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Education Department to Delay New Civil Rights Data Survey Questions

In response to a slew of complaints from schools and districts, the U.S. Department of Education is planning to delay for two years a significant expansion of its civil-rights data collection that asked more questions about student discipline and bullying.

The Education Department had wanted to dig deeper into school discipline and other issues starting in the 2013-14 school year. But now, that information won't be required until the 2015-16 school year, according to new documents posted on the office for civil rights' website.

Data points that will be delayed include: the number of incidents of violent and serious crimes, number of school days missed by students who received out-of-school suspensions, and number of allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or religion.

Reporting that data will be optional. And the department says in its Dec. 4 Federal Register response that it will use the extra time to "provide intensive technical assistance to schools and school districts so they will be prepared to provide accurate data when required for the 2015-16 collection."

The Education Department, which received nearly 300 comments on the proposed new questions, said "many of the commenters who raised concerns about the proposed data collection focused on the need for more notice and lead time to provide comprehensive and accurate data..."

In a statement today, the department told me: "The proposed additions and changes to the 2013-14 and 2015-16 [data collection] reflect the need for a deeper understanding of and accurate data about the educational opportunities and school context for our nation's students."

Indeed, accuracy of the civil rights' data has been a problem. The data collection became public last year for the first time, and reports school-level data that often can't be found anywhere else on everything from course-taking to grade-level retention.

Federal officials, however, are keeping a few new questions for the 2013-14 year, including ones about chronic absenteeism, distance education, and the cost to parents of preschool and kindergarten programs. (Schools and districts will answer the survey questions in the fall of 2014, which will reflect data from the 2013-14 academic year.)

Final approval of this new data collection, which must come from the federal Office of Management and Budget, is expected in early 2014.

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