Skip Navigation
archived information
Skip Navigation

New report examines a state professional development program on using culturally responsive practices to support Black students

Culturally responsive professional development report

By Sara Mitrano
January 21, 2021

State and school district leaders in Wisconsin are interested in improving education outcomes among Black students. To help achieve this goal, a statewide professional development program guides schools in implementing culturally responsive practices. Research suggests such practices are associated with improved academic skills and reduced behavioral problems among Black students. A new Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest report examines school participation in the program and related outcomes. The study findings provide guidance for programmatic decisionmaking and follow-up studies.

>> Read and download the full report and related infographic.

Understanding program participation and related outcomes

In 2015, Wisconsin had the nation’s largest gap between Black and White students in mathematics and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in grades 4 and 8. To tackle that gap and improve educational outcomes among Black students, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), REL Midwest, and other key groups in the state formed the Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance. Among other areas of focus, alliance members identified culturally responsive practices as a potential strategy to improve Black students’ academic and behavioral outcomes.

At the request of DPI and other stakeholders, the alliance conducted a study of Wisconsin’s Building Culturally Responsive Systems professional development program, which the Wisconsin Response to Intervention Center offers to schools across the state. Using data from the 2012/13–2018/19 school years, the study examined statewide participation in the professional development program, differences in the characteristics of schools that participated and did not participate, and the relationship between participation and school-level academic and behavioral outcomes.

“The professional development program built off of the work of one of our alliance members, Andreal Davis, who developed a professional development program for educators in Madison,” said Jameela Conway-Turner, PhD, a researcher at REL Midwest and a co-author of the report. “Since the initial offerings of this professional development program, few research studies have been conducted to see how the program was related to teacher, student, or school outcomes,” Dr. Conway-Turned noted.

What did the study find?

The study found that Wisconsin public school participation in the professional development program was low and not meaningfully related to school-level academic or behavioral outcomes. Key findings include the following:

  • Only 4 percent of schools across the state participated in the program; only 6 percent of schools in the “Big Five” school districts that serve the majority of Black students in the state—Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha, and Green Bay—participated.
  • Of the 58 Wisconsin public schools that participated in the program, approximately 17 percent of schools reported implementing culturally responsive practices in reading instruction compared with 28 percent of schools that did not participate.
  • Program participation was not meaningfully related to a school’s success at narrowing the achievement gap in English language arts or mathematics or in improvements in a school’s attendance rate, suspension rate, or expulsion rate one year, two years, or three years later.

These findings need to be contextualized with several limitations. Some data were missing, and the surveys available may not have accurately captured changes in the implementation of culturally responsive practices. See the report for more information.

What can we take away from the study?

State and local leaders in Wisconsin can use the study findings to inform further research as well as steps to take in refining the professional development program. Such actions could include examining why few schools have participated in the program and of those schools that have participated, why few report implementing culturally responsive practices as well as reviewing how the program influences individual educator practice. The study’s implications also can inform the efforts of other state education leaders who coordinate and evaluate similar professional development programs.

Investigate why school participation in the professional development program was low. To improve the program’s effectiveness, state and local leaders in Wisconsin may want to consider how to bolster program participation, particularly among districts with the largest percentages of Black students. Actions might include examining whether all schools are aware of the program and whether there are common barriers to participation. For example, one barrier might be that the program takes place over five daylong sessions spread throughout the year and requires travel for many participants.

A follow-up study could include data collection through surveys and interviews that ask why more schools are not participating in the program. One possible explanation could be that some schools already had received support in implementing culturally responsive practices and therefore did not need the program, whereas schools that did participate needed extra support in this area.

Explore why a low percentage of schools that participated in the professional development program reported implementing culturally responsive practices. Further research might explore why participating schools are not implementing culturally responsive practices or, at least, are not reporting doing so. In addition, research could examine the types of supports teachers need to effectively implement culturally responsive practices.

Examine the professional development program’s impact on educator practice. The study found that most schools sent about five or six educators to participate in the program, indicating that schools saw it as focused more on improving individual practice as opposed to a schoolwide intervention. Therefore, future research could involve tracking teacher- or administrator-level outcomes by developing specific measures that reflect the expected change in professional practice after participation in the program.

Kurt Kiefer, assistant state superintendent at DPI, notes that “the research into the efficacy of culturally relevant pedagogy is a critical piece of solving the achievement gap puzzle. We know that focused and sustained professional development supplemented with ongoing coaching and implementation supports are key. This research effort begins with this in mind and offers a path into future exploration and inquiry for schools, districts, and state education agencies.”

Related resources

To learn more about the work of the Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance to improve the success of Black students in Wisconsin and the Midwest, browse the following resources:

< Previous PostNext Post >

Author information

Sara Mitrano Staff Picture

Sara Mitrano

Research Associate | REL Midwest


Beating the odds (2)

Charter Schools (2)

College and Career Readiness (42)

Data Use (32)

Discipline (4)

Early Childhood (31)

Educator Effectiveness (36)

English Learners (10)

Literacy (11)

Math (1)

Online Courses (7)

Research Tools (2)

Rural (14)

Teacher Preparation (24)

Teacher Recruitment (2)

Teacher Retention (2)

Teacher Workforce (14)

Return to the REL Midwest Blog

Sign up for our newsletter to receive monthly updates featuring new posts from the REL Midwest blog!

Subscribe to Newsletter