Monitoring educational equity

A centralized, consistently reported system of indicators of educational equity is needed to bring attention to disparities in the U.S. education system, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Indicators — measures used to track performance and monitor change over time — can help convey why disparities arise, identify groups most affected by them, and inform policy and practice measures to improve equity in pre-K through 12th grade education.

Societal inequities influence nearly every aspect of students’ education — including their academic performance, the classes they take, their access to enrichment opportunities, and their school’s approach to discipline.

The system should include indicators that fall into two categories, says the report, Monitoring Educational Equity. The first category of indicators should measure and track disparities in student outcomes such as kindergarten academic readiness, coursework performance, and on-time graduation. The second category should measure and track disparities in students’ access to resources and opportunities, such as high-quality pre-K programs, effective teachers, rigorous curriculum, and non-academic supports.

The purpose of a system of equity indicators, says the report, is not to simply track progress toward educational goals, but to identify differences in critical outcomes and opportunities across key subgroups. The report discusses gender, race and ethnicity, English-language fluency, family income, and disability status. Additionally, educational disparities may not be attributable to only the school environment, but also to circumstances in students’ homes and neighborhoods.

“We imagine public education to be America’s great engine of upward mobility and, ultimately, equality,” said Christopher Edley, Jr., professor and former dean at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “A good system of indicators can help measure how much we repair — or reinforce — the great divides in opportunity. Indicators help us understand how opportunities affect outcomes, and whether we match those opportunities with student needs.”

The committee argues that educational equity is as important, if not more important, as other measures of a country’s wellbeing, including economic and employment progress. The monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation Summary, known as the “monthly jobs report,” is well known, well publicized, and regularly used to inform policy decisions. Similarly, an annual “Education Equity Summary” could systematically inform national, state, and local stakeholders about the status of educational equity in the U.S., says the report. Such information would help target interventions, research, and policy initiatives to reduce disparities.

The committee proposes 16 indicators of educational equity.

Seven of those 16 indicators are related to disparities in student outcomes. They are grouped across the stages of K-12 education:

Kindergarten Readiness

  • Indicator 1: Disparities in Academic Readiness
  • Indicator 2: Disparities in Self-Regulation and Attention Skills

K-12 Learning and Engagement

  • Indicator 3: Disparities in Engagement in Schooling
  • Indicator 4: Disparities in Performance in Coursework
  • Indicator 5: Disparities in Performance on Tests

Educational Attainment

  • Indicator 6: Disparities in On-Time Graduation
  • Indicator 7: Disparities in Postsecondary Readiness

The remaining nine indicators are related to access to opportunities and resources:

Extent of Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation

  • Indicator 8: Disparities in Students’ Exposure to Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation

Equitable Access to High-Quality Early Childhood Education

  • Indicator 9: Disparities in Access to and Participation in High-Quality Early Childhood Education

Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction

  • Indicator 10: Disparities in Access to Effective Teaching
  • Indicator 11: Disparities in Access to and Enrollment in Rigorous Coursework
  • Indicator 12: Disparities in Curricular Breadth
  • Indicator 13: Disparities in Access to High-Quality Academic Supports

Equitable Access to Supportive School and Classroom Environments

  • Indicator 14: Disparities in School Climate
  • Indicator 15: Disparities in Nonexclusionary Discipline Practices
  • Indicator 16: Disparities in Nonacademic Supports for Student Success

A national system of indicators would enable valid comparisons of school, district, and state performance across a number of important student outcomes and resources. The report recommends that the federal government — under the guidance of an advisory board — work with states, school districts, and educational intermediaries to develop a national equity indicator system and incorporate it into their relevant data collection.

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