School-based learning is of paramount importance for the lifelong success of students living in poverty, students of color and other marginalized groups. Yet, these groups of students often learn in schools with inequitable systems and outcomes. Equity is the principle that every student receives the greatest opportunity to learn, regardless of that student’s needs or identity.
What Are Equity Audits?
Equity audits are the processes by which learning institutions collect data to assess equity within their communities. Audits are a systematic tool that goes beyond a sole focus on academic achievement. Instead, an equity audit takes stock of additional components beyond achievement, including teaching quality and resource distribution.
As Paula Johnson writes for the Intercultural Developmental Research Association, the goal of an equity audit is “to identify institutional practices that produce discriminatory trends in data that affect students.” The audit examines not just the results — the student testing data, for example — but the systems and factors that produce those results. Essentially, they are a tool for accountability.
An equity audit can seem formidable, even intimidating, for school administrators. But thankfully, there is an established and still growing body of research and scholarship that outlines concrete steps and best practices for conducting equity audits.
While there are many approaches to such audits, they maintain the same goal, as defined by leading equity audit researchers Skrla, McKenzie and Scheurich (2009). There are actionable steps that institutions can take toward creating greater educational equity. Most important for schools to keep in mind is that an equity audit is the beginning of a process of ensuring equity, not a final step.
How Equity Audits Affect Underrepresented Populations and School Communities
Equity audits compile qualitative and quantitative data to paint a picture of learning equity as it currently stands within a school or institution. Leaders can examine both types of data through the lens of underrepresented or potentially underserved populations within a school. Such populations might include student groups based on race, gender and gender identity, family income, national origin, English language skills or disability.
However, experts note that there is a tendency to focus on race-based analysis that can obscure equitable progress more broadly. “Discussions about race are good, but fairly quickly, those conversations need to move into what system-level reforms must begin to occur to attain cultural responsiveness in all aspects of schooling,” writes Muhammad Khalifa in Culturally Responsive School Leadership. The goal, Khalifa emphasizes, is “deep cultural work.”
Equity audits are intended to benefit underrepresented populations by ensuring equitable educational opportunities for those students at every step, from teacher quality to curriculum and instruction to outcomes. Many of the equity audit models emphasize a critical dismantling of deficit-based views of key populations, replacing them with what Terrence L. Green in Educational Administration Quarterly calls “asset-based perspectives about students, families, and communities.”
As part of an ongoing process, equity audits help move schools closer to their goals of improving learning equity. This places a diversity of student needs at the center of systems and decisions. It interrogates the school community’s commitment to equity through a broader lens than just student performance or testing.
Different Types of Equity Audits and Their Processes
There are various frameworks for conducting equity audits. Three of the most common approaches all involve gathering a mix of quantitative and qualitative data related to student learning to reflect on any inequities arising from this collected data. Educators should then turn those reflections into actionable steps that foster educational equity.
Framework 1 — outlined by Linda, Skrla, Kathryn B. McKenzie and James Joseph Scheurich — provides “insight into, discussion of, and practical responses to systemic patterns of inequity.” It suggests an investigation of 12 particular points in three areas: teacher quality equity, programmatic equity and achievement equity.
Framework 2 — outlined by Muhammad Khalifa — presents “a more comprehensive way of finding oppressive practices and structures in schools,” which includes examining how students and families are marginalized. It proposes inquiry in four areas: equity trends, survey data, policy analysis and culturally responsive curriculum, teaching and leadership.
Framework 3 — outlined by Terrence L. Green — takes a community-based approach, urging schools to “reconsider underserved communities from resilient and asset-based perspectives.” It includes four phases: disrupting “deficit” views about a community; conducting initial community inquiry and having shared community experiences; establishing a community leadership team (CLT) and collecting asset-based community data.
Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s Master of Education in Early Childhood Education online program.
Curry School of Education and Human Development: Equity Audits: The Three Approaches to Equity Audits
Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association: Equity Audits: A Powerful Tool to Transform Teaching and Learning
Intercultural Development Research Association: Using Equity Audits to Assess and Address Opportunity Gaps Across Education