• By Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • March 2023 •
Public education is currently facing significant challenges, with many accusing it of being influenced by so-called “woke” policies. The phrase attempts to demean some of the most basic, non-partisan education issues that students, teachers and families care about in a diverse society. Chief among these is education equity.
Backed by decades of experience and research, IDRA defines equity as a measurable concept grounded in the following: the ability of schools to provide excellent, well-funded, educational opportunities for all students evidenced by teaching quality, student engagement, safe and welcoming schools, rigorous courses, and family and community engagement.
Equity audits are useful tools to help districts evaluate their efforts, target their resources, hold themselves accountable, and better serve their students and communities.
What is an Equity Audit?
An equity audit is a comprehensive analysis of a school district’s policies, practices and outcomes to identify areas where disparities exist and to develop strategies to address them. Equity audits examine school climate, student discipline, curriculum, resource allocation, teacher quality and student outcomes.
The only way to identify areas to target attention is to disaggregate data based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability status, and other factors. Additionally, this disaggregation must take place at all levels: district, feeder patterns, neighborhoods, magnet vs. non-magnet campuses, etc. Not doing so risks inaccurate results.
The goal of an equity audit is to identify and address the root causes of disparities to ensure that every student has equal access to high-quality education.
IDRA has worked with a number of clients to conduct or support equity audits at their request. Our intention is not to create a list of failures. The point is to uncover opportunity gaps, which is the first step in developing a plan to address them.
There are many equity indicators to consider when asking the question: “Does my district need an equity audit?” This article concentrates on achievement gaps and disproportionate discipline as two indicators that school leaders should think deeply about when deciding to conduct an equity audit.
Consider Persistent Achievement Gaps
Achievement gaps are the differences in academic performance between groups of students, such as racial or ethnic groups, students in families with low incomes, students of different genders and students with disabilities. Persistent achievement gaps, where the gaps occur over time and across grade levels, are a strong indicator that an equity audit may be useful. Due to accountability measures of the past several decades, this is the most basic indicator that drives districts to conduct equity audits.
However, simply closing gaps on accountability measures is not a high enough standard. To prepare all students and redress inequities, we must achieve college and career readiness that prepares students for ever-shifting economic futures. All students must be prepared to attend college.
Thus, it is important to look at achievement gaps beyond accountability measures and examine college readiness. This does not exclude career goals but assumes that students cannot be career ready without being college ready. It is irresponsible to only prepare students for a single vocation without building their capacity to adapt to a changing world. Schools cannot force students to choose between technical trades or college preparation. It is not an either/or situation and to assume so violates all principles of equity in our democracy.
When considering an equity audit, schools should ask themselves the following questions related to achievement gaps.
1. Are there consistent patterns of disparities in academic performance among student groups? A basic analysis of standardized test scores, graduation rates and other performance measures may show trends or patterns indicating persistent disparities. However, this should be the most basic of considerations.
2. How well do our schools prepare students for college and careers, regardless of their background or chosen path? Schools should assess the effectiveness of their college and career preparation programs, ensuring that they provide all students with the skills and knowledge needed for success in various economic futures. This analysis should lead to implementing rigorous curricula for all students.
3. What support do our schools provide to create the best opportunities for success? We cannot be satisfied with the notion that access alone to college preparation courses – regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or gender – will guarantee equity. The issue is much deeper than providing access. We must ask how a school is increasing opportunities by providing high levels of support that increases graduation and college success.
4. Are our curricular and instructional approaches responsive to the diverse needs of students? Schools should examine how their curricular and instructional approaches accommodate diverse learning needs and promote equal opportunities for success. This involves evaluating the cultural relevance of the curriculum, the effectiveness of teaching strategies, and the availability of resources and support systems for different student groups.
Consider Disproportionate Discipline
Disproportionate discipline in K-12 schools refers to the unequal treatment of students in disciplinary actions, often based on their race or ethnicity. This disproportionality is evident through the over representation of certain racial or ethnic groups in suspensions, expulsions and other exclusionary disciplinary measures. This issue has been well-documented in the United States, where students of color, particularly Black and Latino students, tend to experience higher rates of exclusionary discipline compared to their white counterparts. Here are some questions to consider.
1. Can you tell from your data the kind of issues that create disproportionate discipline practices? Are there obvious patterns of racial and ethnic disparities by grade level or at specific campuses? While schools must gather data on school demographics, disciplinary actions and related outcomes to review this issue, the review should include information on student race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, and other relevant factors. The data collected should also include the types of disciplinary actions taken, specific reasons for these actions, and their outcomes. If these data alone do not provide you with clues to a root cause then you are in need of an equity audit with climate surveys, focus groups and interviews with teachers, administration, families and, most importantly, students.
2. Do school staff’s understanding of a root cause place the onus of discipline issues solely and squarely on families of color or socioeconomic status? In order to avoid such a deficit understanding of discipline, an equity audit must analyze data to identify root causes of disproportionality, such as implicit bias, cultural misunderstandings, and systemic issues within the school’s policies and practices. It is important to consider how these factors may interact and contribute to the observed disparities.
3. Do staff at the district and classroom level understand why current interventions are implemented to prevent disproportionate disciplinary practices? This is a basic question. Do staff understand why certain practices are implemented on your campus? The focus on race and ethnicity on disciplinary issues is not new, and many districts have successfully implemented restorative practices, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), etc. Yet, staff may not make direct connections to equity issues and or may have misconceptions of these programs as being “soft on” discipline. Districts can administer a quick three-question anonymous survey to get a preliminary indication.
By asking these questions about achievement and discipline, schools can better understand the extent of gaps within their institution and determine whether an equity audit is necessary.
If so, the audit process involves data gathering and review, including input from administrators, teachers, students and parents through surveys and focus groups followed by a report with recommendations. Addressing the issues found and promoting an inclusive educational environment will help all students reach their full potential and help schools fulfill their mission to serve students and the community.
IDRA. (August 7, 2019). Equity Audits – Assessing Equity Across Education, IDRA Visiting Scholar Webinar Series.
Johnson, P. (April 2020). Using Equity Audits to Assess and Address Opportunity Gaps Across Education. IDRA Newsletter.
Johnson, P., & Craven, M. (June 23, 2020). How Equity Audits Reveal Harmful Education Policies – Podcast Episode 202. IDRA Classnotes Podcast.
Hector Bojorquez is IDRA’s director of operations and educational practice. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2023 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]