Professor George Theoharis Helps EdWeek with Equity Audit Explainer

Equity Audits in School Districts: An Explainer

(Education Week | April 18, 2023) In late 2020, the Baldwinsville Central School District in upstate New York began gathering data on middle school students’ participation in accelerated learning programs, which aim to provide them with access to Advanced Placement and other college-level courses in high school, according to Deputy Superintendent Joe DiBarbieri [a School of Education doctoral candidate].

In this process, district officials found a significant underrepresentation of students of color and those with disabilities in these advanced courses. Baldwinsville enrolls about 5,000 students, which are 87 percent white, and has 806 students with disabilities, making up 15 percent of its enrollment.

“We started asking the question, why is that the case? You know, when they’re exposed to the same types of curriculum and experiences? What are we doing wrong?” he said.

“So it forced us to ask why, and then we started engaging in these equity audits from both the building and the district level.”

This led the district to conduct so-called equity audits at the building and district levels, examining various aspects of schooling, including reading and math scores, extracurricular activities, athletics, school suspensions, and chronic absenteeism.

The district has since made this data publicly available on its website, although DiBarbieri noted that addressing the issues uncovered in the data presents significant challenges.

“The easy part in my mind is pulling the data and getting them into the format where you can see the proportionality,” DiBarbieri said. “The difficult part then becomes, what are those next steps to address the issues?” 

What are equity audits?

Equity audits are systemic examinations of data across schools and a district to understand where gaps to access and challenges to educational equity exist. They can be conducted at the district level, but also within a school, a department, or even a classroom. They often look at student data on performance, discipline, or attendance, or a combination of those, and put them into context of the district, school, or classroom’s demographics to see which types of students are under and overrepresented.

The term equity audit first started to be used about 25 years ago, but the practice of evaluating data to analyze where inequities lie is older than that, according to George Theoharis, a professor of educational leadership at Syracuse University,

“One of the key features … is this idea of proportional representation, and it’s actually a pretty useful tool for schools and districts,” Theoharis said …

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