The Committee on Developing Indicators of Educational Equity was formed to identify key indicators for measuring and monitoring the extent of equity in the nation’s K–12 education system. The purpose of such indicators is not to track progress toward aggregate goals, such as that all students graduate high school within 4 years of entering 9th grade, but to identify differences in progress toward that goal, differences in students’ family background and other characteristics, and differences in the conditions and structures in the education system that may affect students’ education. A carefully chosen set of equity indicators can highlight disparities, provide a way to explore potential causes, and point toward possible improvements.
Enacting change can be challenging, but it is nearly impossible if there is no information about existing problems. Systematically collected indicators can allow valid comparisons of schools, districts, and states across a number of important student outcomes. No one indicator by itself can tell the full story, but taken together, a set of indicators can provide a detailed and nuanced picture that can inform and enlighten policy makers, policy implementers, state school boards and superintendents, educators, and researchers.
Educational attainment, including, at a minimum, high school completion and a postsecondary credential, is a valued goal for all children in the United States. A high-quality education is in the best interests not only of every individual, but also of society. Failing to attain at least a high school education leaves individuals vulnerable to adverse consequences in adulthood, including a higher likelihood of unemployment, low-wage employ-
ment, poor health, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Those adverse adult outcomes for poorly educated individuals have significant costs for the nation as a whole (Conclusion 1-1).
Disparities in educational attainment among population groups have characterized the United States throughout its history. Students from families that are white, have relatively high incomes, and are proficient in English have tended to have higher rates of educational attainment than other students, yet they now represent a decreasing proportion of the student population, while groups that have been historically disadvantaged represent an increasing proportion of the student population. An educational system that benefits certain groups over others misses out on the talent of the full population of students. It is a loss both for the students who are excluded and for society (Conclusion 1-2).
The history of constitutional amendments, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and federal, state, and local legislation and policies indicates: (1) a recognition that population groups—such as racial and ethnic minorities, children living in low-income families, children who are not proficient in English, and children with disabilities—have experienced significant barriers to educational attainment; and (2) an expressed intent to remove barriers to education for all students. Educational equity requires that educational opportunity be calibrated to need, which may include additional and tailored resources and supports to create conditions of true educational opportunity (Conclusion 1-3). This idea of equity is different from equality, which connotes the idea that certain goods and services are distributed evenly, irrespective of individual needs or assets.
The circumstances in which students live affect their academic engagement, academic progress, and educational attainment in important ways. If narrowing disparities in student outcomes is an imperative, schools cannot shirk the challenges arising from context. Neither can they confront these challenges on their own. Contextual factors that bear on learning range from food and housing insecurity to exposure to violence, unsafe neighborhoods, and adverse childhood experiences to exposure to environmental toxins. Children also differ in their individual responses to stress. Addressing student needs, in light of their life circumstances, requires a wide variety of resources. It is a responsibility that needs to be shared by schools, school systems, other agencies serving children and families, and nongovernmental community organizations (Conclusion 3-1).
The committee emphasizes that an indicator is a measure (e.g., a statistic) that is used to track progress toward objectives or monitor conditions over time. For education, an indicator would allow meaningful examination
of equity between key population groups, such as those defined by socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, or English proficiency.
To be useful to policy makers, educators, and other stakeholders, two types of equity indicators are needed: (1) indicators that measure disparities in students’ academic achievement and attainment outcomes and engagement in schooling; and (2) indicators that measure equitable access to resources and opportunities, including the structural aspects of school systems that may impact opportunity and exacerbate existing disparities in family and community contexts and contribute to unequal outcomes for students (Conclusion 2-1).
To ensure that the pursuit of equity encompasses both the goals to which the nation aspires for its children and the mechanisms to attain those goals, a system of educational equity indicators should balance breadth of coverage with specificity to the appropriate stages of child development and to relevant groups facing disparity. It should also balance consistency across time and place with sensitivity to temporal and geographic context. The committee identified the following characteristics as crucial to striking this balance.
A system of educational equity indicators should (Conclusion 2-2):
- measure multiple dimensions of educational outcomes and opportunities, including changes over time;
- focus on disparities between the population subgroups most salient for policy attention;
- use measures that are comparable across time and place, and useful at several organizational scales (classrooms, schools, districts, states, nation);
- use indicators and measures appropriate to grade level;
- measure contextual and structural characteristics of or affecting the educational system, such as racial segregation and concentrated poverty;
- produce frequent, readily understood, high-level summary statistics, in addition to more nuanced statistics;
- be based on scientifically sound measures; and
- incorporate mechanisms for continuous improvement based on research and other developments.
Consistent with these conclusions, the committee identified 16 indicators in seven domains. Domains A, B, and C cover individuals: they focus on equity in key measurable outcomes from preschool through the postsecondary transition. Domain D addresses the broader context for the racial, ethnic, economic, and linguistic segregation that confront education in the United States. Domains E, F, and G cover institutions: they address
equitable access to opportunities afforded by the education system that can contribute to—or diminish—group differences in achieving key educational outcomes.
Disparities in Outcomes
The committee proposes a set of seven indicators to measure outcomes that we judged to be critically important milestones for success as students proceed from kindergarten through the postsecondary transition: see Table S-1.
Domain A: Kindergarten Readiness
Early childhood experiences set the stage for later academic success. Broadly speaking, kindergarten readiness is the set of foundational skills, behaviors, and knowledge that enable children to successfully transition into kindergarten and achieve academic success throughout the primary grades. From an equity perspective, monitoring kindergarten readiness is important because large between-group disparities become apparent well before children enter kindergarten and can have lasting effects.
- Indicator 1: Disparities in Academic Readiness
- Indicator 2: Disparities in Self-Regulation and Attention Skills
Domain B: K–12 Learning and Engagement
What students learn and how they perform in school positions them for future success as they progress through the K–12 system and as they pursue postsecondary options. To benefit from instruction, students first have to be at school. The positive relationship between instruction time and learning is well documented. Course performance and test scores are well-documented as reliable and valid indicators of academic learning and progress toward educational attainment. Group differences along these dimensions are problematic because they have been found to predict a wide range of longer-term disparities that can impede students from reaching their full potential.
- Indicator 3: Disparities in Engagement in Schooling
- Indicator 4: Disparities in Performance in Coursework
- Indicator 5: Disparities in Performance on Tests
|DOMAIN||INDICATORS||CONSTRUCTS TO MEASURE|
Disparities in Academic Readiness
Reading/literacy skills Numeracy/math skills
Disparities in Self-Regulation and Attention Skills
K–12 Learning and Engagement
Disparities in Engagement in Schooling
Disparities in Performance in Coursework
Success in classes
Accumulating credits (being on track to graduate)
Disparities in Performance on Tests
Achievement in reading, math, and science
Learning growth in reading, math, and science achievement
Disparities in On-Time Graduation
Disparities in Postsecondary Readiness
Enrollment in college, entry into the workforce, enlistment in the military
Extent of Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation
Disparities in Students’ Exposure to Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation
Concentration of poverty in schools
Racial segregation within and across schools
Equitable Access to High-Quality Early Learning Programs
Disparities in Access to and Participation in High-Quality Pre-K Programs
Availability of licensed pre-K programs
Participation in licensed pre-K programs
|DOMAIN||INDICATORS||CONSTRUCTS TO MEASURE|
Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction
Disparities in Access to Effective Teaching
Teachers’ years of experience
Teachers’ credentials, certification
Racial and ethnic diversity of the teaching force
Disparities in Access to and Enrollment in Rigorous Coursework
Availability and enrollment in advanced, rigorous course work
Availability and enrollment in advanced placement, international baccalaureate, and dual enrollment programs
Availability and enrollment in gifted and talented programs
Disparities in Curricular Breadth
Availability and enrollment in coursework in the arts, social sciences, sciences, and technology
Disparities in Access to High-Quality Academic Supports
Access to and participation in formalized systems of tutoring or other types of academic supports, including special education services and services for English learners
Equitable Access to Supportive School and Classroom Environments
Disparities in School Climate
Perceptions of safety, academic support, academically focused culture, and teacher-student trust
Disparities in Nonexclusionary Discipline Practices
Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions
Disparities in Nonacademic Supports for Student Success
Supports for emotional, behavioral, mental, and physical health
Domain C: Educational Attainment
Education is a critically important way for individuals to pursue their goals in life. On average, higher levels of educational attainment are associated with higher levels of financial, emotional, and physical well-being. Yet research consistently shows between-group differences in educational attainment related to people’s race, ethnicity, and gender.
Given the lifelong benefits that accrue with increasing levels of education, the committee’s aspiration is for all students to earn a 2- or 4-year college degree. This goal includes high-school graduation, readiness for postsecondary education, and postsecondary matriculation and completion. Because postsecondary persistence and completion are beyond the scope of this report, our indicators are focused on readiness for the transition to 2- or 4-year postsecondary education.
- Indicator 6: Disparities in On-Time Graduation
- Indicator 7: Disparities in Postsecondary Readiness
Equitable Access to Resources and Opportunities
Disparities in educational opportunities are important to understand and monitor because, at a minimum, they reinforce, and, at worst, they amplify, disparities in outcomes throughout people’s lives. While schools are not the only source of opportunity, they can mirror and even exacerbate societal inequities. Yet even in the face of powerful external influences, the investments the nation makes in preschool and K–12 education can play a crucial role in mitigating them. In an effort to maximize attention to such investments, the committee’s proposed set of indicators includes high-leverage focal points that can signal problematic group differences in achieving key educational outcomes or progress toward overcoming identified disparities. Along with these school-based opportunities, the committee includes indicators of the role of segregation and structural inequity.
Domain D: Extent of Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation
Segregation, both economic and racial/ethnic, poses one of the most formidable barriers to educational equity. Under conditions of economic segregation, low-income students disproportionately attend schools with high concentrations of other low-income students. Schools that are marked by concentrated poverty often lack the human, material, and curricular resources to meet the academic and socioemotional needs of their populations. Segregation also brings racial differences in exposure to concentrated poverty, leading to nonwhite students being in schools with higher rates of
concentrated poverty than other students. This situation exacerbates racial disparities in educational outcomes.
- Indicator 8: Disparities in Students’ Exposure to Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation
Domain E: Equitable Access to High-Quality Early Learning Programs
Early childhood education is a strong predictor of kindergarten readiness, and one of the most common and policy-relevant out-of-home experiences that young children have. However, there are sizable differences in the availability of high-quality early learning programs and in enrollment between children from lower-income families, families with parents with lower levels of educational attainment, and families in which the parents are not proficient in English and their more advantaged peers. And that availability gap is compounded by a corresponding disparity in the quality of programs that are available to children from families with different income levels.
- Indicator 9: Disparities in Access to and Participation in High-Quality Pre-K Programs
Domain F: Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction
The interaction between students and teachers—through curriculum, coursework, and instruction—is at the heart of education. Students’ exposure to a rich and broad curriculum, challenging coursework, and inspired teaching is therefore vital for their learning and development. There is no widespread agreement on which specific elements of curriculum, coursework, and teaching matter for student outcomes, but there is evidence that these core elements are not distributed in an equitable way—in relation to either proportionality or need.
There is widespread agreement that teachers are the most important in-school factor contributing to student outcomes, but the research is not as conclusive about which teacher characteristics are associated with effectiveness. From an equity standpoint, the biggest concern is that teachers with more experience and credentials are currently not distributed equally or equitably among schools with different student populations.
Coursework is another central component of academic progress and attainment. Research has long shown that differences in exposure to challenging courses and instruction contribute to disparities in educational outcomes by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. As such, improving access to high-quality advanced coursework across several disciplines
represents a potential lever for reducing group disparities in educational attainment.
Access to a broad curriculum that includes courses in art, geography, history, civics, technology, music, science, world languages, and other subjects is important to help all students become well-rounded individuals.
Excellence in academic programming and resources needs to include not only equitable access to advanced placement courses and other advanced coursework, but also meeting the academic needs of students on the other end of the achievement distribution. The adequacy of formal academic supports for students who are struggling to achieve is at least as important as fair access to enrichment opportunities for high-achieving students.
- Indicator 10: Disparities in Access to Effective Teaching
- Indicator 11: Disparities in Access to and Enrollment in Rigorous Coursework
- Indicator 12: Disparities in Curricular Breadth
- Indicator 13: Disparities in Access to High-Quality Academic Supports
Domain G: Equitable Access to Supportive School and Classroom Environments
Students need more than challenging courses and effective teachers to thrive academically. They also need physically and emotionally safe learning environments, with a range of supports that pave the way for them to succeed by addressing their socioemotional and academic needs. Safe, supportive school environments and access to counseling, as well as referral to social services, are especially important for students who experience chronic stressors outside of school that affect their learning and development.
- Indicator 14: Disparities in School Climate
- Indicator 15: Disparities in Nonexclusionary Discipline Practices
- Indicator 16: Disparities in Nonacademic Supports for Student Success
As we note above, the purpose of these proposed indicators is to shed light on differences among students, schools, and their contexts. These indicators could serve an important function to alert the public and policy makers to disparities and suggest avenues for further investigation and policy interventions or changes.
In developing the proposed set of indicators, the committee conducted a broad review of the equity indicators reported by other programs, the data sources they use, the indicators they report, and the strategies and
mechanisms they use to communicate with stakeholders. There are many publications of key indicators for K–12 education and, more generally, for child well-being, and most publications link to more detailed underlying data. But none of the publications, including those that focus specifically on between-group disparities, presents a fully developed representation based on a carefully articulated concept of equity that covers all student groups of interest. In addition, the indicators in some reports are based on data sources that cannot support subnational detail.
Overall, existing data collection programs and related publications present a mixed picture with regard to their ability to support the committee’s proposed set of K–12 educational equity indicators (Conclusion 2-3).
The committee recommends a system or set of indicators that are collected and reported on a regular, sustained basis. The committee concludes that it is critical to develop methods for reporting and tracking the educational equity indicators we propose.
We call for the indicators to be collected on a broad scale across the country with reporting mechanisms designed to regularly and systematically inform stakeholders at the national, state, and local levels about the status of educational equity in the United States. A set of key indicators is intended to bring attention to the current status of U.S. education and allow policy makers and the public to identify disparities, explore the causes of those disparities, and decide on actions to address identified inequities, as well as to monitor progress over time. The system we envision would have the same level of priority as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), with annual reports that allow the country to monitor progress in making education more equitable from pre-K to grade 12 to the transition to postsecondary education. Given this aspiration, we do not underestimate the level of effort and national will that will be required. That effort will be needed to assemble the necessary data, conduct analyses and data transformations to generate indicators, and implement, evaluate, and improve a system of indicators on a continuing, regular basis.
RECOMMENDATION 1: The federal government should coordinate with states, school districts, and educational intermediaries to incorporate the committee’s proposed 16 indicators of educational equity into their relevant data collection and reporting activities, strategic priorities, and plans to meet the equity aspects of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
RECOMMENDATION 2: To ensure nationwide coverage and comparability, the federal government should work with states, school
districts, and educational intermediaries to develop a national system of educational equity indicators. Such a system should be the source of regular reports on the indicators and bring visibility to the longstanding disparities in educational outcomes in the United States and should highlight both where progress is being made and where more progress is needed.
RECOMMENDATION 3: In designing the recommended indicator system, the federal government, in coordination with states, school districts, and educational intermediaries, should take care that the system enables reporting of indicators for historically disadvantaged groups of students and for specific combinations of demographic characteristics, such as race and ethnicity by gender. The system also should have the characteristics of effective systems of educational equity indicators identified by the committee.
We note that the system of indicators we propose focuses on the role the education system should play in addressing academic disparities. Although unaddressed in this report, other child-serving agencies play an equally important role in helping at-risk children. The effects of adversity on a child or adolescent depends not only on individual resilience and natural variations in child development, but also on the child’s opportunity for experiences, interventions, and supports that may mitigate or even undo the effects of adversity, both material and psychological. Consequently, learning obstacles resulting from the contexts of children’s lives are not student deficits barring success, but student needs in search of appropriate opportunities. Research is needed to increase understanding of how various interventions or opportunities are related to individual student needs that are rooted in context. Consensus-building is needed to create indicators and measures that eventually would be included in a broader equity indicator system. For many student needs, screening and responses can best be provided outside of the school setting. Therefore, an indicator system that encompasses all the domains of opportunity important for equity will need to monitor how well student success is supported by other child-serving agencies.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Governmental and philanthropic funders should work with researchers to develop indicators of the existence and effectiveness of systems of cross-agency integrated services that address context-related impediments to student success, such as trauma and chronic stress created by adversity. The indicators and measures should encompass screening, intervention, and supports delivered not only by school systems, but also by other child-serving agencies.
A concerted effort is needed to create the system of equity indicators. Demonstration projects and early prototypes will help catalyze interest in the system and test its feasibility and usefulness.
RECOMMENDATION 5: Public and private funders should support detailed design and implementation work for a comprehensive set of equity indicators, including an operational prototype. This work should involve: (1) self-selected “early adopter” states and districts; (2) intermediaries, such as the Council of the Great City Schools, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association; (3) stakeholder representatives; and (4) researchers. This work should focus on cataloguing the available data sources, determining areas of overlap and gaps, and seeking consensus on appropriate paths forward toward expanding the indicator system to a broader set of states and districts.
A system of equity indicators needs input and buy-in from a range of stakeholders. This input is needed to develop a process for producing an informative and coherent set of educational equity indicators, determine their content, and ensure that the results will be understood by users. For these purposes, we believe a governing body is needed to provide governance and implementation. We suggest that one analogous to the National Assessment Governing Board that partners with the National Center for Education Statistics for NAEP could be a useful model.
RECOMMENDATION 6: Public or private funders, or both, should establish an independent entity to govern the committee’s proposed educational equity indicators. The responsibilities of this entity would include establishing and maintaining a system of research, evaluation, and development to drive continuous improvement in the indicators, measures of them, reporting and dissemination of results, and the system generally. This entity might be structured like the National Assessment Governing Board and might report on both levels of the various outcomes the committee proposes and equity gaps in those indicators, as the Governing Board currently does with NAEP.
Acting on these recommendations will keep in the public eye a critical goal for the nation: to ensure that all students receive the supports they need to obtain a high-quality education from pre-K through 12th grade. Educating all students is fundamental to the nation’s ability to grow and develop and to afford all of its people the opportunity to live full and rewarding lives.