One Small Change to Support Success for All Students
Equity has been an increasingly discussed term in education since the 1990s. But what exactly do equity and access mean in education, and why, one-year post-pandemic, is it so important for schools and teachers to prioritize equity and access in their classrooms?
The inequities that exist in our educational system were not created overnight. The recent National Reading Report Card on Reading further illuminated how academic gaps have grown at a disproportionate rate in districts that primarily serve economically disadvantaged students, students in rural areas, and students of color. The drop in three points in reading proficiency, and the magnitude of this drop in the upper grades, is especially troublesome as older students can take two to three times as long to regain reading proficiency. Providing equity in the form of high-quality, differentiated content that engages students is needed now and can be part of the solution.
Equity or Equality?
Unlike equality, which focuses on ensuring all students have the same opportunities, equity factors in the support and resources needed to ensure all students can actually engage with and benefit from those opportunities. In other words, equity’s goal is that all students have the opportunity and resources they need to succeed regardless of their gender, race, socio-economic class, ethnic origin, native language, learning capability, and/or disability.
The First Step to Building Equity and Access in The Classroom
One of the easiest ways for middle and high school teachers to address equity is in the reading materials they use in their classrooms. Reading materials that are differentiated and representative of different perspectives, cultures, and experiences can ensure that all students feel included and can relate to the material. When teachers provide students with an accessible common text, all students have an equal opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives by engaging in classroom discussions. In addition, this approach helps to foster a sense of community and can help students to better understand and empathize with one another.
One of the biggest drivers in student motivation is whether or not students feel they can succeed at the assigned task (Hulleman et al., 2016). However, students within a single class can have a wide range of reading levels. A widely accepted and research-validated principle is that students learn better when content meets their individual needs (Tomlinson, 1999, 2004). Educators face increasing workloads and time constraints, making it challenging to regularly provide students with content tailored to their individual needs. The Juice’s instructional approach aligns with the research showing students learn better when content is accessible for students of varying learning proficiency (Tomlinson, 1999, 2004).
🍊Apply it with The Juice:
The Juice makes it easy to differentiate instruction by delivering the same grade-level-appropriate informational text articles to students at four individual reading levels based on well-established readability indexes. The Juice strengthens reading and builds literacy across the content areas for all students by providing customizable scaffolds and support for striving readers, gifted students, and English language learners. As a student’s reading ability develops over time, educators can monitor performance and change a student’s reading level within The Juice’s Teacher Portal to provide additional rigor and text complexity.
Based on well-established research on the importance of scaffolding to accommodate individual student needs, The Juice embeds vocabulary scaffolds and audio supports so students can listen along as they read informational texts (Kame’enui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002; Rosenshine & Meister, 1992).
Each issue of The Juice includes 10+ in-context Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words that can be defined and pronounced aloud. Studies have shown that middle and high school students reading below grade level can experience significant improvements in reading comprehension performance when they engage with instructional materials that develop their vocabulary through listening (Curtis & Longo, 2001).
Creating a Culturally Relevant Classroom
Another way teachers can apply equity in the classroom is by paying attention to the subject matter and content representative of the many cultures in the classroom. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop famously wrote about the importance of this in 1990, using the metaphors of “windows, sliding glass doors, and mirrors.” Against the backdrop of a children’s book industry that overwhelmingly published stories by and about White people, Dr. Bishop explained that young learners need to be able to read stories about people with identities and experiences different than their own (windows), stories that allow them to use imagination to put themselves in others’ shoes (sliding glass doors), and stories in which they can see themselves (mirrors).
🍊Apply it with The Juice:
Since The Juice’s daily stories are about real-world current events and issues, our reading material provides many unique “windows, doors, and mirrors” that engage students in a fresh, relevant way. On the same day, a student reading The Juice may learn about a teenage activist in Nigeria, a meeting of world leaders in Egypt to discuss climate change, the results of a basketball game in Los Angeles, and a scientific breakthrough in the medical community.
More Ways The Juice Supports Equity and Access in The Classroom:
Every day, one to three articles also include an embedded “Extra Juice” that students and educators can click on if they want to learn more about a topic referenced in the article. “Extra Juice” topics range from what the United Nations is to the history of soccer to an explanation of artificial intelligence. Written at a grade 7+ reading level, Extra Juice articles are great for your students looking for a challenge or providing opportunities for them to read on or above their grade level.
A differentiated, standard-aligned reading comprehension question follows each article. Teachers can view student progress and class trends to plan for instruction and support interventions.
True equity is a process and will take time to achieve in our educational system; however, when educators enact even the smallest of steps in their classrooms, they can help to create an environment where all students can grow and succeed.