unique needs of students and families from CLD backgrounds. This study builds upon previous research to present a more focused outline of how CLD strategies are implemented within a CLD problem-solving process using value, skill, and implementation ratings. However, identifying the root cause(s) of these skill deficits is not achieved by this study and additional research is needed to explore how a theoretical CLD problem-solving model could be used to enhance current training opportunities, and in turn help fill the gaps in professional practice.

Table 1. Example Survey Items and Illustrations by CLD Problem-Solving Domain
Survey Item and IllustrationCLD Problem_Solving Domain
Account for one’s own cultural values and biases when working with CLD populations. For example, be aware and knowledgeable of one’s own identity groups and how this impacts our values, our worldview, and views of others when working with CLD populations.Establishing Relationships
Examine referrals within the context of institutional and systemic patterns associated with CLD populations. For example, identify factors that may contribute to the misidentification of problematic behaviors exhibited by different CLD populations.Problem Identification
Use a comprehensive assessment process to analyze a targeted concern when working with all CLD students. For example, analyze information about the impact of sociocultural, environmental, political, experiential, and language-based factors related to CLD students' prior performance and future successes.Problem Analysis
Implement nontraditional methods to collect data that best address a CLD student's needs. For example, conduct home visits to gather progress-monitoring data, maintain consultation efforts with CLD families, and collect community members' perspectives on progress.Plan Implementation
Use a variety of methods to present outcome data to ensure that all team members gain a comprehensive understanding of results. For example, use graphs and/or translated reports using stakeholders' native language to ensure a clear evaluation and understanding for all team members and CLD families.Plan Evaluation

Next Steps and Recommendations

Future work is needed to further validate the CLD strategies included within five problem- solving stages outlined here to ensure that they are aligned with those commonly associated with the service delivery methods of school psychologists (Dimitrov, 2010). Future studies also are needed to establish convergent validity with surveys that focus on similar practice issues, by comparing practitioner or supervisor ratings of CLD effectiveness, and through observations of problem-solving teams in action (Bäccman, & Carlstedt, 2010). Future studies with broader practitioner participation would contribute to a greater appreciation of current professional needs in regard to effective practice with students and families from CLD backgrounds.

This model was designed to emphasize the teaming and collaboration practices that dominate the daily roles of school psychologists who serve the burgeoning CLD populations in our schools. As Guerrero and Leung (2008) note, however, no one model can account for all CLD professional competencies. Rather, the theoretical model developed in this study might be useful as a starting point to enhance professional development opportunities aimed at strengthening the CLD competencies of school psychologists at a preservice level, when one enters the field, and as a lifelong learning endeavor. The following recommendations are offered to further expand and strengthen these critical foundational professional competencies.

  • Regularly conduct needs assessments aimed at identifying levels of awareness, knowledge, and skills as they relate to CLD practices and perceptions of the value of these skills in relation to current practice.
  • Target professional development efforts that link to specific problem-solving stages. Alternatively, professional training could be designed to develop CLD skills progressively beginning with models that emphasize the initiation and establishment of relationships before emphasizing problem analysis, identification, and implementation and evaluation strategies. In this way, strong family– school relationships and engagement will be the cornerstone of all later problem-solving efforts (Christenson & Reschly, 2009).
  • Find ways to continuously monitor implementation practices as they relate to CLD strategies—possibly by providing a checklist of CLD strategies to use to track implementation strategies during 1-week or longer intervals. All staff members, as well as practitioners and family members who may have participated in any team meetings during that time frame, could complete such checklists. Regular focus-group discussions also may be useful to identify enhancers and barriers to effective CLD practice.
  • Finally, jointly plan and deliver professional development initiatives and monitoring efforts in collaboration with professionals and members who represent the cultural and linguistic diversity of a school.

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Janeann M. Lineman, PhD, NCSP, is a school psychologist with Denver Public Schools in Denver, CO. Gloria E. Miller, PhD is a professor in the child, family, and school psychology program in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Correspondence concerning this paper may be addressed to Janeann Lineman, JaneannCoffman@gmail.com. The researchers would like to express gratitude to the membership of the state associations who participated in the study for their time, effort, and support of this research project.