Using Student Data to Inform Equity Goals

As my district’s director of equity and inclusion, I know how much school leaders care about promoting success for every student, beginning on the very first day of school. This year is off to a complicated start, and I also know that it can be easy to feel like we’re already behind on planning anti-racist instructional shifts, or to worry that it’s too late to effect meaningful change with our teams – but it’s not too late at all! This is our time to build energy, promote learning priorities and encourage growth with our teams – and that means it’s just the right time to set and sustain new equity goals, too. Here are 4 steps I recommend for making sure equity is central to your team’s instructional plans: 

1. Start with your data

Sometimes, it can be challenging for leaders like us to establish equity focus areas and goals for our teams, simply because it all matters – we want to elevate every student’s experience! So, where do we start? I always answer this question the same way: Let your data guide you. For example, you might look at attendance data, grades and testing data, information on behavioral referrals or data on parent engagement. How are male students performing academically compared to female students? Are students of color receiving disproportionate behavior referrals? What is the average GPA of the entire class of 6th or 9th graders, and how does it compare to years past?

2. Use your data to ask a “guiding question.”

Having analyzed your data, you may feel that there is much to do, and be tempted to tackle it all at once. But to make a difference for students, we need to set measurable instructional milestones for teachers – and that means setting a clear priority. That’s why I recommend huddling with your instructional leadership team to identify one focus area – and formulating one “guiding question” you can bring to all your teachers. 

So, what should your guiding question be? To decide, continue to rely on your data. For example, if you want to review your school’s disciplinary practices, but your records don’t show disproportionalities, you may not need to set a schoolwide equity goal there – maybe that’s something you’ll work on with a specific team. On the other hand, if your data shows that a disproportionate number of your students of color are working below grade level, the guiding question you bring to your staff might be: “What can we do to promote equitable learning outcomes for our students?”

3. Use your question to set goals with your team.

When you’re ready to share your guiding question and set your new equity goals with your full teaching team, your data can really support you – because it speaks for itself. It’s not always easy to start conversations with your staff about what’s working in your building – and what needs to change. By building the discussion on quantitative data, we can build an action plan on facts, not feelings. Numbers offer a way to get everyone on board with a new equity plan – including teachers who may not be ready or willing to accept the importance of anti-racist teaching. 

For example, I might say: “25% of our eighth graders are not reaching mastery in English class. Latinx students make up 40% of this class, but they make up 80% of the group reading below grade level. This disproportion shows that we are not equipping our Latinx students to succeed.” This kind of breakdown helps me steer teachers away from sharing subjective opinions on whether equity gaps exist or whether inclusive teaching shifts are really necessary – because the data makes it clear that the gaps exist and the changes are needed. By the time I ask my guiding question – “What can we do to promote equitable learning outcomes for our students?” – I’ve guided the team into an objective space where it’s easier for them to accept new strategies and invest in new student-achievement goals.

4. Use your goals to promote shared accountability and growth.

If we want to promote equitable growth for our students, I believe we need to go beyond equipping our team with tools, training and resources – we also need to create accountability. If I work with a team of teachers to set a series of benchmarks for improving Latinx students’ outcomes this year, it’s my role to make sure the team has all the support they need to get there – but it’s also my role to make sure they’re invested in getting there. 

One way I recommend creating accountability is by building a timeline with your team: agreeing that if you make certain instructional shifts together, you can expect to see specific degrees of student improvement by specific dates. Another step I recommend is building those shared equity goals into classroom observations and evaluations. It’s important to discuss these structures with your team not as “gotcha” moves, but as steps you want to take to support their work throughout the year – so that you can make sure your equity goals always feels sustainable for them and their students.

As school leaders, we know that equitable, inclusive learning isn’t something we can provide by setting a single priority – it’s something we work toward with our teams day by day, year by year. And that’s exactly why it’s so important for us to bring a new vision for equity into each fall. If we set goals, build plans and create investment with teachers now, we can set the stage for a year of growth, affirmation and achievement – for all our students.