Skip Navigation
Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2010-015
July 2010


This report uses statistics to examine, by racial/ethnic group, current conditions and changes over time in education activities and outcomes in the United States. Some traditionally disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups have made strides in educational achievement over the past few decades, but gaps persist.

Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups is part of a series of reports produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that focus on specific racial/ethnic groups, including Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008 (DeVoe and Darling-Churchill 2008), Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities (KewalRamani et al. 2007), Status and Trends in the Education of Blacks (Hoffman and Llagas 2003), and Status and Trends in the Education of Hispanics (Llagas 2003).

Organization of the Report

The report begins with demographic information (chapter 1) and then is organized roughly according to the chronology of an individual's education, starting with indicators on preprimary, elementary, and secondary education participation (chapter 2) and continuing with student achievement (chapter 3) and persistence in education (chapter 4), behaviors that can affect educational experience (chapter 5), participation in postsecondary education (chapter 6), and outcomes of education (chapter 7). A list of references and a guide to sources appear at the end of the report. Standard error tables are available on the NCES website:

The indicators presented in this report are intended to provide an overview of the education data available from many federal surveys. Readers are cautioned not to draw causal inferences based on the univariate and bivariate results presented in this report. It is important to note that many of the variables examined in this report may be related to one another, and complex interactions and relationships among the variables have not been explored. The variables presented here are also just a sample of the thousands that can be examined using the surveys included in this report. The indicators were selected to provide a range of data that are relevant to a variety of policy issues, rather than emphasize comprehensive information on any particular issue.

Definitions of Race and Ethnicity

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for the standards that govern the categories used to collect and present federal data on race and ethnicity. The OMB revised the guidelines on racial/ethnic categories used by the federal government in October 1997, with a January 2003 deadline for implementation (Office of Management and Budget 1997). The revised standards require a minimum of these five categories for data on race: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. The standards also require the collection of data on the ethnicity categories Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. It is important to note that Hispanic origin is an ethnicity rather than a race, and therefore persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. The races White, Black, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native, as presented in this report, exclude persons of Hispanic origin unless noted otherwise.

These racial/ethnic categories are defined 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) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.

Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, 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, the Middle East, or North Africa.

Hispanic or Latino: A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

Within this report, some of the category names have been shortened. American Indian or Alaska Native is denoted as American Indian/Alaska Native; Black or African American is shortened to Black; and Hispanic or Latino is shortened to Hispanic. When discussed separately, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander is not shortened in the text, but is shortened in tables and figures to Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

The indicators in this report are drawn from a number of different sources. Many are federal surveys that collect data using the OMB standards for racial/ethnic classification described above; however, some sources have not fully adopted the standards and some indicators include data collected prior to the adoption of the OMB standards. This report focuses on the six categories that are the most common among the various data sources used: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native. Asians and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders are combined into one category in indicators for which the data were not collected separately for the two groups.

Some of the surveys from which data are presented in this report give respondents the option of selecting either an "other" race category, or two or more races (in some cases a "multiracial" category is the option), or both. Therefore, the remaining categories presented consist entirely of persons who identify as belonging to only one race or ethnicity. Where possible, indicators present data on the "two or more races" category; however, in some cases this category may not be separately shown, due to various data issues. The "other" category is not separately shown. Any comparisons made between persons of one racial/ethnic group to "all other racial/ethnic groups" include only the racial/ethnic groups shown in the indicator. In some surveys, respondents are not given the option to select more than one race. In these surveys, respondents of two or more races must select a single race category. Any comparisons between data from surveys that give the option to select more than one race and surveys that do not offer such an option should take into account the fact that there is a potential for bias if members of one racial group are more likely than members of the others to identify themselves as "two or more races."2 For postsecondary data, foreign students are counted separately and therefore are not included in any racial/ethnic category. Please see Appendix A: Guide to Sources at the end of this report for specific information on each of the report's data sources.

The American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, collects information regarding specific ancestry. "Snapshots" throughout this report highlight Hispanic ancestry subgroups (such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban) and Asian ancestry subgroups (such as Asian Indian, Chinese, or Filipino). Indicator 2 (Nativity), Indicator 4 (Children Living in Poverty), Indicator 8.2 (English Language Learner Students), Indicator 18 (Dropout Rates and Graduation Rates), and Indicator 27 (Educational Attainment) each provide a "Snapshot" table that includes detailed Hispanic and Asian ancestries and a brief comparison among the subgroups and race/ethnicity categories. For more information on these subgroup definitions, see Appendix A: Guide to Sources.

Technical Note

This report includes data from both universe and sample surveys. In the case of universe data, all relevant units are included in the data collection. As a result, there is no sampling error, and observed differences are reported as true. In the case of sample surveys, a nationally representative sample of respondents is selected and asked to participate in the data collection. Since the sample represents just one of many possible samples that could be selected, there is error associated with the sample. To avoid reaching false conclusions about differences between groups or differences over time measured by sample survey data, sampling error is taken into account in statistical tests that are conducted to support statements about differences. Thus, all statements about differences in this report are supported by the data, either directly in the case of universe surveys or with statistical significance testing in the case of sample survey data. In addition, there are occasional references to apparent differences that are not significant.

All significance tests of differences in sample survey data are tested at the .05 level of significance. Several test procedures were used, depending on the type of data interpreted and the nature of the statement tested. The most commonly used test procedures were t tests, linear trend tests, and equivalency tests. The t tests were not adjusted to compensate for multiple comparisons being made simultaneously. Trend tests were conducted by evaluating the significance of the slope of a simple regression of the annual data points and by conducting a t test to compare the end points. Equivalence tests at the 0.15 level were used to determine whether two statistics were substantively equivalent; this was accomplished by using a hypothesis test to determine whether the confidence interval of the difference between sample estimates was significantly greater or less than a preset substantively important difference. In most cases involving percentages, a difference of 3.0 percentage points was used to determine substantive equivalence or difference. In some indicators involving only very small percentages, a lower value was used. The appearance of a "!" symbol (meaning "Interpret data with caution") in a table or figure indicates a data cell with a high ratio of standard error to estimate (0.30 or greater); therefore, the estimate may be unstable and the reader should use caution when interpreting the data. These unstable estimates are discussed, however, when statistically significant differences are found despite large standard errors.

Although percentages reported in the tables are generally rounded to one decimal place (e.g., 76.5 percent), percentages reported in the text and figures are generally rounded from the original number to whole numbers (with any value of 0.50 or above rounded to the next highest whole number). While the data labels on the figures have been rounded to whole numbers, the graphical presentation of these data are based on the unrounded estimates shown in the corresponding table. Due to rounding, cumulative percentages may sometimes equal 99 or 101 percent, rather than 100 percent. In addition, sometimes a whole number in the text may seem rounded incorrectly based on its value when rounded to one decimal place. For example, the percentage 14.479 rounds to 14.5 at one decimal place, but rounds to 14 when reported as a whole number.


2 Such bias was found by a National Center for Health Statistics study that examined race/ethnicity responses to the 2000 Census.  This study found, for example, that as the percentage of multiple-race respondents in a county increased, the likelihood of respondents stating Black as their primary race increased among Black/White respondents but decreased among American Indian or Alaska Native/Black respondents. See Parker, J. et al., (2004). Bridging between two standards for collecting information on race and ethnicity: an application to Census 2000 and vital rates. Public Health Reports 119(2): 192205. Available through