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School Leaders Sense-making and Use of Equity-related Data to Disrupt Patterns of Inequality


This qualitative phenomenological study explored how school leaders in seven urban high schools in California make sense of and use equity-related data to create more equitable educational opportunity for their students. Equity-related data here refers to school data (accountability data included) that demonstrate unequal access to educational opportunity and disparity of outcomes for subgroups of students. Data has been part of the U.S. educational system increasingly since 1965. The amount of data available has accelerated even more in the last decade in the wake of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Much of that data has been collected and used by educators for a broader category of assessment and measurement of students and school performance. Recently, however, there is an increasing interest in and research about how school leaders can use data for equity purposes.

Utilizing a qualitative phenomenological approach, this research examined how 19 school leaders, at seven urban high schools in the state of California, make sense of and use equity-related data to disrupt patterns of inequality. Through interviews, observation, shadowing, and collection of documents and paper artifacts, this study

collected data that demonstrate how these school leaders were making sense of data at their schools and using such to create more equitable opportunities for students. This study suggests that school leaders' interpretation and use of equity-related data could lead to the transformation and equalization of educational opportunities for all students. However, school leaders do not make sense of data in a void. They come to data with some set of mindscapes or ideological frame of reference that has been shaped by social background, beliefs, values, education, etc. It is important to understand the mindset with which school leaders come to data. This study then provides understanding and perspective that is too often missing in educational research about school leaders and data-driven decisions.

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