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Feds Add New Categories for Civil Rights Reporting

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that for the 2009-10 school year, school districts will have to collect data in a number of new categories that relate to students' civil rights. What's more, the data for many of the new categories must be disaggregated to show how it applies to students of different races and ethnic backgrounds, students with disabilities, male and female students, and English-language learners.

The Education Department revised its standard survey for civil rights data collection "to include additional important indicators of whether students are receiving equal educational opportunities," Sunil Mansukhani, the deputy assistant secretary for the office for civil rights, wrote to me in an e-mail message. Among the categories that are new, and which also must include data reported in a disaggregated manner, are student participation in Advanced Placement courses, ACT/SAT tests, math and science courses, International Baccalaureate programs, and General Educational Development (GED) programs. Other new categories where the data must also be disaggregated are statistics for student retention, harassment and bullying, and restraint and seclusion.

School districts are required to start collecting data for the first part of the new survey at the end of this month.

School districts will have the option of using either the five traditional race or ethnicity categories for the disaggregation or using the seven new race or ethnicity categories, which include the option of selecting two or more races. I imagine that option will be a relief to some school district officials, who feel the new categories are confusing.

The Education Department has also launched a new Web site that aims to make civil rights data from schools more accessible.

The new survey has the potential to provide a lot more information about whether school districts are giving English-language learners access to an adequate education. But I do wonder how long it will take for the data for all these new categories, disaggregated for ELLs, to be reliable.

After all, some school districts and states have failed to report some very basic information about English-language learners that is already required under the No Child Left Behind Act. For example, last time I checked, 13 states had not reported a graduation rate for ELLs to the Education Department, which is required under the federal law.

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