Beyond benchmarks: fostering academic engagement through multicutural curriculum, social justice and equity

The continued loss of academic engagement within marginalized student populations leads to a real and pressing need for curriculum grounded in multicultural pedagogy, social justice, and equity. A multicultural curricl;llum was developed for implementation with a group of 63 gth grade students typically defined as "at-risk" by their school district. All of the participants in this study were two or more years below grade-level according to their English Language Arts performance on their ih grade California Standards Tests, and 48 ofthese participants were further categorized as English Language Learners. Throughout the course of a two-week unit of study in American History, the 63 students were monitored through the use of pre and post tests, reflective journals, informal interviews, and class-work to determine the influences a multicultural curriculum would have on their behavior, academic performance, and attitudes. It was discovered that students were not only more engaged with the curriculum after the implementation of the multicultural unit, but they were more academically successful and well-behaved as well. These findings further support the idea that systemic change in American education is necessary in order to foster academic engagement in marginalized student populations. Additionally, these findings call for a broader use of educational policies and practices geared to promote the ideals of social justice and equity throughout other content areas and curriculum. KEYWORDS: academic engagement, English Language Learners, marginalized, multicultural curriculum, social justice and equity