All children deserve an education that prepares them to thrive and succeed. But children don’t arrive at school from a level playing field. Some children start with many advantages, while others begin with outsized challenges. Research has shown that children who come from underserved minority groups or those living in poverty face greater educational challenges than those with more advantages. Equity means leveling the playing field by giving all students what they need to succeed.

That’s why equity is one of the four criteria we use to calculate each school’s overall Summary Rating. (The others are student growth, test scores, and for high schools, how well schools prepare students for college.)

We recently revised our methodology to include more data when we calculate a school’s Equity Rating. This allows us to give a more balanced picture of how well a school is serving students from groups that typically perform lower than the state average for non-disadvantaged student groups, including Black, Latinx, and Native American students and students living in poverty.

But improving equity is about more than serving disadvantaged students well. Here are four reasons why it matters for all students.

1. Test scores alone don’t tell the full story about a school. Research tells us that low test scores often reveal more about a student’s lack of opportunities than about how effective a school is. Schools that score high marks on equity are bucking that trend by improving outcomes for all of their students–including students who may have more advantages compared to their peers.

2. It’s easy to miss struggling students within the averages. Schools with high ratings on standardized tests may have student groups that are performing poorly but that are small enough in number that their low performance doesn’t affect their school’s overall scores significantly.

Without looking more closely at how different groups of students are doing compared to their peers, it’s possible to miss students who aren’t getting the support they need. Examples of disadvantaged student groups include students from low-income and underserved minority families or students with disabilities. (The Equity Rating tells you how effectively a school is serving its students from disadvantaged backgrounds; the Students with disabilities module suggests how effectively a school is serving students with learning disabilities). Conversely, schools with high Equity Ratings are likely to be taking steps to ensure that all students have access to the support they need to succeed.

3. Schools that are closing gaps are doing a good job of preparing all students. It takes a highly effective school to teach kids who don’t have a lot of advantages. Research shows that the strategies that have been shown to help disadvantaged students succeed are good for all students. Such strategies include: targeted instruction that meets each student where they are and intervenes when they struggle; efforts to boost engagement; an emphasis on advanced coursework and college preparation; and creating a culture of high expectations.

4. Equity extends beyond school walls. Parent groups and grassroots advocacy organizations can be key players in improving the overall school climate and outcomes for all students, so a high equity score may indicate a school that has high levels of community engagement and support.

Next steps for parents

When choosing a school for your child, look for one with a high equity score. Even if your child is not in a historically disadvantaged group, look for a score suggesting that the school is doing a good job of serving all kinds of students. Bring your questions and concerns to school leaders by using this equity toolkit.

Next steps for teachers

As a teacher, you know all too well that kids can’t learn when they aren’t in school. Look at the discipline & attendance section on your school’s profile page and check for disparities among groups of students. Share this information with your principal and fellow teachers to initiate conversations about ways your school can engage all kids and adopt disciplinary strategies to address the disparity.

Next steps for school leaders

In addition to school profile pages, we also have school district pages (find the link at the top of your school profile page). You’ll be able to see which schools in your district are closing performance gaps, and also look at how your district compares with others in your state.

This is part of a series on our new 2020 ratings. Other stories include:

Why student growth matters in school quality
Here’s the lowdown on why growth data is such an important way to measure a school’s quality.

Why did my school’s rating go up?
You may have noticed that your school’s rating went up recently. There are two possible reasons for the change.

Why did my school’s rating go down?
You may have noticed that your school’s rating has dropped recently. There are two possible reasons for the change.

Read more about GreatSchools’ rating system.