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Note 1: Commonly Used Variables (2011)

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Certain common variables, such as parents' education, race/ethnicity, community type, poverty, and region are used in the various surveys cited in The Condition of Education 2011. The definitions for these variables can vary across surveys and sometimes between different time periods of a single survey. This supplemental note describes how several common variables used in various indicators in this volume are defined in each of the surveys. In addition, this note describes how certain terms are used in these indicators.


The categories denoting race and ethnicity in The Condition of Education are in accordance with the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standard classification scheme. The 1997 standards emphasize self-reporting or self-identification as the preferred method for collecting data on race and ethnicity. However, while the federal categories provide a standardized format for purposes of collecting and presenting data on race and ethnicity, the standard was not designed to capture the full complexity of race and ethnicity in the United States.

The 1997 standards do not establish criteria or qualifications (such as blood quantum levels) that are to be used in determining a particular individual's racial or ethnic classification. They do not specify how an individual should classify himself or herself. In situations where self-reporting is not practicable or feasible, observer identification may be used. For indicator 4, which uses data from the Private School Universe Survey, racial/ethnic classifications are based on school reports of race/ethnicity for aggregate K–12 enrollment. The 1997 standards reflect a change in data collection policy, making it possible for federal agencies to collect information that reflects the increasing diversity of the United States population.

Under the OMB standards, "Hispanic or Latino" is an ethnicity category, not a racial category. Agencies that collect data on race and ethnicity separately must collect data on ethnicity first. Ethnicity is categorized as follows:

  • Hispanic or Latino: A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
  • Race categories presented in The Condition of Education 2011 exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity; thus, the race/ethnicity categories are mutually exclusive.

Racial groupings are as follows:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent; this includes, for example, people from Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East.
  • Two or more races: A person who reported any combination of two or more races and not Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.

In The Condition of Education, the following terms are typically used to represent the above categories: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Not all categories are shown in all indicators. In some cases, categories are omitted because there are insufficient data in some of the smaller categories or because the data collection design did not distinguish between groups (between Asians and Pacific Islanders, for example). For example, in the Common Core of Data (CCD), the categories Asian and Pacific Islander are combined and "Two or more races" is used by some, not all, respondents. In other cases, omissions occur because only comparable data categories are shown. For example, the category "Two or more races," which was introduced in the 2000 Census and became a regular category for data collection in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in 2003, is sometimes excluded from indicators that present a historical series of data with constant categories, and it is sometimes included within the category "Other." For further details on these classifications, see the source documentation of the particular survey and

In The Condition of Education 2011, the above definitions of race/ethnicity apply to indicators 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 39, 43, 45, and 47. Indicators 32 and 34 combine Asians and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders due to insufficient data. These definitions may or may not apply to indicators 23, 26, and 39, which use data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The above definitions are currently being phased into the IPEDS data collection, and will be fully implemented in the 2011–12 data collection. For more information on IPEDS, see supplemental note 3.


Federal departments and agencies use various classification systems to define community types. Indicators in The Condition of Education use the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) system of locale codes.

The CCD uses the "locale code" system to classify the type of geographic area where a school is physically located. Locale assignments are based on latitude and longitude values developed from reported address information. The assignments include four primary categories—(1) city, (2) suburban, (3) town, and (4) rural—and each primary category includes three subcategories. City and suburban areas are subdivided into small, midsize, and large, while town and rural areas are subdivided into fringe, distant, and remote according to their proximity to urban areas (see exhibit B-1).

Exhibit B-1. NCES urban-centric locale categories

These 12 categories are based on four geographic concepts defined by the Census Bureau: urbanized areas, urban clusters, core based statistical areas, and principal cities. Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters are densely settled areas defined by collections of Census blocks and block groups, the smallest geographic units for which the Census Bureau determines population. Urban cores with populations of 50,000 or more are classified as Urbanized Areas, while those with populations of less than 50,000 but greater than 2,500 are classified as Urban Clusters. All nonurban territory is classified as Rural. A Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA) includes at least one urban core population of 10,000 or more and adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties. CBSAs are composed of one or more contiguous counties, and are classified as Metropolitan Statistical Areas if they contain a population core of 50,000 or more. A principal city is an incorporated place or Census-designated place that serves as a primary population and economic center in a CBSA. NCES city locale assignments are based on principal cities of Metropolitan Statistical Areas. For more information about urban areas, see For more information about Core Based Statistical Areas, see

Assignments of locale codes to local education agencies (LEAs) are based on enrolled-weighted locale assignments of the schools operated by the LEA. If a majority of students in the LEA attend schools located in a single locale, the LEA is assigned to that locale. Most LEAs in the CCD are assigned based on a majority locale. If a majority of students in an LEA do not attend schools within a single locale, the LEA is reevaluated to see if a majority of its students are located in one of the four primary categories (city, suburban, town, and rural). If so, then the LEA is assigned to the largest subcategory within that primary category. If the LEA does not have a majority of its students in a specific locale or within a primary category, then the LEA is assigned the locale that accounts for a plurality of its students. In cases where an LEA does not enroll students or does not report student enrollment to the CCD, the LEA is assigned a locale based on its reported address location.

Although geographic locale assignments are included in the CCD and other NCES surveys, data products and publications often consolidate the full set of locales and present data only for the four primary categories. The CCD adopted the 12-category locale framework in 2006. Prior to that, the CCD relied on an eight-category framework that classified areas primarily on the basis of metropolitan area boundaries.

In The Condition of Education 2011, urban-centric locale codes are used in indicators 3, 4, 27, 28, 32, and 34.


Data on household income and the number of people living in the household are combined with estimates of the poverty threshold, published by the Census Bureau, to determine the poverty status of children (or adults). The thresholds used to determine poverty status for an individual differ for each survey year. The weighted average poverty thresholds for various household sizes for 1990, 1995, and 2000 through 2009 are shown in exhibit B-2. (For thresholds for other years, see

Exhibit B-2. Weighted average poverty thresholds, by household size: Selected years, 1990–2009

In indicator 6, children in families whose incomes are below the poverty threshold are classified as poor, those in families with incomes at 100–199 percent of the poverty threshold are classified as near-poor, and those in families with incomes at 200 percent or more of the poverty threshold are classified as nonpoor.

In indicator 29, poverty status is based on Census Bureau guidelines for the year that corresponds with the year of the estimate. Poverty status for the 9-month estimates reflects poverty status at the time of the 9-month data collection, poverty status for the 2-year estimates reflects poverty status at the time of the 2-year collection, and poverty status for the preschool estimates reflects poverty status at the time of the preschool year collection. Census Bureau guidelines identify a dollar amount that would allow a household to meet its needs, given its size and composition. For example, in 2002, a family of four was considered to live below the poverty threshold if its income was less than or equal to $18,392. Children in families whose incomes were below the poverty threshold were classified as being in poverty.

Eligibility or approval for the National School Lunch Program also serves as a measure of poverty status. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operated in public and private nonprofit schools and residential child care centers. Unlike the poverty thresholds discussed above, which rely on dollar amounts determined by the Census Bureau, eligibility for the National School Lunch Program relies on the federal income poverty guidelines of the Department of Health and Human Services. To be eligible for free lunch, a student must be from a household with an income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline; to be eligible for reduced-price lunch, a student must be from a household with an income between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Title I basic program funding relies on free lunch eligibility numbers as one (of four) possible poverty measures for levels of Title I federal funding.

In The Condition of Education 2011, eligibility for the National School Lunch Program applies to indicators 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 27, and 28; approval for the National School Lunch Program applies to indicators 32 and 34.

Geographic Region

The regional classification systems in exhibit B-3 represent the four geographical regions of the United States as defined by the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. In The Condition of Education 2011, indicators 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 20, 27, 29, 32, and 34 use this system.

Exhibit B-3. U.S. Census Bureau, Regional Classification

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