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Agency in Classroom Interactions and the Math Achievement of Young Children of Color

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Introduction: A proposal to decrease achievement gaps in early education is to provide classroom experiences that resonate with what young children of color know and do outside of preschool (Boutte, 2012). We characterize equity in classrooms as a combination of generic and cultural aspects of teacher-child interactions (Authors, 2017, 2018). Generic aspects include affective support, productive organization, and instructional supports like personal feedback, analytic discussion, and language modeling (Pianta & Hamre, 2009). Among cultural aspects is the notion of agency (Adair, 2014). Teachers who foster agency cultivate and solicit children’s perspectives, provide them with leadership experiences, acknowledge contributions, and communicate to all children a belief in their capability to succeed. Children of color are hypothesized to benefit academically from agency in the classroom because 1) it can bridge racial/cultural differences in social interactions between home and school settings (Lubeck, 1985), and 2) choice and expression tend to be more restricted in classrooms for underprivileged than for privileged children (Anyon, 1981). We examine the following questions:
1) To what extent does fostering child agency in classroom interactions affect math achievement gains for young children of color during a year of preschool, above and beyond the effects of generic aspects of classroom interactions?
2) How is this effect moderated by a series of contextual variables in classrooms (i.e., child race/ethnicity, teacher race/ethnicity, classroom SES)?
Methods: We conducted a secondary analysis of data from the My Teaching Partner-Math/Science (MTP-M/S) study (Kinzie et al., 2015). In Table 1, we summarize the racial/ethnic backgrounds of children and teachers included in the analytic sample. We used fall and spring standardized math scores, survey data, and observation scores from the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)—a measure of generic qualities of teaching. We also double-scored classroom videos using the Classroom Assessment of Sociocultural Interactions-Preschool version (CASI-P)—a measure of cultural aspects of classroom interactions (Authors, 2018). The CASI-P captures nine dimensions of sociocultural interactions, organized into three domains: Life Applications, Self in Group, and Agency. We conduct a series of descriptive statistics and multilevel structural equation models using MPLUS software to examine our hypotheses in stages.
Findings: All children benefitted in terms of math achievement from higher levels of agency support. Specifically, the Choice & Expression dimension of the CASI-P had a significant effect on children’s math gains above and beyond the effects of child demographics, generic quality (all CLASS domains), and other classroom context variables. Higher levels of Choice & Expression were associated with larger gains in math achievement. This effect was moderated by a series of classroom variables. The effect was stronger for non-White than White children, and in classrooms with lower levels of parent education and lower levels of Instructional Support (a domain of the CLASS). We find that fostering child agency in preschool classrooms is associated with math learning, and the association is strongest for children of color. Future research should explore this effect with larger samples, and examine psychosocial mechanisms that mediate the effect of agency support on math achievement.

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