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Managing an Identity Crisis: Forum Guide to Implementing New Federal Race and Ethnicity Categories
NFES 2008-802
October 2008


The National Forum on Education Statistics (Forum) is pleased to present Managing an Identity Crisis: Forum Guide to Implementing New Federal Race and Ethnicity Categories. One goal of the Forum is to improve the quality of education data gathered for use by policymakers and program decisionmakers. An approach to furthering this goal has been to pool the collective experiences of Forum members to produce "best practice" guides in areas of high interest to those who collect, maintain, and use data about elementary and secondary education. Standardizing the way data systems record students' race and ethnicity is one of these high-interest areas.

This best-practice guide is developed to assist state and local education agencies in their implementation of the new federal race and ethnicity categories—thereby reducing redundant efforts within and across states, improving data comparability, and minimizing reporting burden. It serves as a toolkit from which users may select and adopt strategies that will help them quickly begin the process of implementation in their agencies.

Data, information systems, and program staff in states and school districts comprise the primary audience for this guide. The vendors of student and staff information systems for these agencies are a secondary, but important, audience. This guide covers all stages and aspects of implementation, from developing procedures at the state level to actual re-identification of a student's or staff member's race and ethnicity. The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1 provides an overview of the background and rationale for the changes.
  • Chapter 2 discusses the important stage of developing needed policies and procedures.
  • Chapter 3 suggests ways to train staff and communicate with the public.
  • Chapter 4 discusses in detail ways to re-identify students' and staff member' race and ethnicity.
  • Chapter 5 presents options of coding, storing, and reporting data, and bridging the new standards to earlier years' reports.

The National Cooperative Education Statistics System

The work of the Forum is a key aspect of the National Cooperative Education Statistics System. The Cooperative System was established to produce and maintain, with the cooperation of the states, comparable and uniform educational information and data that are useful for policymaking at the federal, state, and local levels. To assist in meeting this goal, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the U.S. Department of Education, established the National Forum on Education Statistics to improve the collection, reporting, and use of elementary and secondary education statistics. The Forum deals with issues in education data policy, sponsors innovations in data collection and reporting, and provides technical assistance to improve state and local data systems.

Development of Forum Products

Members of the Forum establish task forces to develop best-practice guides in data-related areas of interest to federal, state, and local education agencies. They are assisted in this work by NCES, but the content comes from the collective experience of the state and school district task force members who review all products iteratively throughout the development process. Documents prepared, reviewed, and approved by task force members undergo a formal public review. This public review consists of focus groups with representatives of the product's intended audience, review sessions at relevant regional or national conferences, or technical reviews by acknowledged experts in the field. In addition, all draft documents are posted on the Forum website prior to publication so that any interested individuals or organizations can provide feedback. After the task force oversees the integration of public review comments and reviews the document a final time, publications are subject to examination by members of the Forum standing committee sponsoring the project. Finally, the entire Forum (approximately 120 members) reviews and formally votes to approve all documents prior to publication.