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State Survey on Racial and Ethnic Classifications
NCES: 98034
September 1998


The State Survey on Racial and Ethnic Classifications was conducted for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education as part of the research associated with the comprehensive review of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, "Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting" (Executive Office of the President, 1977).

This survey was conducted to inform the OMB about the quality and utility of the data collected by state departments of education using the five standard federal categories of race and ethnicity in use at that time. The issues examined in this report include the use of classifications that differ from those five standard categories (white, non-Hispanic; black, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; Asian or Pacific Islander; American Indian or Alaskan Native); the impetus for making changes to the classification categories; the types and origins of complaints received about the categories; and the effect of possible changes on the collection, maintenance, and reporting of trend data. This survey was conducted as a structured telephone interview with representatives from state departments of education during February 1997. The interview followed different paths depending on the procedures for collecting data on race and ethnicity in that state's data collections. States were divided into three categories: those that had already made changes to the five standard federal categories, those that were considering changes, and those that had made no changes and were not considering changes in the near future. Interviews were completed with all states except Hawaii. Throughout this report, the District of Columbia is counted as a state.

  • Eight states reported using categories other than the five standard categories used by the federal government (Table 1). In addition to the standard federal categories, five states reported using a "multiracial" category, two use an "other" category, one (California) uses "Filipino" as a separate category, and one (Alaska) breaks the American Indian or Alaskan Native category into two separate categories (Table 2).

  • Complaints from parents and school districts were the main reasons given by states for modifying or considering modifications to the standard federal categories (Table 4).

  • Three states reported that they were considering making changes to the standard federal categories for collecting information (Table 1). The remaining 38 states and the District of Columbia have not made any changes and report none under consideration.

  • Thirty-six states reported that the data they receive from school districts always conform either to the five standard federal categories or the modified state-approved categories (Table 5).

  • Of the 40 states that reported receiving comments or complaints about their current procedures, 24 had heard from both schools and parents. Of these 24 states, 16 reported that they had received more comments from one group than another-11 states had received more comments from parents, and 5 states had received more comments from schools (Table 7).

  • Adding a "multiracial" category was the most frequently requested change-31 states reported receiving such requests (Table 8).

  • With regard to revising forms, revising computer systems, and training employees, the expected impact reported by states that had already made some changes was generally less than the impact anticipated by states in which no changes had been made (Table 9).

  • With respect to the impact on maintaining and reporting trend data, 17 states indicated that changes to the data categories would affect their enrollment projections and/or prevent comparisons across time; 10 states indicated that the impact had been or would be nonexistent or minimal (Table 11).

  • Eighteen states maintained that there was no need to change the current federal system of classifying data on race and ethnicity. Another 20 states expressed the need either to add additional categories to reflect the nation's increased diversity (7 states) or to add a "multiracial" category to reflect the growing population of mixed-race individuals (13 states) (Table 12).

  • Of the 13 states that suggested adding a "multiracial" category, 2 had already made changes (Table 12). Of the 7 states that suggested other new categories to reflect racial diversity, none had made changes; 2 were considering changes to the current system.