With a goal of helping underserved and working learners achieve education and career success, ACT, the college-readiness testing organization, established its Center for Equity in Learning in June 2016. The center aims to examine and address barriers to opportunity for young people such as income, race, ethnicity and accessibility. To give us an overview of the organization’s first year of achievements and its plans for the future, we contacted the senior director of the center, Christina Gordon, in Washington, D.C.:

Q: Why did ACT establish the Center for Equity in Learning?  Did ACT already have a similar initiative?

A: ACT established the Center for Equity in Learning as a way to double down on our mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success, with a focus on the need to close gaps in opportunity and achievement. We have a long history at ACT of working to ensure that all people have what they need to be successful.

The center combines the work of ACT’s former Office for the Advancement of Underserved Learners and the now-shuttered ACT Foundation and focuses on people who come from underserved backgrounds and underserved working learners.

We’re at a critical crossroads in our society, and we believe that ACT’s reputation, strong evidence base and relationships in education and workforce research uniquely position us to address matters of equity in learning.

Q: What ages are you targeting and why?

A: The center aims to reach underserved and working learners ages 14-26. These young people are in various transitional points in their lives, from high school to college, or certificate programs to career and beyond, and hold much promise for our society’s future.

In ensuring that they have the supports needed to be successful, we also help ensure the health of our society, democracy and economy. We expect that our focus will grow to include younger and older learners over time, as ACT expands its research and engagement across a broader spectrum of age and experience.

Q: At the center, what initiatives have been launched, or are in the pipeline, to help these learners, and how will these initiatives accomplish your mission?

Chart from the ACT Center’s August report: Equity in Working and Learning. Read more here: https://equityinlearning.act.org/research-doc/equity-working-learning/

A: The center focuses in four areas: accessibility, research, partnerships and social impact. We believe these four pillars allow us to capitalize on ACT’s strengths, while providing maximum opportunity for success. So much of what we do is grounded in evidence that informs our work.

We’ve used our strong background in research to help us forge partnerships and relationships that can move the needle and level the playing field.

Since our launch in June 2016, we have released research on the state of working learners (those who are working while going to school) and the importance of disaggregating (breaking down) data to better understand racial and ethnic heterogeneity; partnered with organizations such as Univision, the American Council on Education’s American College Application Campaign (ACAC), and Roadtrip Nation, among others, to build capacity and strengthen efforts to share “college knowledge” with diverse populations; celebrated the work we do in our communities to empower young people, women and others; and advanced accessibility for all learners.

As we look ahead, we will deepen these activities, even as we take on new ones such as exploring the role of social-emotional learning in education equity, the critical function that school counselors can play in college and career success and other projects designed to directly improve education for underserved learners.

Q: Will the center be partnering with other organizations to further its mission, and how will these partnerships work?

Chart from the ACT Center’s July report: The Racial Heterogeneity Project: Implications for Educational Research, Practice and Policy. Read more here: https://equityinlearning.act.org/research-doc/racial-heterogeneity-project-implications-educational-research-practice-policy/

A: Our partnerships are a critical and foundational pillar of the work that we do. We are only as strong as those organizations with whom we partner. ACT brings a strong research and evidence background — in many cases our partners reach directly into underserved populations with critical information to empower their success.

We recently launched Steps2College alongside the National College Access Network, ACAC, Better Make Room and the Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success at American University to ensure that the key milestones in the transition from high school to college are clear and easily achievable.

In many cases, our partnerships help us advance our research agenda — which can help us identify problems, solutions and opportunities to further empower student success. Our recent partnership with UCLA’s Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education yielded an incredibly compelling report on the power of data disaggregation among racial and ethnic groups and what that can mean for providing services and support to them.

And we have worked with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, and other scholars, to support research on topics related to working learners.

Q: How can leaders throughout the STEMx network advance the center’s work or apply knowledge gained from the center’s initiatives to advance STEM education in their own states?

A: Building awareness is a quick and easy step. By sharing our research and connecting with us via our Equity in ACTion blog or on Twitter, leaders can stay up to date on what we’re working on.

Beyond that, we are always exploring new partnerships and research opportunities, as well as ways to directly reach young people with ACT’s resources such as the fee waivers for low-income students (which includes free online test preparation).

And we love to hear stories and learn best practices from our colleagues who are making magic in their states and across the country. Tell us!

Q: Would you like to share anything else about the center?

A: The Center for Equity in Learning celebrated its first anniversary in June 2017, and we are determining how we can best leverage our resources to advance efforts to close gaps in equity, opportunity and achievement. We’d welcome information and feedback that can help inform our thinking.

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