Payne highlights equity efforts in D86

Director of instructional equity cites data, student surveys to demonstrate need for work

Equity work is definitely needed in Hinsdale High School District 86, Patrice Payne told board members at their April 14 meeting.

Payne, who has served as director of instructional equity in the district since July 1, pointed to data and conversations with students as evidence.

Research shows the powerful impact implicit bias has on students’ ability to learn, she said. It can affect special education placements, disciplinary referrals, teacher mindsets and beliefs, tracking and the dominant discourse.

“What you will see is that all of these components are very closely interrelated,” Payne said. “As you can probably imagine, they all stem from No. 3, our mindsets and our beliefs. Those inform one another. Our beliefs will become our dominant discourse.

“These become very pervasive, fixed attitudes about students’ abilities and their ability to contribute,” she added.

She shared a series of slides with fall 2021 data that shows disproportionate percentages of students in various groups — Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino, two or more races and low income — are enrolled in special education, are referred for discipline issues and are placed in support courses.

In one instance of disparity, Black/African American students make up 7.5 percent of the district’s student body but receive more than 33 percent of discipline referrals for all types of incidents.

When it comes to advanced courses, a disproportionate percentage of whites and Asians are enrolled in AP English and AP math.

On the SAT, underserved students (Black, Hispanic and/or low-income) score an average of 220 points lower than their district peers.

“Our in-house data, what we see from our students’ performance, is more than enough information which fuels our reason for providing equitable approaches to meeting students’ needs,” Payne said.

She cautioned people about the dangers of interpreting the data in certain ways.

“I don’t want people to leave with any unintended consequences where we are making assumptions about students or groups’ abilities,” she said. “What I would like to share is that what we see in terms of student achievement does not necessarily indicate students’ potential but rather an opportunity for us to shift our practices so that we are more adequately meeting the needs of our students.”

The recent Panorama survey shows 43 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed they feel a sense of belongingness at school. That is in the lowest percentile (0-19) for all K-12 schools nationwide that use the survey.

“There is a clear opportunity to provide students with more opportunities to feel more connected and to feel valued in our schools,” Payne said.

She emphasized that her role is very specific.

“I want to be very clear my role is instructional equity,” she said. “My focus is really facilitating systemic implementation that’s proactive and responsive to meeting the varying needs of our students. That is done heavily through professional development and providing consultation to our leaders as we address in-time issues as well as issues that have persisted for a number of years.”

Each member of CELT — the district’s Culture and Equity Leadership Team — will be championing an equity goal. The district also has offered significant professional development for teachers, including a series Payne titled “Inclusion Starts with I.”

“The true work of equity starts with mindset shifts,” she said. “We all walk through life with our own perspective, with our own set of experiences that have molded us. That is not problematic if we engage in those implicit biases and are aware. If you are human, you are biased. I am biased.”

People must become socially aware in addition to self-aware so those biases don’t turn into harmful behavior, she added.

The D86 Youth Equity Summit, which Payne said was her best day in the district, gave marginalized students the chance to identify the attributes of a school committed to equity and inclusion. One of the five identified is to provide “decentered content,” Payne said, noting that education is very Eurocentric.

She offered the example of a teacher working on a unit on Creation by looking at Greek mythology, Biblical references and Native American origin stories. Including voices from other cultures does not mean teaching the perspectives or beliefs of those cultures, she explained.

“Our work is guided by standards. That has not changed and will never change,” she said. “How we teach our standards is what’s important.”

The most important thing is to remain flexible, she said, noting that she works closely with David Lapatino, director of instruction and innovation.

“Students who sit in front of us have different needs than honestly our students from two years ago,” she said. “Our students have changed, and good practice changes, good practice evolves.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean