Schools are often grasping at straws when trying to identify achievement gaps. Examining a school’s culture, trends, practices and policies is necessary for school leaders to recognize root causes of the inequities. Uncovering opportunity gaps is the first step in developing a plan to address them.
Schools and districts are progressing in their compilation and analysis of student achievement data. However, many do not intentionally look for signs of systemic inequity. The following outlines the purpose, measures and outcomes of an equity audit along with examples of how the information from an audit can assist schools and districts in addressing inequity.
“Systemic equity can only be created in an environment that embraces a set of underlying assumptions about the right of every learner to receive the best possible public education.”
– Dr. Bradley Scott
The Age of Accountability
ESSA is the nation’s chief law regarding public education. ESSA holds public schools responsible for ensuring that all students receive quality instruction that will prepare them for college and career success. ESSA aims to safeguard educational opportunities for students who are historically underserved, including students of color, students in families with low incomes emergent bilingual learners and students in special education. Equity audits provide schools with a critical review of their data as a first step in addressing systemic inequities.
We use our Six Goals of Educational Equity as a foundation for our equity audits.
Goal 1: Data reveals comparably high academic achievement and other student outcomes for all groups of learners
Goal 2: Equitable access and inclusion that affords all learners unobstructed entrance and participation in academic and extracurricular activities
Goal 3: Equitable treatment in a welcoming and inclusive learning environment
Goal 4: Equitable opportunity to learn in an academic setting with high standards that offers a strong system of supports
Goal 5: Equitable resources that include fair allocation of funding, staffing, facilities, instructional materials and equipment
Goal 6: Accountability that assures that all stakeholders hold themselves and each other responsible for the success of every student
IDRA facilitates equity walks in districts across the United States to help them gauge their success in meeting the needs of each student.
The Learning Policy Institute (2016) suggests that productive accountability systems acknowledge that each level of educational leadership has various responsibilities. Inputs, processes and outcomes related to student achievement vary among schools, districts, and state and federal agencies. Each entity must leverage its capacity and resources appropriately to promote equity and quality education for all students.
The Purpose of an Equity Audit
Equity audits are a systematic way to assess the degree of equity or inequity present in three key areas of equity. Schools and districts conduct audits to analyze programmatic, teacher quality and achievement equity. Audits are useful for school leaders responsible for measuring overall student achievement.
Below are some examples of guiding questions related to each of the three areas of equity. These questions help schools find areas of concern that may require further investigation.
- Which population groups are underrepresented in Advanced Placement, dual credit classes and honors classes?
- Which groups are overrepresented in special education classes?
- Which groups are disciplined more often and more severely than other groups?
- Are the most experienced teachers teaching the students with the greatest needs?
- Are most of the new teachers teaching in the schools with the greatest needs?
- Are there certain schools where there is high teacher mobility? Why?
- Are teachers in the high needs areas like special education and bilingual certified?
- Where are the achievement and opportunity gaps among population groups based on the state assessment exam at each grade level?
- Which population groups are graduating at lower rates than other population groups?
- Which students are dropping out of school?
- Which students are in advanced courses?
- What additional cross-curricular resources will assist you to respond to post-COVID-19 impacts on students learning?
- What kind of support would you like to receive to bring alive your lessons to increase student engagement?
- What technical resources do you need support in?
- What kinds of support do you need to elicit student responses in monitoring understanding?
- What is needed to collect students’ authentic feedback to show mastery of content?
- What strategies and resources do you find challenging in supporting student learning when they need reteaching?
- What strategies and training do you need to transition students from whole-group instruction to assigned small-group learning?
The Process of an Equity Audit
The goal of an equity audit is to identify institutional practices that produce discriminatory trends in data. IDRA facilitates equity audits with district teams to objectively determine how well they are providing a quality education for every child. The team’s goal is to discover what institutional changes would provide equitable, diverse and inclusive environments for all learners.
Data Collection and Review
An equity audit requires input from stakeholders across a school district. Schools collect data in many forms to provide them with a wide range of influences that contribute to student achievement. Data collection can come from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to:
- Listening sessions with district leadership
- Classroom and campus observations
- Focus group interviews with administrators, teachers, students and parents
- A review of school discipline policies, code of conduct, and strategic plan
- Information provided from the campus or district website
- Equity climate surveys (students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents and caregivers)
- Student graduation, attrition, and retention reports
- State report cards and assessment data
- Benchmark assessments for grade level mastery at kindergarten, first, third, fifth, sixth, etc. (where the state is assessing and are there district goals with board approval that reflect all students will be on grade level)
Several student characteristics help tell the story of school data. These include race, gender and gender identity, family income, national origin, special education, disability and related input. Data indicators for student achievement include graduation, retention, and attrition rates (for students and teachers), discipline, Advanced Placement, dual credit, honors, and advanced course enrollment, extracurricular participation, and family and community engagement and leadership.
The Product of an Equity Audit
Equity audits guide schools in answering several questions. What supports do students need at each intersection? How well is the district providing these supports? Which students are missing? Where can the district improve? An audit has the power to confirm equity concerns and bring new ones to light.
IDRA reviews the results of each equity audit with the district team. We provide district leadership with a report of recommendations that outline a plan for technical assistance. IDRA works together with district staff to draft an agreement that details intervention goals, timelines, targets, and related outcomes.
Equitable Education Outcomes for All Students
Achieving educational equity begins by initiating some uncomfortable conversations about student and school data. The good, the bad and the ugly. Equity audits provide schools and districts with clear indicators for how well they are meeting the needs of their students. Districts can use the process to look more reflectively at their practices and outcomes to determine which student groups need more attention.
Contact IDRA for more information about equity audit technical assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Know if Your District Needs an Equity Audit, by Hector Bojorquez, IDRA Newsletter, March 2023.
Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act, by Darling-Hammond, L., Bae, S., Cook Harvey, C.M., Lam, L., Mercer, C. Podolsky, A., & Stosich, E.L. Learning Policy Institute, 2016.
Equity Audits – Assessing Equity Across Education, IDRA Visiting Scholar Webinar Series, August 7, 2019.
Six Goals of Educational Equity, webpage, IDRA.
Coming of Age, by Bradley Scott, IDRA Newsletter, March 2001
Using Equity Audits to Create Equitable and Excellent Schools, by Skrla, L., McKenzie, K.B., Scheurich, J.J., 2009.
“The Challenge of Seeing, Part II – Shaping the Sixth Generation of Civil Rights and Educational Equity,” by Bradley Scott, Ph.D., IDRA Newsletter, November-December 2013
Six Goals of Educational Equity, IDRA Classnotes Podcast Episode 29.