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Intracultural Variability Impacts Learning

Culture provides specific models for ways of behaving, feeling, thinking, and communicating. In general, culture dictates what is, and what is not, situationally relevant. According to Berry (1988), cognitive values are “the set of cognitive goals which are collectively shared and toward which children are socialized in a particular society. It is essential to understand these goals since one cannot assess how far a person has gotten unless one understands where he is going” (p. 12). As Berry has maintained, in order to understand the goals for cognitive competence in children, it is essential to understand the skills and abilities that are valued in that society. This is critically important for the accurate assessment and understanding of both normal and abnormal cognitive functioning and for the accurate interpretation of cognitive performance. (Harris,J., G., & Rosselli, M. (2001). Handbook of Psychoeducational Assessment, 2001)

To understand the limitations of interpreting and predicting cognitive performance based on knowledge of one's culture, it is necessary to appreciate that within a given culture there are, in reality, multiple cultures and societies. For this reason, intracultural variability in cognitive performance may be as great or greater than that observed cross-culturally. The diversity found among American Indian and Alaska Native populations is a good example. There are 573 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities. Furthermore, 135 Indian and 20 Alaska Native languages have been identified (Dillard & Manson, 2000). These statistics reflect vast diversity in language, tradition, religious beliefs, and other cultural values among Indian and Alaska Native people. (Harris,J., G., & Rosselli, M. (2001). Handbook of Psychoeducational Assessment, 2001).

The diversity in tradition and, to a lesser extent, language is also evident among individuals of “Hispanic origin,” who can belong to one of many races and may be identified as belonging to one or a mixture of various subgroups, each with their own cultural values and Spanish dialects (e.g., Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central American, South American, or Spaniard). Similar diversity exists among individuals of African origin, some of whom have long cultural and familial histories in the United States dating back to the southern slaves in the 1700s, while others have more recently immigrated from Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Haiti, Panama, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and other Caribbean nations (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1995). (Harris,J., G., & Rosselli, M. (2001). Handbook of Psychoeducational Assessment, 2001).

Even immigrants originating from the same country, such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian immigrants, have differing circumstances and periods of arrival as well as different languages, making the Southeast Asian population, for example, far from homogeneous, and distinct from other Asian and Pacific Islander groups (Holzer & Copeland, 2000). Differences in socioeconomic status, education, and geographic location within cultural or ethnic groups further explain why intracultural differences may be greater than those identified between groups. Generalities aimed at describing any one broadly defined cultural group (e.g., Asian Americans) or its cultural and cognitive values may be grossly misleading or inaccurate in the individual case, and may contribute little that is constructive to the assessment process. (Harris,J., G., & Rosselli, M. (2001). Handbook of Psychoeducational Assessment, 2001).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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