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Strength Based Model

Our school interventions to address performance gaps are designed to be culturally-responsive and build on the strengths of the students. Our school staff avoid taking on a deficit-model theory in approaching gap-closing measures.

Not Yet

Interventions make no attempt to incorporate culturally relevant materials.  Messaging around interventions focus on listing deficits and what students and families need to do to fix them. Only school skills are presented with value.


Student current skills and strengths are recognized and valued, but the interventions focus on the skill deficitand/or the parents/students are not provided accurate information about academic gaps.

We Got This!

Academic gaps are discussed honestly with students and parents,however there is also a focus on current skills and how these may be relied upon to help bridge gaps. Value is given to skills that are more culturally grounded.



Some approaches to intervention seem to double-down on the philosophy that experiences typical of a white middle class are required for academic success. Students not grounded in this culture are viewed as deficient and lacking skills with little or no recognition of a student’s cultural knowledge as a benefit or strength.  This approach can subtly communicate that something is wrong with the student or that their culture and family experiences are inferior or not compatible with school.  Internalizing this message can contribute to students feeling they do not belong in academic settings in the future.

An example of this approach is often recognizable with early reading interventions. Certainly, reading books to young children is an important way to build language skills. However, when educators push parents to practice reading routines without any recognition that traditional story telling is also beneficial in building language skills, it demonstrates a deficit model approach.  It communicates that the only way to “fix” the deficit is to replace behaviors with those more aligned with a dominant culture.  When educators talk about the value of reading and storytelling, providing value to both, students and parents are invited to embrace their own cultural norms at the same time.

Field Story

Permission Pending

Different skills may be seen as strengths in different settings.  A strength based model looks for ways to value and utilize a student's strengths.  Schools often only recognize certain strengths.  Here is a good story about how school skills were viewed at camp: "I remember when we went to fish camp, my sister was always reading books and I was more of a doer.  Sitting around and reading was not seen as a good use of time, I was treated like the smart one because I was quick to cut fish and do things at camp."


See Complete Resource list

Welton and Martinez (2014) described "a college readiness debt...related to the inequities in enrolling in more rigorous classes such as Advanced Placement (AP and dual enrollment courses, and school policies and procedures that increased college-related opportunities for only certain students" (p. 208). Welton and Martinez (2014) reference the large amount of college readiness research on students of color that frame the problem only as a deficit compared to White peers with an “emphasis on policies, programs, and practices that tout to remedy deficiencies instead of building upon the prevailing assets of students from underrepresented groups” (p. 201).

Multiple Research describes a tendency of schools to view marginalized students with a deficit lens, focusing on "fixing" these deficits through assimilation or teaching students the "right way. (Convertino & Graboski-Bauer, 2018; Ellis et al, 2019;Schofield et al. 2013;Spencer, 2001; Windchief et al, 2018)


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