West Orange School District leaders use equity survey to begin collecting data

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Administrators from the West Orange School District presented the results of an equity audit to the public and Board of Education members at a BOE meeting on Nov. 8, based on a survey taken by 2,603 people in the district during the spring and fall. Tamika Pollins, the district’s director of assessment, accountability and intervention, was at the meeting to present the data. The district is working with Hanover Research on the audit.

“We are creating an equity scorecard data dashboard that will display student data over some time,” Pollins said at the meeting. “They take the information provided by us and use that to create the data and equity dashboard. Marrying the survey data that we received along with the student data is going to give us the opportunity to allow us to make comparisons of our subgroups for decision-making purposes. It will also allow us to assess where we are doing well in the space of equity and where we need to improve.”

The data being collected is in the categories of student enrollment and demographics, state assessment scores, benchmark test scores, discipline, course enrollment and performance, and National Student Clearinghouse data. Once the data is all collected, the results will be presented to the public in January 2022.

“The information that we receive will also be used to fuel our strategic planning process and will also be embedded in our goals for professional development in our achievement goals within the district,” Pollins said. “We’re also looking to reestablish a committee in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion so that everybody feels like they belong.”

In addition to collecting data and planning, Pollins said the district, under the leadership of Superintendent Scott Cascone, is planning events that district stakeholders can take part in.

“Dr. Cascone and I have been having conversations about (going) beyond goal setting. How do we curate experiences for our student body and our school community at large that everybody can participate in?” Pollins said. “Outside of just looking at where we are, where we need to go and how we’re doing, how do we create an experience for everybody while they’re here in West Orange?”

Of the 2,603 people who took the survey, 1,749 were students. Parents who participated numbered 685, and 169 staff members participated. Of those staff members, five were district administrators, nine were school administrators, 100 were classroom teachers, 33 were other certified staff members and 22 were noncertified staff members.

BOE member Melinda Huerta asked if the survey was available in hard copy form, for families that may not have had access to the internet and therefore couldn’t take it online. It was not; Cascone said at the meeting that that limit will be taken into account when looking at results.

“The absence needs to be taken into consideration when we’re looking at the findings,” he said. “This is sort of the lay of the land. It’s the beginning but certainly not the end to our process of continuing to gather information. What this will do is help inform subsequent mechanisms for gathering feedback, which are likely to be far more qualitative in nature.”

There are several liaison committees to reach bilingual families in the district, and Cascone said they will continue to be involved in the audit as it continues to improve access.

“We are trying to build the awareness and capacity for self-advocacy,” he said. “That’s really the endgame, and that’s what we’re working on.”