Panel Discussion: Using Data with Equity Initiatives 

Panelists from Kansas City Public Schools, MO, Fresno Unified School District, CA, and Detroit Public Schools, MI

This panel presentation brought together educators from three school districts across the United States who are focused on using data to inform equity initiatives in their home district. 

Kansas City Public Schools’ Drive for a New Equity Policy

Marla Shepard, assistant superintendent from Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), MO led off with describing KCPS’ equity policy that was formally adopted by their Board of Directors in June 2018 after a rigorous, months-long review process. The equity policy is now a universal lens through which all programs, practices, and policies in the district are viewed and evaluated.

KCPS Equity Policy

“Educational equity is the intentional allocation of resources, instruction, and opportunities according to need. We recognize that based on factors including but not limited to race, ethnicity, disability, gender identify, national origin, language, and socioeconomic status, students may be deprived of equitable educational opportunities.” 


KCPS uses a tiered support model informed by an “equity index” to monitor overall school progress. The equity index looks at 13 different indicators, including traditional metrics such as student test scores, as well as metrics designed specifically to make sure all students have equal opportunities, such as school culture and climate.

Implementing Strong Equity Policy in Fresno, California

Lindsay Sanders, chief of equity and access and Andrew Sherrer, executive director of equity and access at Fresno Unified School District (FUSD), CA talked about their process for putting an equity policy in place as well. They noticed that students were graduating, but they were underperforming with low test scores on the California state test and receiving low grades on the high school A–G courses. Sanders and Sherrer also noticed that with 75,000 students and 106 schools, the district had, like many large districts, become very siloed. Before the equity policy, there were at least 24 English language arts assessments alone across their 106 schools. This led to their being more than 3,000 indicators in their data information system!

FUSD Equity and Access Mission Statement

“The mission of equity and access is to advance educational equity from cradle to career by improving learning opportunities and addressing disparities that result in social inequality. We will apply a human-centered, systems-minded approach, and rely on a colleagueship of expertise that utilizes improvement cycles to promote innovative and solution-oriented thinking and impact.”


Building Equity through Strategic Decision-Making in Detroit Public Schools

From Detroit Public Schools (DPS), MI, Beth Gonzalez, assistant superintendent, talked about facing a difficult question: “How do you ensure equity when 70 percent of the students are chronically absent*?” Gonzalez took stock and realized that students didn’t have equitable access to a high-quality, highly aligned curriculum. She worked collaboratively with school leaders on aspirational goals for instruction. The district brought in David and Meredith Liben, cofounders of Achieve the Core, to perform an audit that “revealed what they already knew, which is that the materials were inadequate.” The district then selected high-quality curricula and purchased materials for every single student in the district.

Looking carefully at the master schedule, Gonzalez and her team asked, “Do the minutes match what students need, and are we providing the right resources to teacher?” They selected and adopted iReady Diagnostic for Reading and Mathematics in Grades K–8. For Gonzalez, the iReady Diagnostic “provides teachers with really helpful classroom-level data, helps principals understand groups of students in classroom or group level, and we can use the data at the district level to hold ourselves accountable.” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, formerly of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, brought a similar Data/Com approach from Miami to DPS and meets with every single school to review data with the school building leadership team.

There are signs of early progress, including a median percent progress toward Typical Growth in iReady Mathematics of 107 and a median percent progress toward Typical Growth in iReady Reading of 103. Results from a student survey administered to more than 30,000 students revealed statistically significant improvement on topics such as rigorous expectations, school engagement, teacher–student relationships, bullying, and more, and a 10 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism. Gonzalez acknowledged there is still a long way to go, but “when you walk through the classrooms, you can see the high-quality grade-level materials in students’ hands, teachers are engaged, and kids are motivated to learn.”

*Based on state data from the 2017–2018 school year

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