Equity work in school districts predates the pandemic, by decades. And the progress has been mostly uneven. What’s more, the pandemic added new challenges to the long slog toward making schooling more equitable.
Schools had to deal with the shifting demands of remote schooling and COVID-19 prevention, as well as the national racial reckoning, at the same time they continued to work toward lessening disparities among students from different races, language backgrounds, income levels, and abilities.
How’d they do?
Education Week writers looked at data on ed tech, school discipline rates, access to advanced coursework, and the academic progress of English learners to assess whether there have been recent improvements in these areas when addressing long-standing inequities.
Here’s what they found.
When it comes to ed-tech
Three-fourths of teachers and school and district leaders said technology plays a bigger role in their classrooms now than before the onset of the pandemic, according to a new nationally representative survey from the EdWeek Research Center that was administered in October.
At the same time, about 80 percent of teachers and school and district leaders said they’ve changed their use of educational technology some or a lot to better understand and meet the needs of their students.
But experts consulted by Education Week said we shouldn’t assume that greater use will lead to greater equity.
“Adoption of tools often facilitates the same inequitable learning environments already happening in classrooms,” said Nidhi Hebbar of the nonprofit, the Edtech Equity Project.
When it comes to school discipline
Every two years, the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights releases a comprehensive data set about student discipline, including in-school and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and corporal punishment. But since before the pandemic, these data have been missing, largely because data collections were delayed by mass school closures related to COVID-19.
Still, anecdotal evidence and district-level data suggest that suspensions declined sharply during the largely remote 2020-21 school year, and since students have come back in person, the rates have started to creep back up. But they remain down overall, compared with where they were in 2019-20.
Research also suggests that racial and economic inequities in discipline have persisted and may have even gotten worse. Black students, economically disadvantaged students, and poor students are still disciplined at higher rates than their privileged white counterparts.
In the EdWeek Research Center survey, 41 percent of the educators surveyed said that the pandemic worsened preexisting differences in the degree to which students from higher- and lower-income families are disciplined at school, and about 29 percent said the racial inequities in discipline also worsened.
When it comes to access to advanced courses
There are many ways to pursue advanced coursework in K-12 education, but the College Board’s Advanced Placement program is one place to look. The College Board declares on its website that over the past 10 years, access to its AP courses “have expanded for historically underrepresented students.”
“Closing the equity gap in AP participation is essential to giving all students the chance to experience the benefits of challenging coursework,” the organization goes on to say.
But it is not easy to examine how well the College Board and participating schools are faring with that goal. The nonprofit has not made national demographic data on the race and ethnicity of AP test-takers readily accessible on its site, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the success of such efforts.
The board removed previously public-facing data when it migrated to a new platform last year, and it has said it plans to restore the information.
In the meantime, some national data are available in a class of 2021 cohort report delivered to state educational officials. And some of those states, such as Florida, have made the results publicly accessible online.
According to that report, Black students in the 2021 class made up 8.1 percent of AP test-takers and 4.6 percent of exam-takers scoring 3 or higher on the tests on the 5-point scale. (A score of 3 is the minimum score for which some colleges grant AP credit.) Black students made up 13.9 percent of the class of 2021, according to the report.
Hispanic/Latino students made up a proportion of the exam-taking participants that was much closer to their makeup of the overall class of 2021—25.7 percent of exam-takers and 25.8 percent of the 2021 class. The College Board says 23.6 of Hispanic/Latino test-takers scored 3 or higher.
Students identified as Asian made up just 6 percent of the class of 2021 but accounted for 11 percent of test-takers and 13.5 percent of the test-takers scoring 3 or higher.
Non-Hispanic white students made up 49.6 percent of the class and 48.1 percent of AP test-takers, with 51.5 percent scoring 3 or higher. (Other categories were American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander, and students of two or more races.)
The College Board says that under its equity policy, the AP program encourages schools to ensure that the demographics of AP classes reflect the demographics of a school. By applying that principle to the national cohort, one demographic group—Black students—remains short of the goal.
When it comes to English learners’ academic progress
The nation’s growing English-learner population faced disproportionate challenges when schools shifted to virtual learning at the height of the pandemic. Their hurdles ranged from unreliable home internet access to not having enough adult support for learning at home, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
Researchers and advocates alike said that insufficient access to high-quality academic support was already a long-standing issue for these students compared with students whose first language is English. When it comes to newly arrived immigrant students, that inequity is further complicated, some say, by how federal funding works for this group.
The just-released National Assessment of Educational Progress results—the first to come around since the pandemic started—found that 4th grade English learners in public schools scored an average of 216 in math compared with an average score of 239 for students who are not in that category. In 4th grade reading, English learners scored an average of 190 compared with 222 from their non-English-learner peers. In both subjects, 4th grade English learners fell short of being classified as NAEP “proficient.”
As educators make plans for learning recovery for this particular student population—which makes up about 10 percent of the nation’s overall public school enrollment—experts have called for an emphasis on family engagement and students’ assets such as their home-language skills or cultural knowledge.
Coverage of race, opportunity, and equity is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the December 07, 2022 edition of Education Week as Equity Scorecard