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Racial and Ethnic Classifications Used by Public Schools
NCES: 96092
May 1996

To What Extent Would Suggested Revisions to the Five Standard Federal Categories Be Applicable to Students in the Nation's Public Schools?

In an effort to further understand the usefulness of the five standard federal categories for today's school population, respondents were asked to indicate whether their enrollments included any students for whom these categories are not accurately descriptive. If so, respondents were then asked if they could estimate the number of such students, and those who could were asked to provide an approximate number. While it would have been preferable to ask all respondents to provide this estimate, during the pretest of the questionnaire it was clear that even if there were "hard-to-classify" students at their schools, some respondents were reticent to provide this information because of a district requirement to classify all students using only the five standard federal categories.

Although only 27 percent of public schools indicated that they are going beyond the five standard federal categories to classify students' race and ethnicity, a larger percentage of schools (41 percent) reported that their enrollments include students whom they feel are not accurately described by these categories (Table 5).

The standard federal categories seem most appropriate for students in very small schools, those in rural areas, and those in schools with less than 5 percent minority enrollment. The categories appear least appropriate for students in schools with over 300 students, and in schools with 20-49 percent minority enrollment. Schools with smaller or larger percentages of minority students may have less difficulty classifying the race and ethnicity of students because their populations are more racially homogeneous, and this would be an interesting issue to follow up in future research.

Of the 41 percent of schools that acknowledged having any of these "hard-to-classify" students, 77 percent (31 percent of all public schools) indicated that they could provide an estimate of how many such students were enrolled in their schools. The majority of these schools (84 percent) reported that less than 5 percent of their student population was considered to be inaccurately described by the standard federal categories (Table 5).