Columbia Public Schools amended racial classification system

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 | 3:55 p.m. CDT; updated 11:37 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 9, 2010

COLUMBIA — This school year, students at Columbia public schools were allowed to identify as multiracial, but the school district won't begin using the collected data until next school year.

A new federal rule dictates that schools provide students and faculty a multiracial option. Columbia began collecting the data during the 2009-10 school year. However, the new categories will be applied to the 2011 results of Missouri’s two standardized tests, the Missouri Assessment Program test and the End-of-Course assessment, according to Leigh Ann Grant-Engle, data manager for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Assessment guidelines at a glance

Adequate Yearly Progress goals measure the percentage of students testing at a grade-level proficiency. These benchmark percentages are measured in two areas — communication arts and mathematics — and increase each year. Adequate Yearly Progress goals for the 2010-11 school year are 75.5 percent for communication arts and 72.5 percent for mathematics.

Race and ethnicity categories are used to create subgroups within schools. Other subgroups include free and discount lunch, special education and limited English proficiency. When 30 or more students fit into a category, a subgroup is created.

When assessing standardized test scores of schools, scores from subgroups are compared against the school’s scores as a whole. With this, it is possible to recognize where achievement gaps lie within the school.

Furthermore, if one subgroup falls below the Adequate Yearly Progress percentage requirements, the entire school falls below.


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“The district's goal was to have everybody resurveyed and get everything up to date for next year,” said Chris Diggs, senior project leader of data service for Columbia Public Schools.

Although Columbia started this school year, many Missouri school districts have not yet implemented the new classification system, Diggs said. Beginning in July, the new system will be implemented at the state level.

Previously, Columbia Public Schools and the state offered five racial and ethnic categories and students and staff could only choose one. The categories were black, white, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native and Hispanic. Under the new system, Asian and Pacific Islander are separate categories and multiracial is added. Respondents can choose more than one category, but will only be reported in one of the categories, so choosing more than one would be reported as multiracial.

“Before, a student may have been white and black and would have had to choose one or the other,” Grant-Engle said.

Also, the new system acknowledges the difference between race and ethnicity. Hispanic is considered an ethnic category, so all students and staff members must declare whether they are Hispanic as well as choosing a race.

People already in the district were asked to fill out the new form, and students new to the district will be able to fill out an identification survey on their enrollment form. Districts across the state and nation will also make the same requirement.

According to a Missouri Student Information System report from the state department, “The changes should provide a more accurate picture of the nation’s ethnic and racial diversity.”

Although Columbia Public Schools previously planned to begin looking at data from this year’s surveys in the spring, according to a previous Missourian report, the surveys have not yet been analyzed, Diggs said.

“What we’re reporting to the state for this school year is under the old categories,” Diggs said.

The multiracial percentage data should be available from the state starting in October, Grant-Engle said.

If the state finds enough students in one category to create a subgroup in only a few school districts, it can request an extra year to determine whether to analyze the subgroup at the state level, Grant-Engle said. For instance, if only two districts have American Indian subgroups, the state could adjust its federal accountability standards because the subgroup is so small compared to the state's population. The performance of individual subgroups affects how the performance of the state and school districts are judged under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The state will get an opportunity to analyze our data," Grant-Engle said. "Then we can make adjustments to our federal accountability workbook."

No one was willing comment on how the new classification system will affect schools working to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals, which are the federal benchmarks every school tries to meet each year under No Child Left Behind. If a school doesn't meet the goal, it is subject to sanctions from the federal government.

“At this point in time, we do not know what the impact of the new categories will be,” Diggs said.

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