Annual Summer Institute explores identity-based data collection

York University’s annual Faculty of Education Summer Institute (FESI) has partnered with the Réseau de Savoir sur l’Équité/Equity Knowledge Network (RSEKN) for 2018, and will explore the theme “Realities in data: Who counts … What counts … Who’s counting?” on Aug. 22 and 23.

The two-day event will focus on identity-based data collection, integration and reporting in education. The Summer Institute will address one of four priorities articulated in Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan to explore the role of identity-based data in uncovering systemic barriers, specifically the relationships between such data, student access, engagement, achievement and well-being.

Faculty of Education Summer Institute 2017
Faculty of Education Summer Institute 2017

Two guiding questions will lead discussions for the conference. Day one will explore “What are the present and historical challenges, opportunities, tensions and paradoxes of collecting, integrating and reporting on identity-based data?” and day two will examine “How has identity-based data been mobilized to support students access, engagement, achievement and well-being?”

Jack Nigro, superintendent of First Nations Métis and Inuit education at the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, says the conversation should not focus on “marginalized students” and how to “fix” those students, but rather should come from the perspective of the system and whether it serves these students adequately.

One example Nigro shares is how the Toronto District School Board collects systemic data and notices trends and patterns. Certain groups of students, like Hispanic and Black students, do not achieve at the same rate as other students, he notes. Some groups of students are suspended more often than others, and other groups of students are over-represented in special education classes.

“Data collection has the potential to provide great insights to everyone who has a stake in education; however, data collection may also categorize, label and further marginalize individuals,” said York University Faculty of Education Practicum Coordinator Diane Vetter. “Focused conversation on ethical and socially just use of data is imperative when analyzing the huge amount of data available in the digital world.”

Vidya Shah, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education and a Greater Toronto Area regional lead for the Equity Knowledge Network (RSEKN), said there are further notable gaps in graduation rates for Black students and Indigenous students.

“FESI and other conversations about identity-based data collection allow us to build awareness of who is most marginalized in, and by, the system,” she said. “It further provides political and instructional will for educators and organizations to engage in systemic restructuring and learning so that we do not ignore the problems, nor blame students, their families or communities for them.”

School boards are at varying levels in their readiness with this kind of work; however, during the previous government led by Kathleen Wynne the province made it a priority for all school boards to collect, integrate and report identity-based data, as outlined in the Ontario Education Equity Action Plan.

“FESI is really about recognizing that, as systems, we do not have the answers. If we did, our schools would look very different,” said Shah. “We wouldn’t have students who are excluded from educational spaces and activities. We wouldn’t have students dropping out or being pushed out at rates that are unconscionable. We need multiple voices and perspectives of community partners and agencies, families, educators, academics and the Ontario Ministry of Education to think about these very complex problems and take action collectively.”

This is the type of data that, when collected, reveals major trends, says Nigro.

“The fact that only one or two boards in the province collect this data is a problem,” he said. “In the world of demographic data collection, we say, ‘no data, no problem, no action.’ ”

As part of the its knowledge mobilization plan, FESI is looking to create three- to five-page monographs this year – research briefs that take extensive research on particular topics and translate and disseminate it into language accessible for all to understand.

Monographs will be based on identity-based data and will discuss the politics and pedagogy of the five attending stakeholder groups: English school boards, French school boards, parents and community partners, educators and students.

“We want to help communities understand the power they have in making change,” said Shah. “The power really does lie with the parents, communities and students, and that is a very important part of this process, and of the conversation.”

This year’s conference is expected to attract 250 participants and welcomes all members of Ontario’s education community to contribute to the conversation.

Read the original story posted on the Faculty of Education’s website.