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Assessment, EdCan Network, Equity, Opinion

What will it take to achieve equity in and through educational improvement?

Three reasons why we need to be vigilant about arguing and advocating for equity

The rhetoric of ‘equity and excellence’ is pervasive across education systems with associated policies and practices. Yet the reality remains mixed of actually delivering on the promise of equity in and through education.

The rhetoric of ‘equity and excellence’ is pervasive across education systems with associated policies and practices. Yet the reality remains mixed of actually delivering on the promise of equity in and through education. So what will it take?

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First, it takes arguing against inequity and advocating for equity. Principles of equality, respect for diversity and collective responsibility are fundamental to Canadian laws and culture. Our education system is recognized as demonstrating that ‘excellence and equity can go together’ by the OECD  .  This is encouraging, but there are no grounds for complacency. Although Canada is faring the economic crisis globally better than some countries; rising income inequalities, fiscal restraint, budget deficits, unemployment and other challenges ahead are very present. Locally, we can identify students, families, communities and schools experiencing serious disadvantages and inequities.  So we need to be vigilant about arguing and advocating for equity.
Although Canada is faring the economic crisis globally better than some countries; rising income inequalities, fiscal restraint, budget deficits, unemployment and other challenges ahead are very present. Locally, we can identify students, families, communities and schools experiencing serious disadvantages and inequities.  So we need to be vigilant about arguing and advocating for equity.

 

Second, we must demand and provide quality evidence about educational and social disadvantages. The focus on ‘achievement gaps’ has drawn attention to inequities in educational outcomes, particularly test scores. Attention to student progression and transitions is also important, such as data tracking students’ results over time, credit accumulation, and high school graduation.  We need also to examine the processes and experiences within schooling that support or prevent all students from achieving, such as quality teaching, classroom resources, student engagement and high expectations. Of course, while schools can and do make a difference, they are not solely responsible for creating or addressing inequity. We need evidence also about social disadvantages affecting students. Here we have more to do. While we can use Statistics Canada Census data  to provide evidence about the socio-economic context of schools’ neighbourhoods, the ending of the long-form census means we will struggle to have accurate local data in the future. We do not have adequate student level data about poverty, race, ethnicity, language and other demographic factors that are commonly used in some other countries. I recognize that this a sensitive issue with concerns about misuse and misinterpretation of the data, including potential discrimination or being a trigger for policies with negative consequences. These are legitimate concerns. But the reality is that we don’t have solid data about the existence, interconnections, and impacts of social, economic and educational disadvantages for students. If we are serious about achieving equity, we need such data to be available and used sensitively, appropriately and supportively as a resource – not the driver – to serve the larger purpose of identifying inequities and informing debate and actions for solutions.
 
Third, we require continued attention to implementing effective or promising approaches to addressing inequity. This involves approaches to supporting learning, including effective instruction, formative assessments and feedback, high expectations that all students can succeed, ensuring both the foundations of literacy and numeracy and supporting higher order skills across the curriculum, and providing pathways and opportunities to support all students to complete high school and progress further. Academic progress and achievement are equity strategies. Attention must also be given to removing barriers to learning within school and, importantly, beyond school related to a student’s individual, family and community context, such as physical, emotional and mental health, poverty, homelessness, hunger, abuse, and many other issues. Equity is delivering the belief that all students can achieve given sufficient supports. It is about a universal commitment to high standards and educational improvement, combined with targeted interventions for those students who need additional supports, in particular those doubly challenged by both educational and social disadvantages.
 
This is complex work. There are deep rooted economic and social factors. Nevertheless, there are students and schools that are overcoming disadvantage and succeeding.  There are individuals who have made a significant difference – by holding high expectations for students to succeed, by challenging negative attitudes, by being a caring adult who took the time to (re)engage a student, by providing academic support, or by offering practical resources. My concern is to contribute to an education system that is excellent and equitable; this starts with each and all of us. I will argue against inequity, advocate for equity, demand and provide evidence, seek and propose solutions, act individually and collaborate collectively.  And you?

 

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Meet the Expert(s)

Carol Campbell

Dr. Carol Campbell is Associate Professor of Leadership and Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She is an appointed Education Advisor to the Premier and the Minister of Education in Ontario, and a member of the Education Canada Editorial Board.

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