Abstract: Are Social Work Students Ready to Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice?: The Use of Standardized Scales to Measure Cultural Competence (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

578P Are Social Work Students Ready to Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice?: The Use of Standardized Scales to Measure Cultural Competence

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Dorie Gilbert, PhD, Professor and MSW Program Director, Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA
Katarzyna Olcon, PhD, Alumna, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Rose Pulliam, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Texas State Univerity, San Marcos, TX
Background and Purpose: Preparing social work students to effectively engage diversity and difference in practice is critical to the greater work of addressing injustice, racism, exclusion, and inequity. Although social work programs are expected to teach about diversity and instill in students the ability to effectivity interact and communicate with clients across cultures, social work education struggles with both operationalizing and measuring the construct of cultural competence. A decade ago, Krentzman and Townsend (2008) reviewed 19 extant measures of cultural competence across various disciplines and recommended four for social work education. These four included: Ethnic Competency Skills Assessment, Miville-Guzman Universality-Diversity Scale, Multicultural Counseling Inventory, and Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale. This paper explores the extent to which social work education has adopted these scales or a standardized approach to assessing students’ cultural competence.

Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted to assess studies published in the U.S. during the ten year period (2009-2018) that examined: (1) social work educators’ pedagogical interventions for teaching about racial and ethnic diversity, (2) components of those interventions, (3) methodological designs to evaluate the interventions, and (4) the students’ learning outcomes associated with those teaching interventions. Following the systematic review protocol, the authors identified and assessed twenty-five studies (qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods), and for the present analysis examined which measures had been utilized. Across the twenty-five studies, thirteen used either a qualitative measure or a measure specifically designed for the author’s study. Twelve studies utilized standardized instruments to assess cultural competence among social work students.

Results: Of the twelve studies, only one study used a measure recommended by Krentzman and Townsend (i.e., the Universality-Diversity Scale). Various measures were used in the other studies including the Multicultural Awareness-Knowledge-and Skills Survey (MAKSS; used in three of the eleven studies), the Dual-Perspective Inventory (DPI), California Brief Multicultural Competency Scale (CBMCS), Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (COBRAS), Social Work Cultural Competence Self-Assessment, Oklahoma Racial Attitudes Scale Revised (ORASS-R), Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI), Modern Racism Scale (MRS), Multicultural/Multiracial Experience Inventory (MEI). Further, we ranked the eight measures in terms of reliability, validity, use with diverse social work student populations, underlying assumptions, and consistency with the scales suggested by Krentzman and Townsend (2008).

Conclusions and Implications: More research is needed within the social work education in developing empirically supported instruments to measure cultural competence or related constructs as one way of determining students’ acquisition of learning and preparedness to competently engage with racially and ethnically diverse individuals and communities. The authors provide recommendations for how faculty teaching multicultural education, cultural competence or social justice courses can replicate existing studies and develop best practices for measuring students’ learning outcomes related to engaging diversity and difference, a critical social work competency.


Krentzman, A. R., & Townsend, A. L. (2008). Review of multidisciplinary measures of cultural competence for use in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 44(2), 7-31.