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4 Steps for Leading Data Conversations About Equity

September 30th, 2020

It was in my first special education teaching job that I saw, first-hand, the uphill battle some students have in school. For some students, this uphill battle related to a significant disability, not feeling safe and cared about at school, or not being accepted by peers. I quickly found that for others, these battles came from issues surrounding equity. The fact of the matter is that I saw how school was “easy” for some students and “near impossible” for others. It was this moment that inspired me to take on the PBIS internal coaching role in my school and later take on the PBIS external coaching role within the district. 

In this PBIS coaching role, I expanded my knowledge and learned steps needed to dive deep into data to determine equitable practices. I was given the opportunity to analyze data on multiple levels and disaggregate the data to discover root causes for the continued trends. I looked at (and helped my colleagues look at):

  • The responses educators gave for a specific type of behavior and if that response was effective at limiting the exhibited behavior 
  • The ratio of referrals for various student groups as it related to gender, ethnicity, disability, and more
  • How we defined specific incident types (such as minor and major) as well as how we defined specific behaviors
  • Options to address specific behaviors and if teachers felt comfortable delivering a variety of responses to address a specific incident
  • Professional development opportunities offered to educators related to varying instructional practices

Analyzing data through an equity lens can be eye opening, as various student group achievement gaps become very apparent. This isn’t news to anyone. In fact, many districts have always analyzed data. 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 that hard data and feeling uncomfortable that change can happen. This process just needs to start with one person, and that person can be you!

That said, the way that you have these conversations matters. They are delicate situations. In order for them to be successful, it is extremely important that they are data-driven. If they aren’t, they can feel like unfocused and fearful data conversations or unjustified blaming sessions—neither of which drive change.

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

1. Reflect

What are you currently doing that promotes positive student outcomes for all students? Think about instructional strategies, responses to behavior, and communication with families. But, most importantly, what is your relationship like with each student? Does each student trust you and feel comfortable in the classroom? Does each student feel comfortable taking risks in the classroom (trying new strategies, taking academic risks, etc.)?

2. Look at Data

Look at all data for specific cohorts and groups of students, such as gender, ethnicity, disability, EL status, meal status, and more. With each student group, consider:

  • Academic trends
  • The number of students in various courses (e.g., number of students in remedial courses, in advanced courses, in STEM-related courses)
  • The number of major/Office Discipline Referrals (ODR)
  • The specific incidents of which students receive a major/ODR 
  • The responses to specific incidents/behavior
  • Academic and behavior trends compared to other student groups

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

3. Make a Plan of Action

While we often want to think big, the fact of the matter is that conversations around equity are indeed delicate. They need to be managed and communicated in a way where educators don’t feel threatened. So make a plan that first starts with bringing awareness around inequities. Encourage others in the district to contribute to the discussion to offer ideas around why they may exist and what can be done about them. Consider creating an Equity Team in the district (if one doesn’t already exist) where topics can be discussed in a safe place and decisions can be made to help promote positive student outcomes for all students regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, ELL status, etc. 

4. Measure Success

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

As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure all students are successful in school, feel safe and accepted for who they are as an individual, 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 all data on multiple levels for a variety of purposes. Creating a simple data protocol, such as the example above, 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. Rather than looking at data to support equal systems, it is our responsibility to look at data to ensure our systems are supporting students at all levels so students have equal opportunities, challenges, and outcomes


Does your district utilize eduCLIMBER? eduCLIMBER can be leveraged to analyze equity and disproportionalities as your team analyzes various data. Learn more about Illuminate’s Create Change by Examining Equity with eduCLIMBER Training Module.


Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.


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