Monday, March 23, 2009

Multiracial Pupils to Be Counted in A New Way

Washington Post
By Michael Alison Chandler and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 23, 2009; A01

Public schools in the Washington region and elsewhere are abandoning their check-one-box approach to gathering information about race and ethnicity in an effort to develop a more accurate portrait of classrooms transformed by immigration and interracial marriage. Next year, they will begin a separate count of students who are of more than one race.
For many families in the District, Montgomery and other local counties that have felt forced to deny a part of their children's heritage, the new way of counting, mandated by the federal government, represents a long-awaited acknowledgment of their identity: Enrollment forms will allow students to identify as both white and American Indian, for example, or black and Asian. But changing labels will make it harder to monitor progress of groups that have trailed in school, including black and Hispanic students.
Racial and ethnic information, collected when children register for school, can inform school board decisions on reading programs, discipline procedures or admissions policies for gifted classes. The government looks at test scores of minority groups to help determine whether schools make the grade under the No Child Left Behind law. In an increasingly data-driven culture, educators also scrutinize such test scores and enrollment figures to pick programs meant to narrow achievement gaps and equalize academic opportunity.
Under the new policy, the count of Hispanic students is expected to grow as the non-Hispanic black and white counts diminish. Many will fall into a new group called "two or more races." In schools with diverse populations, especially in such immigrant destinations as the Washington region, there are likely to be notable demographic shifts, at least on paper. That could shake up how educational challenges are measured and reroute funding for reforms.
"This will make our whole education system look different, and nobody will know whether we are going forward or backward," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California in Los Angeles. Along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups, the Civil Rights Project has raised concerns about how the Education Department will handle the new data.

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