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U.S. Education Department Deploys Statistics Agency to Improve Civil Rights Data

Federal civil rights data on schools can be messy, incomplete, and at times difficult to believe. But the data are also critical to understanding how different groups of students experience and achieve in school.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the National Center for Education Statistics would partner with the civil rights office to overhaul the procedures for schools submitting information to the Civil Rights Data Collection.

The announcement comes following a sharp rebuke from the Government Accountability Office, which in June found that the department knowingly and repeatedly uploaded incorrect data to the CRDC. For example, 70 percent of districts reported no incidents of special education students being restrained or secluded in 2015-16; in 9 of 10 large districts that listed no incidents, the GAO found they had restraint or seclusion incidents which they had not reported or not collected data about. And a system error in 2015-16 meant the last collection was released with incomplete or no information for more than 400 of the nation's 600 juvenile justice schools.

The CRDC, which is collected every two years, has always required updates as states or districts submit corrections. But the need to make the data more reliable has become more urgent, as many states still struggle to release the detailed report cards required under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which include data on civil rights issues such as discipline disparities. The CRDC is the nation's largest base of school-by-school information on issues from absenteeism and school discipline to access to advanced coursework.

For more, check out the explainer "4 Things to Know About Ed. Dept.'s Massive Civil Rights Database."

In a statement, the Education Department noted that it has been working with districts to incorporate data quality into district improvement plans. It found more than 99.8 percent of school districts reported data in the most recent collection for 2017-18, which is expected to be released next year.

"OCR has worked to continuously improve CRDC data quality—and has taken unprecedented steps to ensure school districts report accurate data to the Department," DeVos said in the statement. "This agreement between OCR and NCES is one additional step to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help states and school districts provide correct CRDC data that can be relied on by the public, parents and families."


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