Best Practices In Educational Equity

Discuss one key finding for each area; Creating Equitable Learning Environment,  Engaging Families, Supporting High-Mobility Students.

In the following report, Hanover Research discusses expert-

recommended strategies to create an equitable learning

environment, approaches to improve access to advanced

courses for underrepresented students, and equitable discipline

policies. In addition, this report describes strategies to engage

hard-to-reach families and support highly mobile students.


April 2017

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Executive Summary and Key Findings ……………………………………………………………………. 3

INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3

KEY FINDINGS …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Section I: Creating Equitable Learning Environments ……………………………………………….. 5

EQUITABLE INSTRUCTION STRATEGIES …………………………………………………………………………………. 5

EQUITABLE ACCESS TO ADVANCED COURSES …………………………………………………………………………. 9

EQUITABLE DISCIPLINE POLICIES ……………………………………………………………………………………… 13

Section II: Engaging Families ……………………………………………………………………………… 16

ENGAGING CULTURALLY DIVERSE FAMILIES …………………………………………………………………………. 16



Section III: Supporting High-Mobility Students ……………………………………………………… 24

DISTRICT-LEVEL PRACTICES ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 24

SCHOOL-LEVEL PRACTICES …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26

CLASSROOM PRACTICES ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 27

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Leaders of diverse school systems frequently cite equity as a goal to guide school reform
efforts. While the operative definition of educational equity continues to evolve and expand,
many experts emphasize that equity focuses on meeting the needs of a culturally,
linguistically, and socio-economically diverse student population. The Center for Public
Education (CPE) defines equity as “when all students receive the resources they need so they
graduate prepared for success after high school.”1 CPE contrasts this definition with that of
equality, whereby “students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources.”2
Researcher Bradley Scott of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IRDA) notes
that achieving educational equity involves changes to nearly all aspects of school system
operation, including academic expectations, access to learning opportunities, high-quality
instruction, resource allocation, and accountability.3

To support school districts’ ongoing efforts to improve educational equity, Hanover Research
prepared the following report focusing on priority areas of equity improvement identified the
district. Section I: Creating Equitable Learning Environments discusses expert-recommended
strategies to improve equity in classroom instruction, access to advanced coursework, and
discipline policies. Section II: Engaging Families presents approaches to enhance outreach to
hard-to-reach families, create welcoming environments for diverse families, and support
teachers in their engagement efforts. Section III: Supporting High-Mobility Students
discusses expert-recommended strategies that district leaders, school administrators, and
classroom teachers can take to support highly mobile students and ensure that the move to
their new school does not disrupt their education.


Teachers can ensure that students of all backgrounds receive equitable instruction
by acknowledging students’ cultural heritage and accommodating multiple modes
of learning. By recognizing and integrating multiple perspectives into instruction,
teachers help students feel comfortable in their classroom environment and enhance
learning for all students. Districts should encourage honest discussions among
teachers about how to best support students with diverse needs, and provide training
on culturally responsive teaching practices.

Schools can create welcoming environments for diverse families by showcasing
student diversity and offering parent education activities. For example, schools can
post signs in multiple languages, create a parent room with bilingual resources, and

1 “Educational Equity: What Does It Mean? How Do We Know When We Reach It?” Center for Public Education,

January 2016. p. 1.
2 Ibid.
3 Scott, B. “Six Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform.” Intercultural Development Research Association,


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increase the visibility of bilingual staff. In particular, districts should make efforts to
explain complex school operations, such as standardized testing, selection for gifted
and talented programs, and the college application process. Some districts embrace
a “community school” model and engage diverse families by offering English classes,
housing support, and job coaching to extend the services provided to families.

Schools can engage hard-to-reach families by communicating in their home
language, meeting them in their own communities, and taking steps to make family
participation easier. For example, schools can prepare welcome DVDs in multiple
languages, hold events in local communities, build parent networks for families who
speak the same language, and provide transportation to school-based events.

Experts find that some types of parent engagement programs are more impactful
on student learning than others. For example, meet-and-greet forums like
celebrations, fundraisers, and performances have a lower impact on student learning
than more consistent communication that focuses on parent empowerment. This
kind of communication may include positive phone calls home, classroom
observations, weekly data-sharing folders, and modeling learning support strategies.

Educators can support high-mobility students by ensuring timely transfer of records,
creating welcome packets for new families, and taking steps to ensure that new
students feel welcome at their new school. To welcome new families to the school,
school leaders should create orientation materials for new families and follow up with
parents during their child’s first few weeks at school to ensure the transition is going
smoothly. Further, student “ambassadors” can assist in building community and
provide a buddy system at the school or classroom level to support new students.

Districts can promote equitable discipline by implementing tiered disciplinary
policies. In contrast with zero-tolerance policies, tiered disciplinary policies enact
consequences of misbehavior that are proportional to the harm caused. Experts
encourage schools to implement positive disciplinary programs, such as restorative
justice, and focus on improving school climate in order to facilitate equitable
disciplinary practices.

Experts recommend that schools use scores on standards-based tests administered
to all students as part of the process to identify students who are likely to succeed
in advanced courses. Prerequisite courses, minimum grade point averages, and
teacher or counselor recommendations may all serve as barriers to enrolling
underrepresented students with potential to succeed in advanced courses. Once
students are identified as high-potential, schools must communicate the benefits of
participation in these programs to students and their families. This is especially
important for students from underrepresented groups who may be otherwise
unaware of the programs available. Districts use a variety of strategies to engage
underrepresented groups in these discussions, such as sending information home in
multiple languages, providing transportation and food for evening information
sessions, and following up with families who are unable to attend information

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Bradley Scott’s Six Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform outlines a comprehensive
framework for achieving educational equity in the classroom. Many of the goals listed in
Scott’s guidebook focus on interactions between students and teachers and student access
to learning. The guidebook describes an equitable learning environment as, “patterns of
interaction among individuals [that is] free from threat, humiliation, danger and disregard …
[and] exists within a supportive, quality environment characterized by genuine acceptance,
valuing, respect, safety and security.”4 This section focuses on three areas where educators
can focus efforts to promote equitable learning environments: classroom instruction, access
to advanced coursework, and discipline procedures.5


In an equitable classroom environment, students of all backgrounds (e.g., race, nationality,
gender) have the same opportunities to learn and develop their knowledge. Gloria Ladson-
Billings of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a leading pedagogical theorist focusing on
equity, stresses that equity seeks to help students leverage their unique identity to further
their learning:6

The goal of equitable education is not to help students learn to adapt to the dominant
culture of the school. Instead, the goal should be to help students develop a positive
self-image and to learn how to embrace differences in others.


The instructional strategies summarized below are derived from guidance published by
leading education researchers and institutions that support schools in meeting their equity

Acknowledge students and their cultural heritage. By personally recognizing students and
their unique characteristics, teachers set a tone of mutual respect. A 2016 report from the
Equity Assistance Center at Education Northwest, funded by the U.S. Department of
Education, advises that teachers learn how to correctly pronounce their students’ names,
noting that “in many cultures, the giving of names is loaded with symbolic significance, and
to mispronounce that name is to diminish it and its bearer.”7 In addition, teachers can make
students feel welcome by ensuring that bulletin boards and other displays in the classroom

4 Ibid., p. 5.
5 For more information, see: “Educational Equity: What Does it Mean? How Do We Know When We Reach It?,” Op.

cit., pp. 4–7.
6 Krasnoff, B. “Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Guide to Evidence-Based Practices for Teaching All Students

Equitably.” Education Northwest, March 2016. p. 21.

7 Ibid., p. 4.

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reflect the diversity of students in the classroom. By surrounding students with images of
themselves as learners, the teacher communicates to those students a recognition of their
capabilities and high expectations for their achievement.8

Connect the academic curriculum to what students already know. By acknowledging the
heritage and communities in which students develop and grow, teachers help students of
diverse backgrounds feel comfortable in their classroom environment. In a report on
culturally responsive teaching, the Equity Alliance at Arizona State University encourages
teachers to recognize and activate “multiple avenues” to understanding and accessing
information. For example, a history teacher could examine the expansion of the American
West through both the perspective of the American pioneers and the indigenous peoples they

Accommodate diverse learning styles. Experts note that students of different cultural
backgrounds may be more comfortable with specific modes of learning. For example, some
students may learn best through modeling and stories, and therefore be unmotivated by
incentive-based learning systems (e.g., earning “tokens” for good behavior or achievement).10
Similarly, researchers Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Friedlaender note in a 2008 article
that schools that are models of educational equity engage in a number of common practices
that facilitate personalization of learning. These include: hiring more classroom-based staff in
order to reduce class sizes and pupil loads; creating advisory systems that match teachers
with 15 to 25 students for the duration of their time at the school; and allocating 7 to 15 days
of shared professional learning time for teachers during the school year to plan lessons and
share ideas.11

Set clear expectations for student learning and behavior. As Education Northwest noted in
its report on equitable teaching strategies, “some students are more vulnerable to low
expectations because of societal biases and stereotypes associated with their racial and/or
ethnic identity.”12 Teachers can communicate expectations using both explicit directions and
non-verbal cues. For example, the report recommends that teachers outline the criteria and
standards that will be used to evaluate their work, and provide students with anonymous
samples of prior student work. In addition, teachers should maintain eye contact with both
high- and low-achieving students while communicating expectations for learning and
participation. Similarly, teachers who ask difficult questions of both low- and high- achieving
students communicate equitable expectations and help students develop oral response

8 Ibid.
9 Kozleski, E. “Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters!” Equity Alliance (Arizona State University). p. 2.
10 Ibid., p. 3.
11 Darling-Hammond, L. and D. Friedlaender. “Reshaping High Schools: Creating Excellent and Equitable Schools.”

Educational Leadership, 65:8, May 2008.

12 Krasnoff, Op. cit., p. 4.
13 Ibid., pp. 4–5.

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In a 2010 document, the Equity Initiatives Unit at Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)
in Maryland outlined 27 observable and research-based classroom practices that promote
equitable learning. 14 Figure 1.1, below, presents the MCPS recommended practices that
school leaders could use in classroom observations.

Figure 1.1: Equitable Classroom Practices Observation Checklist

Welcomes students by name as they enter the classroom
Asks students for correct pronunciation of their names; correctly pronounces students’ names

Uses eye contact with all students
Makes culturally appropriate eye contact with all students

Uses proximity with all students equitably
Circulates around student work areas to be close to all students

Uses body language, gestures, and expressions to convey a message that all students’ questions and
opinions are important
Smiles, Nods head in affirmation; Leans toward students; Turns toward students who are speaking to show

Arranges the classroom to accommodate discussion
Arranges seating to facilitate student-student discussion; Seating to facilitate teacher-student discussion

Ensures bulletin boards, displays, instructional materials, and other visuals in the classroom reflect the
racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds represented by students
Displays and uses materials (supplemental books) that reflect all students’ racial, ethnic, and cultural
backgrounds year round; Displays products and props from students’ home and community background

Uses a variety of visual aids and props to support student learning
Uses multiethnic photos, pictures, and props to illustrate concepts and content; Uses appropriate technology
to illustrate concepts and content

Learns, uses, and displays some words in students’ heritage language
Posts some content words or phrases in students’ heritage languages; Uses some words or phrases from
students’ heritage language in the classroom

Models use of graphic organizers
Uses a variety of graphic organizers during instruction; Encourages students to identify and use the task
appropriate graphic organizer by modeling

Uses class building and teambuilding activities to promote peer support for academic achievement
Structures academic and social interactions between students

Uses random response strategies
Uses random response strategies (i.e., numbered heads, color-coded cards, equity sticks, calling sticks)

Uses cooperative learning structures
Structures opportunities for students to learn with and from their peers (i.e., Think-Pair-Share, Teammates
consult, Jigsaw, Pairs Check, Partner A and B, Boggle, Last Word)

Structures heterogeneous and cooperative groups for learning
Uses random grouping methods to form small groups; Explicitly teaches collaborative learning skills to
students; Provides opportunities for cooperative groups to process/reflect on how well they accomplished the

Uses probing and clarifying techniques to assist students to answer
Rephrases the question; Asks a related question; Gives student a hint, clue, or prompt

Acknowledges all students’ comments, responses, questions, and contributions
Uses affirming, correcting, or probing to acknowledge all students’ responses

14 “Equitable Classroom Practices 2010.” Montgomery County Public Schools, 2010.

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Seeks multiple perspectives
Validates all perspectives with responses such as: “That’s one idea. Does anyone else have another?”; “That
was one way to solve the problem. Who did it another way?”; “Who has an alternative view?”

Uses multiple approaches to consistently monitor students’ understanding of instruction, directions,
procedures, processes, questions, and content
Uses a variety of approaches to monitor students’ understanding throughout instruction (Thumbs Up, Unison
response, One Question Quiz, Envelope Please)

Identifies students’ current knowledge before instruction
Uses a variety of methods to assess students’ knowledge before instruction such as: Word Splash, K-W-L,
Anticipation Guide, Brainstorming, Webbing

Uses students’ real life experiences to connect school learning to students’ lives
Asks students to reflect upon and discuss the following: “What events/situations occur in your family or
neighborhood that require some knowledge of ___?” How does knowing about ___ benefit your interactions in
your family, neighborhood, or school?”; Uses examples that are reflective of students’ lives to support learning

Uses Wait Time
Pauses at least 3-5 seconds to consider the student’s response before affirming, correcting, or probing; Pauses
following a student’s response to allow other students to consider their reactions, responses and extensions

Asks students for feedback on the effectiveness of instruction
Asks students to indicate the learning activities that are effective in helping them to learn; Uses interviews,
surveys, and questionnaires to gather feedback from students; Uses exit cards to gather feedback

Provides students with the criteria and standards for successful task completion
Evaluates student work by providing performance criteria (i.e. rubrics, exemplars, anchor papers)

Gives students effective, specific oral and written feedback that prompts improved performance
Confers with students to provide feedback to improve performance; Provides opportunities for students to use
peer reviews; Provides written feedback that allows students to revise and improve their work

Provides multiple opportunities to use effective feedback to revise and resubmit work for evaluation
Allows students to revise work based on teacher feedback; Encourages and structures opportunities for
students to provide feedback to peers based on an established standard

Explains and models positive self-talk
Explains the importance of positive self-talk and how positive self-talk leads to positive outcomes

Asks higher-order questions equitably of all students
Asks analysis questions; Asks synthesis questions; Asks evaluation questions; Poses higher order questions and
uses a random method for calling on students; Provides think time for all students before asking for responses

Provides individual help to all students
Ensures all students receive individual help

Source: Montgomery County Public Schools15


District and school leaders can support equitable instruction by maintaining high expectations
for student achievement and encouraging peer-driven discussions about how to support
struggling students. Writing in The Learning Principal, Pat Roy of the National Staff
Development Council (now Learning Forward) outlines the following ways in which principals
can support equitable classroom learning environments:16

15 Figure content adapted from: Ibid.
16 Bulleted text adapted from: Roy, P. “An Equitable Environment Creates High Levels of Learning for All Students.”

The Learning Principal, October 2006. p. 3.

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Communicate high expectations for all teachers and students

Do not accept excuses for the lack of achievement by subgroups of students

Change school schedules, curriculum, and use of staff time to support the learning of
struggling students

Expect teachers to change classroom practices to support struggling students

Encourage respectful dialogue among faculty regarding their role in helping all
students learn

Challenge educators’ underlying assumptions concerning the role of parents, socio-
economic status, race, and background in student learning

Provide an ongoing system of staff development to enhance teacher skills and
knowledge about teaching struggling students

In particular, districts can support equitable instructional practices by providing training to
supervisors and instructional coaches. North Clackamas School District in Oregon provides
an example; instructional administrators receive professional development in how to support
teachers in implementing equitable instructional practices. The district’s instructional
services director says the supervision system is a “two-way relationship” that includes
classroom coaching and ongoing, just-in-time feedback.17 In Reynolds School District, also in
Oregon, administrators meet monthly to discuss the racial and ethnic identities of their
diverse student population and how they can support teachers to promote culturally
responsive teaching.18


Minority students are chronically underrepresented in advanced-level high school courses,
such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and courses of similar
rigor. Experts underscore that advanced coursework provides students with the skills and
subject matter knowledge that they will need after graduation.19 However, data from The
College Board show that while the total number of students taking AP exams nearly doubled
between 2003 and 2013, the number of low-income AP enrollees increased by only a third of
that amount. 20 Data from the 2013 administration of the AP exams show that African-
American students are the most underrepresented group in the AP program, as shown in
Figure 1.2, below.

17 “Supervising for Improvement of Equitable Instruction |.” LEAD tool.

18 “Engaging in Self-Reflection and Growth for Equity.” The LEAD Tool.

19 “Educational Equity: What Does it Mean? How Do We Know When We Reach It?,” Op. cit., p. 5.
20 “10th Annual AP Report to the Nation.” The College Board, February 2014. p. 6.

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Figure 1.2: AP Exam Participation and Achievement (2013)

Source: The College Board21

Low awareness of advanced courses, insufficient preparation, and fear of social isolation
prevent low-income and minority students from enrolling in advanced courses. A 2010
report by the Broad Foundation identifies a series of barriers, listed in Figure 1.3 on the
following page, that may prevent students from self-identifying and self-selecting for
advanced-level courses. The report notes that these barriers may emerge well before
students enter high school. For example, the report finds that less than 68 percent of Grade
8 students are aware of the courses they need to be ready for college, and only 30 percent
are on track to enroll in AP courses.22 Minority students who do qualify for AP or other
advanced coursework may be reluctant to enroll if those classes typically have few minority

Figure 1.3: Common Barriers to AP and Advanced Course Access

 Lack of awareness (on behalf of teachers, students, and/or parents)

 Lack of preparation/support (on behalf of teachers and/or students)

 Lack of seats (due to insufficient staffing)

 Students with potential not identified

 Insufficient motivation/incentives (on behalf of teachers and/or students)

 Lack of funds (on behalf of the schools, parents, and/or students)

Source: The Broad Foundation24

Preparation for advanced courses should begin in middle school. Experts emphasize that to
access advanced courses in high school, students need to complete rigorous coursework in
middle school. The U.S. Department of Education advises that students who take Algebra I

21 Ibid., p. 30.
22 “Expanding Advanced Placement (AP) Access.” The Broad Foundation, 2010. p. 5.
23 Wakelyn, D. “Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion.” National Governors Association,

2006. p. 6.
24 Bulleted text copied verbatim from: “Expanding Advanced Placement (AP) Access,” Op. cit., p. 5.

1% 6%




11% 9%












American Indian /
Alaska Native

Asian / Asian

Black / African

Hispanic / Latino White

Overall Graduating Class AP Exam Taker Population

Population Scoring 3+ on an AP Exam

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in Grade 8 are better prepared to take advanced mathematics courses at the high school
level, and more likely to attend college.25 Research suggests that middle schools can prepare
struggling students for Algebra I by providing students with a transitional math course before
they enroll in Algebra I. A review of the literature by the American Institutes for Research
(AIR) found that the transitional course, during which students first learn conceptual skills
associated with algebra, is more effective than a double-dose model, where students receive
extended instruction in formal algebra skills.26

The spotlight box below describes how Abington School District in Pennsylvania focused on
Grade 8 Algebra as part of its equity initiative.

As part of its Opportunities to Learn initiative to close achievement gaps, Abington School
District focused on “de-tracking” its middle and high school program. For core academic
courses, the district now offers only two levels: a college preparatory course and an

honors/AP course. The district encourages students to take the honors/AP courses, but all students
(including special education students) are enrolled in rigorous college-track courses. In addition, the
district used PSSA scores to identify students who required additional support in English/social studies
or mathematics/science and provided targeted interventions to those students. Knowing that including
all students in rigorous college-track core courses placed new demands on educators, the district
provided professional development on differentiated instruction.

Superintendent Amy Sichel reported in 2011: “Since the implementation of this initiative, the disparity
between the performance of the district’s All-Student group and the district’s African-American and IEP
disaggregated groups has been narrowed significantly, while the All-Student Group has improved as well.
At the secondary level the disparity… has been reduced by anywhere from 5 to 19 percentage points.”

Source: PASA Flyer27

Experts recommend that schools pre-identify students for advanced courses using
standardized test scores. The Broad Foundation states that “the use of a predictive formula
based on a standardized test score is an easy and relatively unbiased way to identify
additional students likely to succeed in an academically advanced curriculum.”28 For example,
research from The College Board finds that student scores on the PSAT exam are better
predictors of AP success than high school grades.29 However, experts further recommend that
schools use multiple measures to determine student qualification for advanced course
enrollment. The College Board stresses that single identification measures “should never be
used to discourage a motivated student from registering for an AP course.”30 In addition,
some schools deliberately encourage students who are “partially proficient” on standardized

25 “Getting Ready for College Early.” U.S. Department of Education.
26 Sorensen, N. “Supplementary Learning Strategies to Support Student Success in Algebra I.” American Institutes for

Research, September 2014. p. 7.
27 Sichel, A. “Opportunities to Learn: Equity, Access and Success for All!” PASA Flyer, January 2011. p. 8.
28 “Expanding Advanced Placement (AP) Access,” Op. cit., p. 21.
29 “AP Potential.” The College Board.
30 “AP Potential Score Correlations.” The College Board.

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exams to consider advanced courses in order to raise awareness about the benefits of
rigorous coursework.31

Schools can also use assessment data to identify high-achieving students in middle school.
For example, Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina uses standardized test scores to
place students in accelerated mathematics courses in Grades 6 and 7, which prepare students
for Algebra I in Grade 8. Initial research finds that the policy has led to greater numbers of
female and minority students enrolling in accelerated mathematics and Algebra I courses,
though the proportion of minority students taking the courses has not yet caught up with the
proportion of students from other groups who study advanced mathematics.32

Schools should conduct targeted outreach to ensure that qualified students are aware of
their eligibility and the benefits of taking rigorous courses. The Broad Foundation notes that
students are more likely to participate in advanced courses if their parents understand the
advanced study program and curriculum. In an extensive guidebook on improving access to
AP courses, The Broad Foundation outlines the following four strategies to ensure that
students know about their advanced course options:33

Notify parents and students. Following student identification, best practice schools
typically notify parents – often by mail – and invite parents and students to a school
meeting to learn more about advanced courses.

Enhance outreach efforts for low-income and minority parents. As low-income and
minority students and parents are likely to be the least familiar with the school’s AP
program and other advanced-level courses, the Broad Foundation recommends
targeted outreach, including phone calls, to ensure that parents and students attend
the informational meeting.

At the school informational meeting, discuss the AP program, course details,
expectations, and benefits for participation. The Broad Foundation suggests that the
school principal and school AP coordinator conduct the informational meeting,
starting with an overview of the program, followed by details on specific course
offerings. If possible, current AP students should be present to share their experiences
and offer peer advice.

Hold follow-up meetings. For families that missed the initial informational session or
who require more information or advice, the Broad Foundation recommends that
districts schedule additional meetings with school counselors for parents. These
meetings should be held at different times than the original meeting to offset
recurring scheduling conflicts.

31 Bland, L. and A. Neve. “Equity and Access for Minority Students in AP Courses.” Journal of Cross-Disciplinary

Perspectives in Education, 5:2, August 2012. p. 25.

32 Dougherty, S. et al. “Middle School Math Acceleration and Equitable Access to Eighth-Grade Algebra: Evidence
From the Wake County Public School System.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37:1, May 2015. p. 80.

33 Bulleted text adapted from: “Expanding Advanced Placement (AP) Access,” Op. cit., pp. 35–37.

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In addition, in-school recruitment by teachers and counselors can be effective at increasing
advanced course enrollment among low-income and minority students. A 2012 study
published in the Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Education reports that students
are more likely to succeed when they feel supported and when teachers hold high
expectations for them. Moreover, the authors note that African-American students especially
benefit from “positive teacher/student relationships to help them feel as though they belong,
particularly in the AP classroom.”34 In addition, school leaders may choose to allocate or raise
funds to help low-income students defray the cost of AP and IB exam fees.35


In many districts, minority students and students with disabilities are more likely to be subject
to exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspension and expulsion) than their peers. Many researchers
link this disproportionate application of severe disciplinary actions to zero-tolerance policies
that apply harsh consequences to a wide range of school policy violations. Schools embraced
zero-tolerance in the 1990s to deter students from misbehaving. However, research shows
that zero-tolerance has resulted in minority and disabled students being removed from
classrooms at disproportionate rates, denying them classroom time and reducing their
chances of graduating from high school.36

Instead, experts encourage schools to implement positive disciplinary programs, such as
restorative justice and collaborative problem solving. Through restorative justice, students
gather in circles with adults and the student(s) they offended to focus on the practical
consequences of misbehavior, rather than the specific rule that was broken. The response to
misbehavior seeks to ensure the offending student understands the consequences of his or
her actions, allows the student to restore balance to the situation created by the misconduct,
and holds the student accountable for his or her actions. Offending students work with their
victims to repair the harm they have caused and reintegrate back into the school

Using the collaborative problem solving (CPS) model, “adults work together with kids to solve
problems in mutually satisfactory and realistic ways.” 38 The CPS approach involves four

34 Bland and Neve, Op. cit., p. 24.
35 Ibid., p. 25.
36 [1] “Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies: A Fact Sheet for Educators.” National Association of School

[2] Boccanfuso, C. and M. Kuhfeld. Child Trends, September 2011. pp. 2–3.
37 “What Is Restorative Justice?” Restorative Practices International.

38 “Our Collaborative Problem Solving Approach.” Think:Kids.

39 Bulleted text adapted from: Ibid.

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Identify and understand the student’s concern about the problem to be solved and
reassure him or her that the problem will not be resolved through the imposition of
adult will.

Identify and share the adults’ concerns about the same issue.

Invite the student to brainstorm solutions together with the adult.

Work with the student to assess potential solutions and choose one that is both
realistic and mutually satisfactory.

In addition, experts emphasize the importance of creating a positive school climate to
facilitate equitable disciplinary practices. In a 2014 guidance document, the U.S. Department
of Education advises schools to focus on preventing discipline incidents by promoting a
positive school climate and setting clear expectations for student behavior.40 Many schools
achieve both goals, in part, through implementing a multi-tiered system of Positive Behavioral
Interventions and Supports (PBIS). In an article published in Best Practices in School
Psychology, researchers McKevitt and Braaksma recommend that schools implemented a
three-tiered consequence system, like the sample presented in Figure 1.4 on the following
page, whereby the punishment that students receive is proportionate to the offense. For the
consequence system to serve as a preventative mechanism, teachers must clearly
communicate to students what the school expectations are and what consequences students
will experience if they misbehave. In addition, staff must have a clear understanding of their
role within the system to ensure equitable and consistent application of consequences.41

40 “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.” U.S. Department of Education,

January 2014. p. 1.
41 McKevitt, B. and A. Braaksma. “Best Practices in Developing a Positive Behavior Support System at the School

Level.” Best Practices in School Psychology, 3:44, 2009. pp. 740–742.

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Figure 1.4: Sample Consequence System



 Noncompliance

 Disruption of instruction

 Overt disrespect

 Minor destruction of property

 Physical aggression

 Harassment

 Abusive language

 Major destruction of

 Theft

 Alcohol

 Drugs

 Weapon

Possible Consequences

 Nonverbal cue

 Proximity

 Student conference

 Verbal warning

 Timeout

 Parent contact

 Behavior contract

 Loss of recess/privilege

 Restitution or apology

In addition to Level 1 possible
consequences (at left):

 In-school suspension

 Out-of-school suspension

 Bus suspension

In addition to Level 2 possible
consequences (at left):

 Contact law enforcement

 Expulsion

Source: Best Practices in School Psychology42

School leaders should regularly review discipline data to ensure that policies are
implemented equitably. The U.S. Department of Education recommends that schools collect
data on both the characteristics of the students involved in discipline referrals as well as the
location and times of the incidents, responses to the incidents, staff members involved, and
law enforcement involvement. 43 School leaders can use the data to adjust and target
misbehavior prevention strategies to address high-incident locations and times of the day.
Schools may also compare discipline rates to nearby schools or examine a handful of incidents
to determine whether the school response was both appropriate and equitable.44 McKevitt
and Braaksma add that school leaders can examine how the discipline program has impacted
school attendance rates and achievement, as emerging research suggests that progressive
and tiered discipline programs like PBIS correlate with higher achievement on standardized

42 Ibid., p. 742.
43 “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline,” Op. cit., p. 17.
44 Ibid.
45 McKevitt and Braaksma, Op. cit., pp. 743–744.

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Research identifies family engagement as a key component of both student achievement and
educational equity. A 2009 report from The Campaign for Educational Equity identifies
numerous studies that establish family involvement as strong predictor of student success.
The report notes that families play a key role in the cognitive, social, and emotional
development of children beginning at birth.46 However, current educational systems promote
only “random acts of family involvement,” rather than coherent, comprehensive, and,
therefore, equitable, approaches to family engagement. 47 This section discusses expert-
recommended strategies for engaging diverse and hard-to-reach families, creating a
welcoming environment for diverse families, and motivating educators to engage with the
families of their diverse student population.


Schools that serve families from diverse cultures and backgrounds need to take additional
steps to ensure broad family and community engagement. 48 The U.S. Department of
Education’s Regional Education Laboratory (REL) notes that “families who get involved in
schools are typically those whose home culture most closely matches the values reflected in
schools.” 49 For example, a 2002 report from the Southwest Educational Development
Laboratory (SEDL) notes that while families of all backgrounds engage in supporting their
child’s learning at home, white, middle-class families are most involved at school.50

Experts say that the first step in engaging diverse families to gather information about
parents’ and guardians’ home language and educational background. Colorín Colorado, an
online resource for English language learner (ELL) educators developed by a Washington, D.C.
public television station, advises that districts engage both bilingual educators as well as
community members to learn more about the families in their community. Key data to gather

46 Weiss, H. et al. “Reframing Family Involvement in Education: Supporting Families to Support Educational Equity.”

Campaign for Educational Equity (Columbia University), December 2009. p. 6.

47 Ibid., p. 4.
48 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part 2: Building a Cultural

Bridge.” Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Pacific, 2015. p. 4.

49 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part 3: Building Trusting
Relationships with Families and Community Through Effective Communication.” Regional Educational Laboratory
(REL) Pacific, 2015. p. 3.

50 Henderson, A. and K. Mapp. “A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections
on Student Learning.” Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2002. p. 7.

51 Bulleted text adapted from: Breiseth, L. “A Guide for Engaging ELL Families: Twenty Strategies for School Leaders.”
Colorin Colorado, August 2011. p. 5.

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Countries of origin

If students were born in the U.S.

Which languages are spoken at home

Educational background of students and parents (especially if the student is a migrant
or refugee and has experienced interrupted formal education)

Whether family members have experienced traumatic events (e.g., war or natural

Using this data, the school can identify likely barriers to school engagement, which commonly
include lack of English language proficiency, parent education level, and disjuncture between
the culture of the home and school.52 Effective communication meets families where they
are, and in their own language. In some cases, educators may have to use translators to
overcome language barriers when communicating with parents who speak limited English.
53Recommended strategies for engaging hard-to-reach ELL families include:

Hold a special back-to-school event or picnic for ELL families in which they have time
to meet school leaders, their children’s teachers, and other school staff.54

Create a welcome DVD in multiple languages.

Provide staff the opportunity to learn some common phrases in families’ languages,
as well as cultural gestures.

Visit local neighborhoods to meet families.

Connect new families with a contact person who speaks their language as soon as
they enroll in the school for guidance and information

Create an “ambassador” program in which students and parents are trained to give
school tours in languages other than English.

Experts find that some types of parent engagement programs are more impactful on student
learning than others. The Parent Teacher Home Visit Program notes that meet-and-greet
forums like celebrations, fundraisers, and performances have a lower impact on student
learning than more consistent communication that focuses on parent empowerment. By
contrast, positive phone calls home, classroom observations, goal-setting tasks, weekly data-
sharing folders, and modeling learning support strategies are higher-impact strategies that
help parents feel they can help their child with schoolwork at home.55

52 Arias, M.B. and M. Morillo-Campbell. “Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times.”

Arizona State University, January 2008. p. 8.
53 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part 3: Building Trusting

Relationships with Families and Community Through Effective Communication,” Op. cit., p. 14.
54 Bulleted content taken verbatim from: Breiseth, Op. cit., p. 11.
55 “Impact of Family Engagement Strategies on Student Learning.” Parent Teacher Home Visit Program, September


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Similarly, schools can personalize communications, employ additional new methods of
communications, and make family participation easier to engage particularly hard to reach
families. For example, The Flamboyan Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on
supporting family engagement, encourages districts to consider the tone of their
communications and the venues they use to reach out to disengaged families. In a 2011
guidance document, The Flamboyan Foundation identified a series of strategies to
communicate with hard to reach families, which are summarized below in Figure 2.1.56

Figure 2.1: Strategies to Engage Hard to Reach Families



 Differentiate support for parents so that it is appropriate to their
individual needs and strengths.

 Be honest and forthcoming to avoid perceptions of being evasive or guilty.

 Use one-to-one personal connections to build trust.

 Keep communication informal at first.

 Use “family” instead of “parent” or “guardian” in communications.

Focus on the message
and the messenger

 Encourage families to communicate in non-traditional places (e.g., grocery
store, bodega, bus stops).

 At all events, promote how families can support learning at home.

 Create family bulletin boards for families to communicate with one

Get creative

 Use a variety of communications.

 Share materials (especially video) and personal notes with families who
miss events.

 Create magnets to share pertinent information.

 Keep web and phone communications up-to-date and relevant.

 Use newsletters to link families to learning.

Watch what and how
you communicate

 Avoid using education jargon and communicate more simply.

 Understand how information spreads and understand that negative
information spreads faster.

 Be sensitive to families’ financial needs by not sending home requests for
money or supplies frequently.

Make involvement
easy and exciting

 Provide food and child care.

 Arrange parent-teacher conferences and events after work hours.

 Include office hours and your contact information in all communications.

Source: Flamboyan Foundation57

56 “Tips for Reaching ‘Hard to Reach’ Families.” The Flamboyan Foundation, 2011.

57 Figure bullets quoted verbatim from: Tips for Reaching “Hard to Reach” Families. (The Flamboyan Foundation,

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The REL advises that district communication with families should have a cross-cultural
element. Cross-cultural communication, REL emphasizes, “is a must to minimize the
confusion and frustration that people can experience when they enter an environment where
not only their language, but also their attitudes, values, and behaviors differ from that of
others.”58 As shown below in Figure 2.2, cross-cultural communication considers cultural
influences on the ways people communicate and helps ensure that educators and families of
all backgrounds understand each other.

Figure 2.2: Two-Way and Cross-Cultural Communication Strategies


 Translate materials to the home language.

 Use bilingual staff members to help provide a direct link between parents and school community.

 Provide transportation to bring families to school meetings or meet at a community location. Be
open to hosting school meetings in a location where families feel comfortable (e.g., community
centers, local business).

 Build a parent network for families who speak the same language to promote mutual support
among parents and help to create a more comfortable environment for attending school events.


 Begin the conversation on a personal level rather than starting with a formal progress report.

 Allow the personal to be mixed with the discussion of academics.

 Have respect for the whole family, instead of only paying attention to the child who is the focus of
the conference.

 Use indirect questions or observations rather than questions that ask for information about the child
at home (e.g., “Some parents prefer to have an older child help with homework…” rather than, “Do
you or someone else help the child with her homework?”).

 Discuss the student’s achievements in the context of all of the students in the classroom, suggesting
how the child contributes to the well-being of all.

 Explain the goals and expectations of the school and help parents find ways in which they are
comfortable supporting their children’s learning.

 Create a sense of common purpose and caring through the use of the pronoun “we” rather than
“you” and “I.”

Source: Regional Educational Laboratory Pacific59

In particular, educators should identify and focus on the strengths of families with diverse
backgrounds. The REL notes that “collaborating with families based on strengths develops
strong relationships between home, school, and community.” 60 As “parental situations,
perspectives, and skills” vary and affect parents’ ability to support their children, schools need
to consider multiple methods of engagement, as well as ways in which parents of all
backgrounds can support their children. For example, some parents lack the experience or
the skills required to read interactively with children. While these parents do have other

58 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part 3: Building Trusting

Relationships with Families and Community Through Effective Communication,” Op. cit., p. 5.
59 Figure bullets quoted verbatim from: Ibid., pp. 5–14.
60 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part 2: Building a Cultural

Bridge,” Op. cit., pp. 6–7.

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strengths that allow them to support their child, they may feel isolated and disengage from
efforts that emphasize practices that do not align with their strengths.61


In its guide for engaging ELL families, Colorín Colorado notes that some families may feel
intimidated by or excluded from their child’s school environment. By creating a welcoming
and vibrant atmosphere, schools let families know “that the school is an integral part of the
community and that they are valued members of that community.”62 In particular, Colorín
Colorado says that ELLs and students from diverse backgrounds should “see themselves”
throughout the school. 63 Figure 2.3, below, describes strategies that schools can use to
increase the visibility of diverse families throughout the school.

Figure 2.3: Strategies to Increase Visibility of Diverse Families

 Make sure parents know how to get into the building, especially if doors are usually locked during
the school day.

 Post signs in multiple languages.

 Display student work on the walls.

 Display student and family photos on the walls.

 Display the maps and flags of students’ native countries.

 Display a large map in the front lobby where parents can mark their native countries with a pin.

 Enlist a bilingual morning greeter to welcome students and families.

 Ensure that your bilingual staff and volunteers are visible throughout the building.

 Create a parent room (such as a lounge or classroom) with bilingual information and magazine
subscriptions, a bulletin board, a lending library, and a computer.

 Include bilingual books in the school library and classrooms.

 Consider playing music in the front entryway or lobby.

Source: Colorin Colorado64

Also, many schools engage diverse families by offering parent education activities and
supporting student and parent diversity groups. Parent education activities can be as simple
as special meetings for specific groups to explain complex topics, such as standardized testing,
gifted and talented programs, and the college application process. 65 For example, an
elementary school in San Jose, California promotes student and parent literacy by opening
the school library before and after school so that parents can read Spanish and English
language books with their children.66 Figure 2.4, on the following page, describes proposals
to welcome families and improve equity in Upper Dublin School District, in Pennsylvania.

61 Ibid., p. 12.
62 Breiseth, Op. cit., p. 8.
63 Ibid., p. 9.
64 Ibid.
65 Ibid., p. 20.
66 Mitchell, C. “Home-School Connections Help ELLs and Their Parents.” Education Week, ay 11, 2016Y.

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Upper Dublin School District has an Excellence and Equity Committee that includes
subcommittees representing different groups of students and families within the school
community, including African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, LGBTQ, and Special

Education students and families. Committee efforts include establishing an Educators of Color Meet and
Greet event to recruit more minority staff, increasing student and family feelings of inclusion in the
district, and adding a Lunar New Year celebration on the district calendar. During a May 2016 meeting
of the committee, a representative of the Asian-American Students & Families subcommittee noted that
“students are in the middle between the culture and the school district,” emphasizing the importance
of student and parent education about the various cultures represented in the district.

Source: The Ambler Gazette67

More extensive, “two-generation” approaches to parent education include English language
classes and job-search coaching for families.68 Some schools adopt a “community school”
model and partner with external organizations to provide school-based support to parents in
schools. For example, schools participating in a Promise Neighborhood in Chula Vista,
California partner with the Work Path program to provide three-week workshops that include
mentoring, skills training, job coaching, and resume development to unemployed youths and
adults. The Promise Neighborhood schools have parent centers where family members can
access the library, use computers, and get support from a bilingual coordinator.69


Educators may require professional development on how to engage with culturally and/or
linguistically diverse families. In a series of reports on family engagement, the REL cites
“cultural barriers (e.g., language differences, religious priorities, misconceptions about
schools, generational differences in acculturation),” as well as “teachers’ beliefs and
attitudes” as two common barriers to family and community engagement.70 For example,
parents from culturally diverse backgrounds may lack knowledge about school operations,
including grading practices, curriculum standards, and the importance placed on parent-
teacher conferences.

School districts should assess teacher readiness for engagement and allow them to practice
engagement strategies in a non-threatening environment. In a 2013 research brief,
researchers from the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) find that professional
development is most effective when it meets the teachers’ readiness levels. Therefore,

67 Finarelli, L. “Upper Dublin School District Ponders New English Language Arts Program |.” The Ambler Gazette, May

9, 2016.

68 Ross, T. “The Case for a Two-Generation Approach for Educating English Language Learners.” Center for American
Progress, May 6, 2016.

69 Ibid., p. 22.
70 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part I: Building an

Understanding of Family and Community Engagement.” Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Pacific, 2015. p. 3.

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districts should determine the readiness of their teachers to engage with families and learn
new communication strategies, and adjust training programs accordingly. HFRP encourages
teachers to practice and receive feedback on their engagement skills from coaches and peers.
In addition, teachers should work with coaches and administrators to identify post-training
goals and continue to measure progress towards those goals over time.71

Experts recommend that educators use demographic data about their students as the
starting point for discussions about how cultural and family differences may impact
traditional family participation and engagement. Similarly, the REL recommends that district
staff lead educators in exercises to reflect on their beliefs and assumptions about family and
community engagement, including how families’ cultures may affect partnerships and
engagement. 72 In these training sessions, REL finds that “viewing interactions from the
families’ perspective helps educators work more effectively” with families.73

In addition, district leaders may consider implementing a home visit program.
The Parent Teacher Home Visit Program, an organization that trains teachers to conduct
home visits, operates using five “non-negotiable core practices:”74

Visits are always voluntary for educators and families, and arranged in advance.

The focus of the first visit is relationship-building only.

Teachers are trained, and compensated for visits.

Volunteers either visit all students, or an intentional cross-section of students.

Educators conduct visits in pairs, with reflection on assumptions, strengths, and
bringing what they learned back to the classroom.

Regardless of where and how communication takes place, the REL notes that “educators
[may] benefit from training in basic communication skills.” This training could cover skills such
as: 75

Observing verbal/nonverbal behaviors

Using dialogue for two-way conversations

Active listening

71 Patton, C. and S. Wanless. “Professional Development in Family Engagement: A Few Often-Overlooked Strategies

for Success.” Harvard Family Research Project, December 5, 2013.

72 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part I: Building an
Understanding of Family and Community Engagement,” Op. cit., pp. 3–5.

73 Ibid., pp. 5–6.
74 Bulleted text adapted from: Rose, C. “The Five Non-Negotiable Core Practices of Parent/Teacher Home Visits.”

Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, May 18, 2016.

75 “Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Parents and Community as Partners in Education – Part 3: Building Trusting
Relationships with Families and Community Through Effective Communication,” Op. cit., p. 13.

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Districts can support teachers in their initial interactions with families by focusing on
parent-teacher conferences. The REL encourages districts to develop a planning guide for
parent-teacher conferences that outlines effective strategies for engagement, such as those
listed below in Figure 2.4. Districts can also help teachers prepare for parent-teacher
conferences through training that asks teachers to discuss their past conference practices,
culturally responsive strategies, and how they could integrate culturally responsive practices
into future conferences.76

Figure 2.4: Strategies for Effective Parent-Teacher Conferences

 Begin the conference by talking on the personal level rather than on the academic level.

 During the conference, maintain a 50 percent teacher/50 percent parent talk time.

 During the conference, mix talk about the student’s educational growth with talk about the
student’s social development.

 Discuss the student’s achievement in the context of all of the students in the class (i.e., how the
child contributes to the well-being of others in the class).

 If a parent does not understand or speak English well, provide an interpreter (do not use the child as
an interpreter).

 Use indirect questions, versus direct questions, about the parent’s goals for the child or about how
they support the child in the family.

 Express belief and commitment to open and frequent home–school communication, and ask
parent(s) how they would best like communication to occur.

Source: Regional Educational Laboratory Pacific77

76 Ibid., p. 13-16.
77 Figure content taken verbatim from: Ibid., p. 18.

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Research suggests that students who change schools frequently during their K-12 career
experience negative impacts on academic achievement.78 In a 2010 analysis of nationwide
data, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that high mobility is most common
among student populations most impacted by education inequity – namely minority students
(particularly African-American students) and low-income students. 79 Student mobility is
frequently caused by residential mobility – such as moving for a parent’s job/military post,
homelessness, or eviction due to poverty – but may also result from students being expelled,
bullied at school, or seeking a better educational program.80 This section discusses expert-
recommended strategies that district leaders, school administrators, and classroom teachers
can take to support highly mobile students and ensure that the move to their new school
does not disrupt their education.


Experts note that districts can take steps to reduce student mobility. In a 2003 brief for the
U.S. Department of Education, Russell Rumberger of the University of California-Santa
Barbara notes that student mobility is frequently viewed “as a strategic activity initiated by
students and their families to serve their own interests and educational preferences.”81
However, Rumberger encourages district leaders to counsel parents to remain, particularly if
they will continue to live in the same geographic area, and identify solutions that will keep
the student at their current school. For example, districts can reduce unnecessary student
mobility by allowing flexibility with school attendance boundaries and providing
transportation to help low-income students stay at the same schools. Districts can also work
with neighboring districts to allow students to continue their education at one school even
when their families move to neighboring towns.82

Experts recommend that districts collect data about the mobility and stability of their
students. For example, districts could collect data on students’ educational history and flag
the records of students with three or more moves. Those students may benefit from
additional assistance or at least closer monitoring of their academic progress.83 Districts may

78 “Many Challenges Arise in Educating Students Who Change Schools Frequently.” Government Accountability Office,

November 2010. p. 16.
79 Ibid., p. 8.
80 Sparks, S. “Student Mobility: How It Affects Learning.” Education Week, August 11, 2016.
81 Rumberger, R. “Student Mobility and Academic Achievement.” ERIC Digest.

82 Ibid.
83 Kaplan, S. and C. Valenti. “Moving Forward Helping New York’s High Mobility Students to Succeed.” Education New

York, June 2005.

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also consider reporting mobility data as part of their school accountability system in order to
raise awareness about student mobility and the needs of highly mobile students.84

Districts should ensure timely transfer of student records. The Military Interstate Children’s
Compact Commission (MIC3) advises that districts provide unofficial copies of student records
to parents within ten days of their request. In some states, the transfer of student data is
facilitated by state longitudinal data systems that have a unique student identifier. In
addition, districts may be able to use other longitudinal data systems that collect records for
migrant students, homeless students, military families, and foster students. MIC3 further
advises that districts recognize students’ prior placement in advanced and honors classes, as
well as the prerequisites for those classes.85

In a guidance document, the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), part of the U.S.
Department of Education, summarizes additional district-level strategies to support homeless
students and other high-mobility students, as shown below in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1: District-Level Practices to Support High-Mobility Students

 Establish procedures that ensure transmittal of school records in a timely fashion. Delays in
receiving school records lead to delays in enrollment and loss of instructional time. Use
technology to transmit information quickly.

 Create a parent booklet with transfer suggestions. Providing parents with information regarding
appropriate withdrawal and enrollment procedures can shorten delays when moves occur.
Checklists of important steps to complete at the students’ former and the new school can keep
parents on track.

 Allocate additional resources. Smaller class sizes, additional teachers, free summer school for
students not on grade level, and community homework centers can provide instructional
supports to increase academic achievement for students.

 Provide guidance to parents about the effects of school transfers. Brochures and public service
announcements alert parents to the potential challenges children face when multiple school
transfers occur.

 Become involved with interagency efforts to provide families with resources needed to reduce
mobility, when possible. Student mobility is often a symptom of larger problems. Availability of
affordable housing, local jobs, and accessible transportation are critical factors that can affect
mobility. Schools can educate policy makers and other community leaders regarding the impact
of student mobility in efforts to make it a consideration in the allocation of resources and

Source: National Center for Homeless Education86

84 Ferguson, D. “Did You Know about the Challenges of Highly Mobile Students?” National Institute for Urban School

Improvement. p. 3.
85 Sparks, Op. cit.
86 Figure text adapted from: “General Educational Support Systems for Highly Mobile Students.” National Center for

Homeless Education. p. 2.

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School leaders should take steps to connect highly-mobile families to their community. A
guidance document from the National Institute for Urban School Improvement (NIUSI)
recommends that school staff identify apartment complexes and shelters that serve highly
mobile students to raise awareness about their school. Once a mobile student enrolls at the
school, school leaders and staff may visit students’ communities in order to build trust and
working relationships with families and community leaders. The school can even take an
active role in connecting families to affordable housing and education classes (e.g., English
classes, GED preparation) if needed.87 Figure 3.2 presents additional school-level strategies
to support highly mobile students, as recommended by NCHE.

Figure 3.2: School-Level Practices to Support Highly Mobile Students

 Prepare in advance for incoming and departing transfers. Establishing routines that have been
communicated to faculty and staff can make transfers less disruptive. Involve faculty and staff in
developing procedures with opportunities for training, procedure review and revision.

 Have counselors meet with parents and student when registering. Personal contact provides a
welcome to the family and an opportunity to begin identifying needs through informal

 Arrange a parent follow-up several weeks after enrollment. Questions often arise once a student
has begun attending school. Some parents may be reluctant to contact the school with questions.
A positive contact a few weeks after the child was enrolled can open the door to clarify
information for families.

 Create an orientation video or CD for your school. Develop a video/CD for new parents and
students to preview when they enroll. A virtual tour of the building, review of important policies,
and an introduction to the faculty, staff, and student body can be an entertaining way to
welcome newcomers. Consider multiple languages if families are non-English speaking. Arrange
for a comfortable location in the school where the video may be viewed if families lack access for
home viewing.

 Create an orientation brochure for your school. The content addressed in a video could be
included in a written document. Again, consider what languages are needed for your community.

 Create and train student volunteer coaches to orient new students. Student “ambassadors” can
assist in building community and provide a buddy system at the classroom or school level.

 Conduct schoolwide acquaintanceship activities/contests. Principals and counselors may
arrange “New Kids on the Block” lunches as an optional activity for new students. Have a
“welcome party” for new students and a “good-bye party” for those who are leaving.

Source: National Center for Homeless Education88

87 Ferguson, R. “Tripod Classroom-Level Student Perceptions as Measures of Teaching Effectiveness.” Tripod Project

for Student Improvement (Harvard University), May 13, 2011. p. 3.

88 Figure content taken verbatim from: “General Educational Support Systems for Highly Mobile Students,” Op. cit., p.

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Schools should prepare a welcome plan for new students. The Association for Middle Level
Education (AMLE) recommends that the school’s parent-teacher organization can play a key
role in supporting new families by creating “new student” folders that include:89

Notebook, pencil, and pen

Map of the school

Coupon for free lunches for a couple of days

A magnet that has the school name, address, phone number, school hours, principal’s
name, school webpage address, holidays and vacations, and days report cards are

Information for parents on how to get into the building, where to sign in, what each
wing of the building looks like, where the cafeteria and gym are, and where to park

In addition, school leaders should identify a current student who can serve as a student
“ambassador,” helping the new student find their way around the school, make friends, and
feel included. The school counselor should follow up with the student’s parents after the first
week to determine whether the student requires any additional support.90


Classroom teachers, in collaboration with educators, should identify the most pressing
needs of their highly mobile students. Several experts on supporting highly mobile students
refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a tool for examining the needs of highly mobile
students. As shown in Figure 3.3 on the following page, Maslow’s model theorizes that
humans are motivated by unsatisfied needs, ranging from the most basic physiological needs
(e.g., food and medical attention) and security to a building a sense of belonging and strong
self-esteem. In a 2003 handbook for educators of highly mobile students, researchers
describe how to use the Maslow model to evaluate students by asking three questions:91

89 Bulleted text adapted from: Payne, R. “Welcoming Highly Mobile Students.” Association for Middle Level Education.

90 Ibid.
91 Bulleted text taken verbatim from: Popp, P., J. Stronge, and J. Hindman. “Students on the Move: Reaching and

Teaching Highly Mobile Children and Youth.” National Center for Homeless Education, November 2003. pp. 95–

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Who am I? Children gain self-
awareness and identity through
their social interactions with
others and their connections
with possessions and places.
Frequent moves reduce, or even
eliminate, those connections.
How can educators reinforce a
sense of self?

Where am I? Security is tied to
predictability in routine and
location. When students move,
that “known” is removed. How
can educators quickly provide
students with security and

How am I? Frequent moves and the potential stressors of poverty may increase anxiety and
impact overall well-being and health, socio-educational, and emotional factors. What can
educators do to reduce these stressors?

Teachers should make plans to support highly mobile students before, during, and after
new students arrive at their classroom. As shown in Figure 3.4 on the following page, the
NCHE recommends that teachers draft quick assessments to measure student learning in case
transfer of their formal records is delayed. Teachers may also develop “catch up” activities
for students who enter in the middle of a class unit. When teachers learn that a student will
soon leave their classroom, they should prepare a packet containing relevant records, a letter
to the student’s new teacher, and contact information so that the new teacher can call or
write for more information about the students’ progress. In addition, students in the class can
prepare a farewell memory book for the students, and the teacher can arrange for students
to keep in touch with their former classmate.92

92 “General Educational Support Systems for Highly Mobile Students,” Op. cit., pp. 15–18.

Figure 3.3: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs






Hanover Research | April 2017

© 2017 Hanover Research 29

Figure 3.4: Classroom-Level Practices to Support High-Mobility Students

Before the Student Arrives:

 Maintain a list of classroom rules and procedures along with the class schedule.

 Have “welcome gifts” (school pencils, writing paper, trade book, etc.).

 Make a “New Student Box” for the room. Include nametags, precut contact paper or roll of tape
to affix names to desk or locker, marking pens to label possessions, extra labels for classroom
charts (job charts, student-of-week projects, birthday charts, reading club, etc.).

 Prepare “New Student Files.” Include things to go home to parents, classroom and school rules,
supply list, extra sets of supplies for those who can’t afford them, copies of general letters to
parents, class schedule and special classes (art, music, library, P.E.), activity ideas for home, things
for the child to use at school (quick interest survey for the older child to complete, “all about me”
drawing paper for primary grades, get acquainted form or project, classroom and school rules,
and classroom procedures.

 Maintain a teacher management checklist. Remember to update locker assignment chart, seating
chart form, class list, and lunch list.

 Develop short assessments for reading, writing, and mathematics if records are delayed (e.g.,
curriculum-based tasks, reading inventories, current unit pretests)

 Create learning packets of background information and activities for “catch up” if students arrive
mid-unit or make extra copies of materials for review when new students arrive without prior

When the Student Arrives:

 Assign a buddy for recess, lunch, etc.

 Introduce the student to the class. Give new students an opportunity to share information about
themselves (e.g., interviews, story writing).

 Introduce the student to others who arrived late and are succeeding.

 Make time to chat with new students individually to welcome them and set aside a brief “chat
time” when students arrive in the morning to allow them to talk about their day.

 Nurture social skills and new friendships with structured activities.

 Laminate examples of best work for durability. This can help ensure quality work will be available
for the next teacher if another move should occur.

 Use a Polaroid or digital camera to take an individual picture on the child’s first day and a picture
of the child with the class.

 Use tutors/volunteers/mentors to provide one-on-one support. Even if the student does not
need remediation, this can provide a connection with someone else in the school.

Hanover Research | April 2017

© 2017 Hanover Research 30

When the Student Departs:

 Have classmates write letters to their departing peer. If a student leaves without notice, the
letters can be kept in the office file until records are requested and then sent to the student with
the official record transfer.

 Prepare a “Goodbye Book.” It can be as simple as sheets of paper stapled or tied together with
yarn or as elaborate as a laminated and spiral-bound booklet. Give students time to autograph
the book and brainstorm with the departing student about special memories. For example,
younger students can draw pictures with language experience sentences.

 Maintain a departure file with sample work that the student can bring to the new school.
Consider including exemplary work (laminate, if possible), journal recalling events from
classmates (“Goodbye Book”), individual and class photos, self-addressed stamped envelopes to
your school and class and stationery for the departing student to write back, a letter from the
teacher introducing the student to his/her new teacher, trade books the student has read, and a
note listing the similarities shared by schools to lessen anxiety of the unknown that children
wonder about when starting in a new school. If there is time, contact the new school and provide
the departing student with answers to questions that have been identified.

 Use technology to keep in touch. Explore e-mail correspondence with the new class.

Source: National Center for Homeless Education93

Finally, classroom teachers should personalize student learning in ways that are respectful
of their unique circumstances. The NIUSI recommends that teachers develop and administer
a personal interest survey that captures information about new students’ strengths,
knowledge, and skills. Similarly, teachers can learn about and accommodate students’
learning styles through use of multi-modal learning activities. Also, teachers can integrate
mobility into the curriculum through discussions about how moving provides opportunities
to visit new places, meet new people, and learn about different places and topics.94

93 Figure content taken verbatim from: Ibid.
94 Ferguson, “Did You Know about the Challenges of Highly Mobile Students?,” Op. cit., p. 5.

© 2017 Hanover Research 31


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