Guide on Conducting a Systemic Equity Audit

When you enter a Zulu community in South Africa, you may be greeted with the word “Sawubona.” It is a powerful greeting that expresses acknowledgment, respect, and the importance of the other person.

In the field of education, it is crucial to prioritize equity and ensure that every student feels seen, heard, and valued. However, even in well-intentioned educational organizations, inequities may exist. As the director of Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports and Innovation in my school district, my role is to address these inequities and establish a multitiered system of support for all students. Confronting data can be challenging, as our brains tend to shy away from difficult truths. Therefore, it is essential to create structures that facilitate honest conversations about equity.

If we fail to acknowledge and address the realities of each student’s experiences, we cannot effectively support them and may unintentionally cause harm. To better understand and bridge the gaps in support for certain student populations, organizations can conduct a systemic equity audit.

A systemic equity audit is a comprehensive process that examines the organization as a whole and identifies areas of inequity that may be embedded within its functions. This process involves creating a snapshot of the entire system to understand what contributes to the inequities experienced by various students.

An equity audit typically consists of two parts: the equity report and the equity plan.

STEP 1: DEVELOPING AN EQUITY REPORT

The equity report provides an objective and in-depth analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data. It involves forming a committee that collects and categorizes data from public-facing platforms, conducts focus groups and interviews, observes classrooms, and more. The committee may also use a rubric, such as the one created by the Alliance for Resource Equity, to conduct a preassessment.

The committee starts by examining publicly available data, especially data focused on specific student groups. Research teams comprising two to three people are deployed to gather qualitative data from different locations within the organization. These research teams interview students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents. Additionally, they conduct interviews with district office administrators using well-designed questions.

The questions posed to participants aim to evaluate the organization’s equity practices from their own perspectives. The research teams also observe classrooms for a brief period of time and take notes to gain an overall understanding of the organization’s learning environments and practices. The teams return from their field studies with a wealth of information, which is then analyzed to identify key findings. To ensure the validity of these findings, certain criteria must be met:

  • The key findings must be actionable by the organization and within its control.
  • The findings must be supported by at least three references from different data sources. This ensures that the process is systemic and not based on isolated incidents.

The report presents the data objectively, without any commentary or assumptions.

This step requires sufficient time and effective communication with all stakeholders. It is important to refrain from immediately proposing solutions and instead focus on curating and categorizing the data.

STEP 2: DEVELOPING AN EQUITY PLAN

The equity plan communicates the analysis of the curated data, identifies problem statements, explores root causes, and develops recommendations to enhance students’ experiences. This can be accomplished by forming a new committee or by involving the original committee members in creating an action plan to address the key findings. The committee should comprise a diverse group of teachers, administrators, and staff members.

It is crucial to build a strong sense of community within the committee, as equity work can be complex and nonlinear. Trust between committee members is essential, even when engaging in debates and challenging discussions. Providing the committee with a deeper understanding of equity through shared learning experiences can help align their mindsets.

The committee can include individuals who are new to equity work as well as those who are already passionate about it. Offering common learning experiences, such as providing a lesson on the history of the educational system and past inequities, can align the committee members’ perspectives. Examining cases like Mendez v. Westminster can highlight the long-standing nature of these issues.

During the development of the plan, protocols and activities that facilitate structured discussions can be employed. For example, conducting gallery walks to gather feedback on drafted language or using the 5 Whys protocol to explore root causes. It is also important to research solutions implemented by other organizations and consider their successes and failures when formulating recommendations.

To ensure diverse perspectives, schedule feedback meetings where drafts of the plan are reviewed by external stakeholders, including staff members, parents, and even students. Transparency about the ongoing work and the input received is crucial. Structure these meetings in a way that encourages constructive feedback and deepens the work.

IMPLEMENTING THE PLAN

The implementation of the equity plan involves putting the recommendations into action. Effective communication with all stakeholders is key to ensuring understanding of the why and how behind the process.

If your organization values data-driven approaches, the insights gained from the equity audit will become an inherent part of your work. Once you become aware of demographic disparities within your student body, limited parent participation in decision-making processes, or low graduation rates among certain groups, taking action becomes essential.

There are numerous open educational resources available to guide the creation of equity structures, and reaching out to your local county office of education can provide valuable support. Seeking assistance from external experts can also provide an objective perspective during what may be an uncomfortable process.

By honestly examining data and diligently analyzing the entire organization, you can become an entity that aligns its actions with its values. The outcomes will be reflected in improved outcomes for all students.

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