What’s the Secret To Raising the Academic Bar for More Students? One National Nonprofit Is Making Progress

*This article originally appeared on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative blog

Since 2010, Seattle-based nonprofit Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS) has worked with schools around the country to enroll more than 53,000 students from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds to advanced high school courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is announcing a $3 million grant to help EOS scale its approach over the next three years.

EOS works with schools and districts to deliver a research-based survey that helps schools better understand students’ aspirations, strengths, and barriers to succeeding in advanced coursework. Insights from the survey are used to design an action plan to engage students, cultivating a greater sense of belonging and a support system of trusted adults to ensure they succeed. The result is that more students show an interest in — and sign up for — advanced high school courses.

“Only when educators understand the aspirations of their students are they able to set students up for both academic achievement and success in life,” said Sandra Liu Huang, head of education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “With the insights EOS is able to provide, school and district leaders have the opportunity to unlock students’ full potential. These partnerships demonstrate how school districts can expand access to rigorous academic opportunities, which are aligned to students’ strengths and passions.”

“This grant will support the development of a broader learning and improvement agenda to deepen our understanding of student belonging, academic experiences, identity, and well-being,” said Sasha Rabkin, president of EOS. “It will propel our national impact and ensure that students across the country are seen, engaged, and resourced equitably.”

A 2020 report by The Education Trust found that using grades and test scores alone to determine readiness for advanced coursework perpetuates inequities. Over the last decade, EOS has developed a more expansive definition of readiness that works to ensure schools don’t miss students who are otherwise just as capable and go on to succeed academically at similar rates.

“The Equal Opportunity Schools approach promotes a definition of academic readiness that looks beyond test scores, GPA, and prerequisite courses to incorporate a holistic view of students and schools in context,” said Eddie Lincoln, CEO of EOS. “Students across the country are ready and able; they just need to be seen, and we need to remove barriers to the academic resources they need to meet their goals.”

Standing with a growing community of partners, CZI is working to equip teachers with the research, tools, and partners they need to center students’ well-being in support of academic achievement and success. For more information about how CZI and our grant partners are supporting student well-being, visit chanzuckerberg.com/education/well-being.

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