Access, Equity, Indicators

Define and Design: Measuring Educational Equity

Define and Design: Measuring Educational Equity

For years, education decisionmakers have lacked the information needed about Black students and other students of color, students in rural areas, and non-traditional students to ensure equitable access to high-quality student supports and improve student academic outcomes. To combat growing inequities and support students, decisionmakers need role-appropriate access to contextualized data. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine developed a set of equity indicators focused on the student journey from pre-K through postsecondary education—which they summarize in a 2019 report, Monitoring Educational Equity, and a more action-oriented guidebook for states and school districts called Building Educational Equity Indicator Systems. These equity indicators provide a framework for how to identify and measure disparities that suppress academic performance.  

In this changing political landscape, engaging leadership can be challenging. Equity indicators provide state leaders with a framework to advocate for collaborative and innovative use of statewide longitudinal data systems. DQC’s Consumer’s Guide to Data highlights ways that state leaders can begin conversations about the value of these indicators: 

  • Communicating the value of equity and engaging with policymakers on how to implement this work; and
  • Engaging and empowering community members, communications experts, data users, parents, and families from culturally diverse backgrounds. 

The good news is that states and districts have already begun to incorporate these equity indicators into current data collection processes, reporting activities, and strategic plans to make data actionable. At the state level, innovative policies and legislation have been positive drivers for leaders to enact change.  

Ohio is examining several indicators related to graduate success by reporting on students’ post-graduate outcomes including participation in higher education, the military, and the workforce. Eventually, the state will define “gainful employment” and report on that as well. Each data element will be reported by student group.  

At the district level, leaders have begun building trust among communities that have been historically excluded from conversations about data and data privacy. Public engagement is galvanized as a central practice to consider the perspectives of community members, communications experts, data users, and parents and families from culturally diverse backgrounds. 

  • The Austin Independent School District’s 2021 Equity Action Plan captures the perspective of more than 1,500 students, families, and stakeholders to define educational equity and ultimately develop a strategic plan to address equity challenges. In addition to launching two School Climate surveys related to the experiences of gender-diverse students (i.e., students in grades 611 who identify as transgender, nonbinary, or questioning) and emergent bilingual students (students in the district’s Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language programs), Austin is maximizing community partnerships to expand access to pre-K enrollment and holding community retreats in an effort to tackle the policies and practices that eliminate racial disparities in student discipline.  
  • In Tulsa, the biggest lever of change occurs at the school level. Classroom observations are being used to measure effective teaching. However, the district has implemented data collection efforts related to several of the indicators, ranging from access to early childhood education to a diverse teaching workforce. In another bold effort, the 2019 Community Impact Report summarizes the impacts of The Child Equity Index, which measures student experiences and neighborhood conditions using 40 indicators across six domains, on academic success.  

This state- and district-level focus on equity indicators serves as a reminder that how data is collected and reported has the potential to reshape attitudes, change pre-existing narratives, and reframe state-level goals to ensure that every student has equitable access to opportunities to achieve success on their educational journey.