Feb 23 2017

Advancing Educational Equity for Underserved Youth

How New State Accountability Systems Can Support School Inclusion and Student Success

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states, districts, and schools with an historic opportunity to enhance educational equity and support underserved students. Under this new law, states can enact accountability and improvement systems that identify multiple measures of school success, including such indicators as suspension and expulsion rates, chronic absenteeism, or access to college- and career-readiness courses. Use of these and other non-academic measures can focus attention and resources on strategies to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all students and—in so doing—begin to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.The “school-to-prison pipeline” can be defined as “the school policies and procedures that drive many of our nation’s schoolchildren into a pathway that begins in school and ends in the criminal justice system.” See The Anti-Defamation League. (n.d.). What is the School-to-Prison Pipeline (accessed 1/22/17).

States committed to promoting equity and improving outcomes for historically underserved youth can choose measures that reward schools for adopting inclusive policies and practices that equip and empower youth to succeed and result in higher achievement and graduation rates. As states develop their accountability and improvement systems under ESSA, they can choose high-leverage measures of school progress that, when combined with effective policies, hold promise for supporting success for the youth most marginalized by the education system.

To promote equity and improve outcomes, states can:

  • track suspension and expulsion rates and replace ineffective zero-tolerance discipline policies with restorative justice practices;American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force. (2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations. American Psychologist, 63(9), 852-862. 

  • incentivize schools to evaluate and improve school climate, which is associated with increased achievement and educational attainment for all students, especially those who are most vulnerable; 

  • monitor attendance and chronic absenteeism, and create approaches to intervene early and support attendance where needed to increase learning time; 

  • use an extended-year graduation rate (e.g., five, six, or seven years) as well as a four-year rate, to encourage high schools to work with and even bring back young people who are unable graduate in four years; and 

  • measure youth access to and completion of college- and career-ready courses of study to expand availability of evidence-based pathways and encourage schools to offer these opportunities to all youth.

Use of these measures can help identify appropriate evidence-based strategies and resources to improve outcomes and close gaps among student subgroups. In addition, working on these indicators will encourage schools to address common challenges to school completion for underserved students and reward schools for continuously improving student supports and outcomes. States can also advance more equitable outcomes by providing targeted and intensive support and resources to schools that are struggling overall or with particular groups of students.


Advancing Educational Equity for Underserved Youth: How New State Accountability Systems Can Support School Inclusion and Student Success by Jessica Cardichon and Linda Darling-Hammond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.