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February 1, 2022

Step By Step / Four Steps to … Make Equity Efforts Transparent on District Websites

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Equity
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Credit: KENTOH / iSTOCK
School districts' equity efforts should be transparent to all stakeholders. Many districts' first move toward equity is to investigate student data to identify disparities among groups. Ideally, this leads to examining the impact that systemic bias and racial issues have on students' educational opportunities and developing policies to address that impact.
But it is the extent to which districts report on their equity efforts that affects whether stakeholders can hold them accountable for equity plans they've pledged to implement—and discern whether their efforts match their assurances. When stakeholders have access to publicized equity efforts, like data reports or strategic initiatives, they can weigh in to help schools make better decisions.
To gauge how transparent equity efforts generally are, we reviewed the websites of 104 large U.S. school districts, looking for equity-related language in five areas: public reporting on student-level data; presence of disproportionality in student data; implementation of strategies or policies to address inequities; evidence of equity-focused professional development; and evidence of culturally responsive curricular materials. We found good news (97 percent of districts reported strategic plans/policies to address disparities) and not-so-good news (only 63 percent highlighted disproportionality through disaggregating data by student identity categories). Our review also revealed actions districts can take to be more transparent about their equity goals, efforts, and data reporting. Below are four steps toward that end.

1. Develop a clear equity statement

We found some districts mentioned equity briefly in their values or strategic plan but didn't define what equity means or how they were committed to approaching it. Districts should present clear definitions and action steps that transcend a surface-level acknowledgement of equity and show how and why equity is prioritized within schools. Dedicated equity departments give community members a point of contact to discuss equity-related concerns. Districts with established equity departments should also make clear how they'll be continually funded.

Prompting Questions

  • Does your district define equity or clearly explain the importance of equity within its schools?
  • Do you articulate which student groups your equity efforts are oriented toward?
  • Does your equity department have a dedicated public space (i.e., tab on the website) to disclose equity efforts and gather stakeholder feedback?

Action Steps

  • Develop a clear equity statement that's visible on your website.
  • Establish an equity department or task force (and accompanying webpage).
  • List current equity goals or initiatives on your website.

2. Don't hide your information!

In examining district websites, we searched reports, strategic plans, webpages, articles, and school board meeting minutes to find information relevant to our five indicators. Sometimes relevant information was blocked behind a paywall or required credentials to access. Improving ease of navigation and access to information means stakeholders can be clued in on important matters.

Prompting Questions

  • Is information on your district's equity efforts easily accessible on a single webpage? Are employee credentials required to access it?
  • Are department-related equity efforts (PD, curricular materials) available to stakeholders?

Action Steps

  • Make your efforts directly accessible on your website through dedicated webpages or links to key information.
  • Provide contact information for key personnel.
  • Share about equity efforts at public meetings.

3. Keep information timely and accurate

We often found outdated strategic plans, data, and initiatives on websites. When information is outdated, it's difficult for stakeholders to gauge what the districts' current equity approaches are and whether any progress has been made. Updated information lets community members understand currently active equity initiatives and advocate for necessary changes.

Prompting Questions

  • Does your district share annual student-level data (e.g., report cards, dashboards)?
  • How often does your district create strategic plans or initiatives? Are current plans displayed on your website? For multi-year plans, are updates provided mid-term?

Action Steps

  • Provide the most current plans and frequently update initiatives on your website.
  • Remove or update dead links or outdated contact information.

4. Improve depth of information

A majority of districts reported on some aspects of our equity indicators, but the extent to which they reported details varied drastically. For example, some gave information like the types and content of professional development opportunities offered; others simply said culturally relevant training exists. Districts should provide deeper explanations through supporting materials or multi-tiered data. Information should also be presented clearly and well "translated." For example, unpack large reports or tables by highlighting any disparities in the data—and the district's approach to addressing them.

Prompting Questions

  • Does the student-level data on your site highlight disparities?
  • Is supportive information provided to back up specific equity initiatives (PD opportunities, lesson plans, etc.)?

Action Steps

  • Improve depth and reporting of student-level data.
  • Clearly connect data and strategic plans, initiatives, or policies.
  • Provide supporting materials to show how equity practices are being implemented.

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