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Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company: to help every child succeed irrespective of all needs and circumstances.This article reviews systemic challenges that have long impacted equity in ECE. 

These challenges have deepened inequity in education. Some by faulty design, and others due to natural demographic changes. 

But first, why does equity matter?


Why Is Equity Such a Priority?

Equality of opportunity is the basic building block of education where every child receives the quality education needed to succeed. High-quality education in early years is especially important as so much learning and childhood development happens between birth to age eight. 

To this endeavor, there are federal, state and provincial programs that expand high-quality early childhood education programs so children from various backgrounds are able to have the same chances to succeed academically.

But the responsibility of the schooling system does not stop there. It’s how every child interacts with these early learning programs that ultimately determines achievement outcomes in academia and other socio-emotional domains. 

Every child is unique. Each child requires the collaboration of educators, parents, the community, researchers, administrators and policy makers to ensure equity. 

When families and children are left to fend for themselves in order to achieve equity and fairness, discrepancies in outcomes begin to take place.

These discrepancies usually correlate to families from low socioeconomic backgrounds and/or  non-native English speakers.

Here are two main causes of inequity in early childhood education.

Too Much Value is Placed on Standardized Testing

Child development specialists and educators recognize the importance of the early learning years. 

Observational formative assessments have always been used to monitor the growth and development of young students and catalog their progress.

In the late 90s in the US, there was an increase in formal standardized testing to categorize students into groups of different abilities or make a decision on whether to place them at a certain grade level. 

It’s a trend that has not abated. More instances of standardized testing in early childhood education have been making their way into large school systems in the US such as the Chicago Public schools. California and other states have been moving towards established assessments for k-2 students. 

Boys and non-English speakers are at a disadvantage when it comes to such types of early screenings. They are more likely to be held back or placed in a special group and miss out on the benefits of continued learning opportunities. 

LaParo and Pianta found in a meta analytic review, that only a quarter of variance on academic/cognitive skills on first and second grades tests were accurately predicted by preschool or kindergarten tests.

Standardized testing has its place in the system, but not at the onset of the early learning period. This early on, there’s too much at stake to mistakenly limit a child’s potential by holding them to a lower standard because of a standardized assessment taking place during a small moment in time.  

Yes, standardized tests are often valuable for education systems to understand the degree to which children are represented in different developmental domains. But this should not limit an individual child’s potential or learning trajectory.

The Role of Implicit Bias Is Unchecked Due to Lack of Data

Researchers have studied the effects of stress and ambiguity on educators who work in a school setting that foster unconscious attitudes, stereotypes and reactions. Implicit bias is real. Luckily, by being aware of it, we can mitigate its effect. 

The expectations teachers place on their students have been linked to student success. It’s an opportunity for educators to base those expectations on the back of evidence, rather than using any mental heuristics which are prone to implicit bias, or even explicit bias. 

Incorporating a data-driven decision making approach for educators can support teachers when planning daily instruction in their classrooms.. Data-driven instruction has been shown to positively impact the childhood education experience and enhance student outcomes. 

With an evidence-based approach that collects multiple data points during assessment and throughout the delivery of instruction during the school year, educators can best adapt instruction to the strengths, needs and interests of the child. Sprig Learning’s AI Engine was built to collect such data to personalize instruction for students,and support differentiated instruction in the classroom.


Diversity Necessitates Inclusion

In the beginning of this article, it was discussed how equity is the goal to strive for, beyond equality or access to education. But there are two things that also require discussion. Diversity and inclusion. 

In order to achieve equity, the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of all children need to be recognized and included. When a child’s culture is reflected in the education system,  this increases a child’s sense of belonging and engagement when it comes to learning. 

Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) has 175 schools and over 100,000 students in its system. To ensure every student felt included and was treated fairly, teachers, parents, local businesses, community groups, and others were interviewed to gather their feedback.

As a result, and in an effort to ensure an equitable education for children from economically-diverse communities, it adopted adaptive technology that personalizes learning for all students.

Christina Byers, Executive Director of Leadership Development for BCPS elementary schools, says “Adaptive technology can help ensure that kids aren’t penalized because of their zip code or their race or what school they happen to go to”.

To  foster and support diversity in education, it is clear that diverse communities need to be engaged and included. 

The percentage of students from a low socio-economic status, who are English-language learners and who have diagnosed disabilities have all increased by 5 or more percentage points in the US over the last five decades.

Diversity is not only restricted to demographic and socioeconomic factors. There is also neurodiversity. Nearly half of all students in the public education system have some sort of learning diversity. In order to achieve ultimate equity in education, learning has to be personalized at an individual level.


Main Lessons in Equity

Building Equity Accountability Through Data

Whether it’s structures and processes in place such as the standardized tests, our own implicit bias, or the growing diversity in today’s classroom, there is a lot to be done on the road to achieving equity in early learning. 

Early learning is especially important as that’s where equity issues can first start to surface. Recent research across the US found that preschoolers are expelled at rates three times higher than school-aged children.  Nearly half of those expelled were African American children, despite representing only 18 percent of enrolment 

Rather than punitive measures, it should be better understood why certain children are acting the way they are, so they can be better supported from the start. 

For improved early learning equity, the Education Trust, a think tank, recommends building strong vertical data systems that track student progress over time. Sprig agrees, as it uses portfolios in its program to build a learning profile for young students which follows the child as they progress from grade to grade and year to year.  

There are benefits to be gained by monitoring learning over time, so we can better isolate the factors that could be causing inequity. To this point, the Education Trust, also recommends tracking preschool data at a program level, complementing  data at the district or county level.

Building Identity Through Culturally Responsive Resources

Educare Chicago is an innovative early learning research-based program that serves low-income preschool children in Chicago. It helps children develop the literacy, language, early math and social-emotional skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

But they also address the issue of equity head on. Their approach “emphasizes a teacher’s capacity to help a child recognize how they are simultaneously different and similar to others.” 

As a result, children feel grounded in who they are and also able to comfortably engage with people from all backgrounds.

It’s important for students to develop a strong identity with relevant classroom resources and materials, so students see themselves reflected in their curriculum. 

There is lots to think about. 

By honouring diversity with culturally-relevant classroom materials, and monitoring student data over time, it’s conceivable to move forward in our shared goal of education equity for all. Sprig is leading this front, with expertise in both these areas. Contact us to learn more.