Aug 03 2023
Data Analytics

Moving from Equal to Equitable Classrooms Using Data and Technology

Educational technology widened equity gaps for many students, but now K–12 leaders are using tech to evaluate disparities and strengthen diversity.

The digital equity challenges highlighted by the pandemic are well known: students falling behind without access to devices and entire communities struggling to connect to the internet. As K–12 institutions approach their fourth back-to-school season since the pandemic started, administrators and educators are finding ways to bridge these divides for learners.

Arlington Central School District in New York made major strides to ensure students could continue learning during the pandemic. “They invested thousands and thousands of dollars to upgrade the technology infrastructure, as well as getting everybody a device,” says Sal Contes, the district’s director of instructional services. “We’re a full Google district. We even got brand new Promethean boards in every classroom.”

A necessary step toward equality required ensuring that all users had the same devices and a sufficient internet connection. Now, Contes is working within the district to ensure there is equity.

“When you hear the kids are struggling, you have to look at — not just grades — a variety of variables,” he says.

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In Texas, Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos Jr., a former school board trustee for Fort Worth Independent School District, similarly worked toward equity for students in his region after assuring equal access.

“There were a lot of other challenges that followed,” Ramos says. “There were families that didn’t comprehend the basics of using a device: powering it up, navigating different programs and even how to connect to the internet.”

As K–12 schooling continues to rely on educational technology, here’s how districts are making strides toward equitable learning opportunities for students.

Educational Technology Gathers Data That Evaluates Equity

With the new technology, Contes has ways of reaching all the students in the district. “I administer a wellness and belonging survey, as well as a social emotional learning survey, twice a year.”

This gives him and the district’s educators a baseline for how students are feeling and why they might be underperforming or behaving in certain ways. “When you look at the numbers, they look good at 83 or 84 percent. Then you say, ‘Wait a minute, where are the other 16 percent?’”

He says it’s important for all K–12 staff members to shift their mindset when looking at the data to help the students who would otherwise be overlooked.

Ramos also uses data points to determine if students are being treated equitably. As part of the My Brother’s Keeper chapter he volunteers with, Ramos introduced new ways of using videoconferencing technology.

“We use video not only for livestreaming but also for uploading in a cloud-based system from our devices,” he says. This allows the volunteers to reflect after working with students. Ramos says they look at how the students respond and whether adults did most of the talking.

Sal Contes
When you hear the kids are struggling, you have to look at — not just grades — a variety of variables.”

Sal Contes Director of Instructional Services, Arlington Central School District

Schools can use these data points as well to evaluate how students are performing and being treated in the classroom. This type of data could show educators who among the students in their class is struggling.

“We need to make people understand how education has changed and is continuing to change, and we have to adapt to it,” Contes says. “Because, at the end of the day, the kids are going to suffer if we don’t adapt.”

Diversity of Educators and Administrators Builds Classroom Equity

Ramos also recommends that K–12 schools conduct equity audits. “Get the numbers associated with the disparities, and make educated decisions on where and how to address those inequities,” he says. He speaks to his work on diversification in classrooms as a way to make learning more equitable for students.

“It’s more about the diversification of conscious human beings in the classrooms,” Ramos says. “What is an educator’s level of consciousness racially, socially and beyond? They are gatekeepers, to a large degree, of what is going to be placed in front of students.”

Contes calls attention to the lack of diversity in K–12 administration, particularly when it comes to intersectionality, as with female Latina superintendents. He adds that he became a teacher because he had a Hispanic teacher’s assistant and a Hispanic baseball coach in high school who pushed him to follow that career path.

He sees his own journey reflected in the students he works with today, explaining how a Black male high school student reminisced about his third grade teacher. “When I met my third grade teacher, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a Black male teacher,’” Contes recalls the student saying. “He goes, ‘I am now a senior. I have not had another Black teacher.’”

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“I will always be in ties and suits because they told me I’m a role model,” Contes adds. “Wherever you’re stepping into, they’re probably going to look to you.”

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