Almost half of Washington students are non-white and addressing their needs in public schools is a growing priority in the state.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill encouraging schools to offer an ethnic studies course to middle and high school students. In the Puget Sound region, a group of teachers is working on developing more culturally responsive math lessons.
Steve Harvey is a 5th grade teacher in the Everett School District and one of the educators organizing the project known as EduDesign Lab, which is done in coordination with the University of Washington College of Education.
“A lot of times marginalized groups feel like math is not a subject for them, and so we want to really be thinking about how math is for everybody and that by being more responsive to it, it provides an entrance for students to be thinking about, `Okay, this is something that really is for me,’” Harvey said.
About 20 educators just took part in a summer training through EduDesign Lab. They’ll meet periodically in the coming school year to share ideas about how to better tailor their math instruction for non-white students. EduDesign Lab will also offer professional development to secondary teachers working on social and emotional learning and special education teachers focusing on disability awareness.
In Washington, 74 percent of Asian students and 56 percent of white students showed proficiency on the math standardized test in the 2017-18 school year. By comparison, 28 percent of black and African-American students and 32 percent of Latino students passed the assessment.
Harvey said standardized tests are often not written in a culturally responsive way and that may impact students’ performance. In addition, he said most of the curriculum he’s had access to is Eurocentric with only an occasional nod to non-white students.
“So they might throw in a name like Jose and say it’s being culturally responsive but then it’s still talking about something that doesn’t make sense to the majority of the marginalized groups of students that I work with,” Harvey said.