Rooting Out Inequity in Education

February 10, 2020

How Westat Works to Fulfill the Promise of Access to Equitable, Quality Education for All Students

Access to an equitable, quality education for the nation’s growing number of low-income, racially and ethnically diverse students is still problematic, casting both students and the country into a potentially troubling future. The solution, of course, lies in closing the many achievement and opportunity gaps for underserved students—the mobilization of which Westat has supported for the past several decades.

“We work on many education projects, and with each, we apply an equity lens—whether we’re conducting research, providing technical assistance, or performing outreach,” says Babette Gutmann, a Vice President and Practice Director for Education Studies. Ms. Gutmann, who has designed, managed, and conducted randomized experiments and program evaluations for services to at-risk children for 35+ years, leads Westat’s equity in education work. “We do this to ensure all students—particularly our underserved Black, Latinx, and American Indian students—receive a high-quality education within a culturally responsive environment.”

This equity lens is the key to successful implementation of equity strategies that affect education outcomes. Westat works to apply this lens by studying challenges, expanding knowledge, creating tools, and providing evidence-based solutions. Here are some recent examples of Westat innovations that have effected change.

Impacting Graduation Rates and College Readiness

Darcy Pietryka, a Westat Senior Study Director, directs a project that aims to produce and substantiate new solutions to the educational challenges facing some of the nation’s most underserved rural, urban, and even suburban students and schools. She explains that Westat’s technical assistance to project grantees helps them develop and successfully implement equity-focused solutions: “As one example, our work enables grantees to implement, sustain, and disseminate promising evidence-based, culturally and linguistically responsive interventions related to college readiness and access; and this support has led to increased high school graduation rates and college attendance.”

Helping States Identify Student Success Gaps

Westat operates a data center that assists states and districts to improve their capacity to accurately and effectively collect, analyze, report, and use data required of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Part B refers to the programs serving children ages 3 through 21.

“Collaborating with states and districts, we examine gaps in educational outcomes for groups of students based on race, ethnicity, income, disability, and other categories,” says Julie Bollmer, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director who leads this work, adding: “These gaps can be differences in graduation rates, reading or math achievement, or disciplinary actions—any of which can hinder success for students. The Success Gaps Toolkit we’ve developed helps state education agencies and local education agencies (LEAs) investigate equity, inclusion, and opportunity issues.”

Helping Students Where They Are

As part of technical assistance outreach to place-based programs in economically distressed communities, Westat worked  with grantees to develop equity-focused, evidence-based cradle-to-career interventions, including early education support; teacher professional learning; wrap-around services to students and families; and college readiness, access, and success programs.

“By involving nonprofits, LEAs, and universities and colleges in all aspects of these culturally responsive interventions, we were able to close opportunity gaps for underserved communities, including in the schools to help students succeed,” says Jenna Aurand Scott, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director who led this work.

Designing and Conducting Educator Effectiveness Programs

A long-time focus of Westat’s equity work is developing and implementing teacher and principal effectiveness programs and workforce systems in underserved schools. These programs help districts, schools, educators, and other personnel grow professionally to positively impact student outcomes.

Our staff has created culturally responsive professional learning programs and has implemented these programs using toolkits and award-winning videos to reinforce strategies to help educators succeed. Wesley Williams, II, a former Westat Senior Study Director, and Kay Gallagher, a Westat communications specialist, produced several videos that illustrate the importance of educators’ influence on student success. These include “That Noble Title: Teacher,” “How Are the Children?” and “Supporting Teacher Leadership in NYC through TIF.” The first two videos are used during professional development conferences. The third documents how Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) programs support strategies that help educators succeed.

Mr. Williams has also worked with all 50 states to develop individual plans describing the steps each will take to ensure that economically disadvantaged students, students of color, and ethnic minority students are taught by effective teachers as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Westat team summarized the State Equity Plans in a report identifying trends and commonalities and highlighting promising initiatives or practices. Learn more about our work in building teacher effectiveness: Westat Works to Make Equity in Education Happen.

Our Equity Lens and Students’ Future

“The opportunity gaps for underserved students will persist throughout their lives without effective interventions with an equity focus,” concludes Ms. Gutmann. “As long as the needs of underserved students are so neglected, these young people will struggle to find success, as will our nation. This is why our Westat Education team is committed to mobilizing the development, substantiation, and implementation of evidence-based solutions to prepare every student for tomorrow and for a productive, prosperous adulthood.”

For more information on Westat’s education equity work: Contact us.


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