February 8, 2022


Jaime Harris, NCSP

Kristin Rockwell

When it comes to ensuring equitable outcomes for all students, holding equity-based data conversations is one of the most powerful tools an educator can use. Data can provide the foundation and impetus for the right conversations to take place around a district’s systems, policies, and practices. It can also help educators to understand why certain patterns are emerging and where change is needed.

Analyzing data through an equity lens can be eye-opening, as various student group achievement gaps become apparent. This isn’t news to anyone. In fact, many districts have always analyzed data in this way. At times, the data is easy to analyze. At other times, the data is very hard to view. However, it’s only through looking at the data that change can happen.

In this blog, we’ll discuss data and equity in K–12 education and explain how to prepare for and lead effective data conversations with teachers to make a change.

What is equity in education?

When it comes to creating equity in education, districts and educators are pursuing an educational system that caters to all kinds of learners and develops their education experience accordingly. What does this mean? That no matter a student’s race, language, economic profile, gender, disability, family background, learning capability, etc., all students have the opportunity to get the necessary support and resources to achieve their educational goals.

Some students struggle with not feeling safe or cared about at school. Others have disabilities that leave them feeling alone, nervous, or anxious as learners. Some simply struggle with feeling less than their peers or are left out by others.

What does creating equity look like in the classroom? Educators should adapt their teaching style to match their student’s learning capabilities. For example:

  • Auditory learners process information out loud by asking questions and talking through problems
  • Visual learners utilize pictures, illustrations, or graphics to absorb information
  • Tactile learners utilize models, charts, or diagrams and act things out to get the most out of their learning

Educators should also incorporate history lessons that cover different races, ethnic groups, and communities. To achieve this, educators should focus on interventions, resources, and conversations around inclusion and fairness in education.

The importance of having data and equity conversations in education

Conversations around equity can be delicate and complex situations to navigate. If a group isn’t yet accustomed to looking at data regularly—and looking for areas of equity or inequity—these conversations can be uncomfortable. This makes it no less important to have these data-based conversations, but it does mean that some preparation can go a long way in terms of how impactful the discussion can be.

The way these conversations happen is very important. To be successful, they need to be data-driven. If they aren’t, they can feel like unfocused and fearful data conversations or unjustified blaming sessions, neither of which will drive change.

Renaissance offers a powerful platform—eduCLIMBER—to help educators gather, review, and discuss data and equity in education. eduCLIMBER offers key features to make this process both efficient and productive.

7 steps for leading conversations about equity in education

Leading data conversations with teachers about equity can be difficult. You want educators to feel safe and supported, and you want your conversations and meetings to be productive and positive.

If you are working to lead your team in data-driven conversations around equitable practices, here are seven steps you should follow to keep conversations constructive, targeted, and focused on true areas of need.

Group of students using tablets

#1: Reflect

Start by considering what you are currently doing in the classroom. Does it promote positive student outcomes for all students? Think about instructional strategies, responses to behavior, and communication with families. But, most importantly, consider what your relationship is like with each student. Do they trust you? Do they feel comfortable in the classroom? Are they comfortable taking risks, trying new strategies, etc.?

#2: Look at the data

Look at all of the data for specific cohorts and groups of students. This can be based on gender, ethnicity, disability, English Learner status, meal status, and more. Then, with each group, consider the following:

  • Academic trends (both positive and negative)
  • The number of students in various courses (remedial, advanced, STEM-related)
  • The number of major/Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs)
  • The specific incidents in which students receive a major/ODR
  • Responses to specific incidents or behaviors
  • Academic and behavior trends compared to other student groups

Take all of the data that you have access to and analyze it thoroughly through an equity lens. What does it look like for each student cohort? Where are the achievement gaps? What are the trends? Most importantly, why are the trends continuing and what can be done to improve them?

#3: Make a plan of action

While we often want to “think big,” we have to remember that conversations around equity are often delicate. They need to be managed and communicated in a way that educators don’t feel threatened.

Your plan of action should start with bringing awareness around inequities. Encourage others in the district to contribute to the discussion and offer ideas about why inequities might exist and what can be done about them.

Consider creating an Equity Team in the district, where topics can be discussed in a safe place and decisions can be made to help promote positive outcomes for all students, regardless of their gender, disability, ethnicity, English Learner status, or any other differences.

You should also plan and identify the meeting logistics—the who, what, and where of your meeting, which involves the following steps:

Identify an appropriate facilitator

To ensure an open and honest conversation, select a neutral facilitator for the meeting. This should be someone who is trusted and respected by their peers and is seen as a safe ally. They should not be connected to teacher evaluations, pay, or promotions.

The facilitator should also be skilled and comfortable in analyzing data and navigating uncomfortable conversations with care. This person should not be an administrator but could be a math or literacy coach, for example.

Pick a new physical location

Try to schedule the meeting in a location that is different from where other staff meetings are held, especially if those meetings tend to be of the “sit and get” type.

Onsite locations are ideal for these conversations, but if your meeting takes place virtually, be sure to establish the appropriate norms and standards. For example, should participants have their cameras turned on? Should they be muted? What does active participation look like?

Set an appropriate time frame

Ultimately, questions about equity should become part of all data conversations—and learning how teams can start to weave those questions into their regular data conversations is very important.

However, if your team is new to equity-based conversations—or data conversations in general—try to schedule a dedicated meeting around this work instead of merging it into an existing meeting. This allows your team to take its time and be thoughtful without rushing into the next task of the day.

Ideally, try to allow two to three hours for your first meeting.

Use your data management platform

This work depends on your team’s ability to quickly analyze data from multiple sources through multiple lenses. If your team is distracted by how long it takes to find or access different data, the meeting will be frustrating and unfocused.

Ensure that the right data is loaded into your platform before you begin and that the right people have access to appropriate data for the conversations. This makes it easily accessible and easy to reference during your meeting.

Create small groups

These conversations should not be held as assemblies. Because of their nature, these conversations are best had in smaller groups of people. Plan on breaking participants into groups of six or seven people for the training.

Consider providing snacks and a break

Providing refreshments can make staff feel more at ease and more comfortable in their environment. When basic needs are met—like food and drink—it’s easier for educators to engage in mentally rigorous conversations.

Incorporating a planned break gives the group an expected opportunity to clear their heads and catch up on anything that might be a distraction during the meeting.

Promoting educational equity

Discover tools from Renaissance to support more effective data analysis.

#4: Set up for success

Complete some pre-work around the content of the meeting. This helps the meeting to run smoothly and have some direction. Your pre-work should include the following:

Have a pre-meeting about the data

Before holding the meeting, assemble a group to review the data. This team can be anyone—instructional coaches, literacy or math coaches, PBIS leaders, administrators, or special education directors—but, most importantly, include the facilitator.

The goal of the pre-meeting is not to craft a narrative to present during the meeting. If you approach the meeting this way, other educators might feel like their input isn’t valued or their colleagues are colluding against them.

Instead, the goal is to bring a number of perspectives to the table to unpack the data and identify possible pathways on which the facilitator can guide the conversation, especially if key findings exist a few layers down within the data. It also ensures that the facilitator is familiar with and has time to process the data, as opposed to reacting to surprises during the meeting.

Finally, this pre-meeting helps establish cohesion across data conversations, as opposed to different groups looking at different data sets.

Create questions and prompts

After the team has looked at the data, create a list of questions and/or prompts for the facilitator to reference throughout the meeting. While it’s important that the team members are actively digging into the data and identifying findings, the facilitator can use a reference sheet for guiding the conversation.

This helps the facilitator to remember to draw attention to important data points throughout the meeting and can be a grounding reference if difficult moments arise.

Brainstorm strategies and next steps

It’s also during the pre-meeting that you should work together to create a menu of strategies and resources that can be available to help educators take action on areas of need. This avoids the event of identifying alarming or troubling issues without having clear next steps to take.

This list should correlate with the findings from the pre-meeting. It should include resources and actions that are available immediately—not something that the participants have to wait to receive more information about.

Depending on the situation, possible next steps might include:

  • Reviewing additional data
  • Creating a dashboard to monitor data
  • Sharing findings with stakeholders
  • Forming a committee or workgroup
  • Creating an action plan
  • Implementing specific classroom strategies

Consider administering student and staff surveys

Surveys can be a powerful tool for better understanding how students and staff perceive themselves, their environment, and one another. This data set can help disprove or validate assumptions about system-level causes and must be anonymous.

Work as a team to prepare the facilitator for uncomfortable situations

Even with deliberate messaging to keep the meeting growth-oriented and student-centered, there will likely be moments when the meeting stalls, emotions become high, or discomfort sets in. Knowing that this is possible and having a plan of action for navigating these situations makes it easier for the facilitator to unpack and work through them, without appearing to gloss over them or allowing them to derail any progress.

#5: Facilitating

During this step, everyone involved in the pre-meeting should review the tips for facilitating the meeting itself to ensure that it runs smoothly. This involves the following steps:

Create a safe space and establish norms

Before jumping into the data, set the stage for the meeting around growth and student success. The staff must know they are not under attack or at risk of being blamed or shamed. The goal is to work as a team to ensure all students have equitable access, opportunities, and outcomes. Data can help us both celebrate areas of success and explore and change areas of need.

The book Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools provides a great example. Author Glenn Singleton proposes Four Agreements for Courageous Conversations:

  1. Stay engaged.
  2. Experience discomfort.
  3. Speak your truth.
  4. Expect and accept non-closure.

Utilize data

The significance of using data is that it creates an inarguable starting point for conversations to happen and ensures that conversations are focused on the right areas for your district. If the meeting starts to drift away from data, pull it back.

The intention is not to dismiss the importance of daily observations, gut feelings, and teachers’ experiences with students, all of which have their place in supporting learners. Rather, data provides a starting point for these conversations to happen. Data points are only as useful as the ways that they’re used, and these types of conversations are part of why the data is collected. Use the facilitator reference sheet your team created in the pre-meeting as a guide.

Begin with the data that is easiest to digest. For instance, starting with attendance data might be more approachable than starting with behavior or assessment data. Disaggregating by gender first might feel more approachable than starting with race/ethnicity.

We also suggest starting with data at the district or school level, even if teachers are eager to look at data for their own classrooms. Then, gauge how the group is doing and determine whether to move into grade- or teacher-level data. Teacher-level data may not be appropriate for an initial data conversation around equity.

Let the staff do the exploring, questioning, and discovering

The facilitator’s role is to:

  • Guide the conversation
  • Establish a safe space for learning and growth
  • Help participants ask questions about what they are seeing

It is very important that this is not a “sit and get” meeting, which can cause participants to shut down immediately, feel attacked, and eliminate the potential for positive outcomes.

Ensure that participants are actively reviewing the data and asking the questions. The facilitator can ask general questions and highlight important data points as they arise, but the staff should actively explore the data on their own.

Start with areas of success

Deliberately celebrating areas of success can help keep morale and momentum high while also pinpointing successful practices and strategies that can be applied to areas of need. It’s easier to replicate a successful process in a new context than to continually start from scratch in every scenario.

Starting with areas of success puts the participants in a positive mindset that makes it easier to process and unpack data that is concerning.

Use a common format

If you have multiple groups reviewing data in various meetings, use consistent documentation and processes for examining data and action planning. This way, possible next steps can be more easily aggregated across the various meetings.

#6: Measure success

Determine how you will measure success. What data will tell you if the action plan you made was successful? Change is a process, not an event. How long do you need to measure success, and what indicators will be needed to do so?

Young girl with tablet raising hand

#7: Consider next steps & follow up

Here, you will connect the findings from your meeting to decide the appropriate next steps. This is a often a three-part process:

End the meeting with specific action steps

At the end of the meeting, outline specific action steps with your team. These could be:

  • Reviewing additional data
  • Creating a dashboard to monitor data
  • Sharing findings with other stakeholders
  • Forming a committee or workgroup to address a specific issue
  • Creating an action plan

Outline who is responsible for each task and determine its due date.

Specify when the next meeting will occur

Meetings should be ongoing. Create a calendar and schedule meetings ahead of time to help establish a regular cadence.

Ensure district and school leaders prioritize follow-up

In order to follow through on the planned next steps and further meetings, teams will need support from administrators. Leaders have the ability and responsibility to provide the time, space, prioritization, and tools that this work requires.

If team members are constantly getting pulled out of data meetings or can only work on follow-up steps during evenings and weekends, it is unlikely that continued data conversations and follow-up steps will happen. Leaders can help ensure this work occurs by valuing and protecting the time and resources that the next steps require.

Use resources from Renaissance to analyze equity data and to begin conversations on equity in education

As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure all students are successful in school, feel safe and accepted for who they are, and have access to everything the district has to offer. We will never know if what we are doing is working unless we look at data on multiple levels for a variety of purposes. Creating a simple data protocol can help with analyzing data at the next level to improve outcomes.

To ensure all students have equitable access to a great education, we need to change our thinking as we look at data. It is our responsibility to look at data to ensure our systems are supporting students at all levels so students have equal opportunities.

As mentioned earlier, Renaissance offers a great resource, eduCLIMBER, to analyze equity and disproportionalities as your team analyzes various data. Connect with an expert today to learn more.

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