A Qualitative Study of Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Awareness, Readiness, and Response to Discrepancy in Student Outcomes in a Greater Toronto Area School District
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This qualitative study explored principals’ access, use, and response to discrepancies in student outcomes that reflect systemic inequities. Discovering how principals access, use, and respond to complementary school climate data to attend to issues of disproportionality is an important step toward making schools more equitable and more inviting. Principals’ behaviours with various data sources were explored in relation to Gorski’s (2015) framework of equity literacy by examining principal knowledge and skills in recognizing, responding to, and redressing inequity. Historically, the focus of school improvement has been primarily on student achievement although some school districts—such as this GTA school board—have developed more robust systems of data collection employing greater disaggregating factors revealing inequities in various populations of students. Systemic inequities have been seen in data about school context, student assets, and well-being factors such that measurement of inequity has become possible. This study began with questionnaire data that exposed significant variations with regard to principals’ equity literacy and beliefs. Selection criteria were used to focus on principals who articulated their commitment to equity and demonstrated higher awareness of discrepancy in order to identify promising practices. The purposive sample of school principals was interviewed, again revealing substantial variance in equity literacy. Unexpectedly, almost one-third of principals did not recognize patterns of social inequity in their data. Although participants reported a commitment to equity, interviews revealed much variance between individuals and therefore an inconsistency in capacity to redress inequity. Some principals revealed strategies that could be transformational in creating more equitable schools yet the knowledge and skills required were far from universal. Key threats to using data for equitable purposes were also brought to light including “not seeing” inequity, and underdeveloped data and equity literacy skills. These threats suggest there is a need to employ more consistent techniques to redress inequity and that stronger policies may facilitate better monitoring of equity outcomes.