The federal government’s ongoing implementation of new race-reporting requirements is not an attempt to check up on students’ immigration status — it is, according to local officials, an attempt to collect better data on public school populations across the states and territories.
New guidelines for maintaining, collecting and reporting race and ethnicity data were issued by the U.S. Education Department (USDOE) in October 2007, but the implementation date across the states and territories was pushed back to the 2010-2011 school year.
The new standards fall in line with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s push to collect "more accurate information about the increasing number of students who identify with more than one race," according to USDOE’s website.
"A part of the department’s mission is ‘ensuring equal access’ to education for all students," the website says. "This includes collecting racial and ethnic data about the educational progress of students from various racial and ethnic groups in our nation’s schools."
Failure to collect the proper data impacts the local Education Department’s (VIDOE) ability to meet the new federal reporting requirements — and ultimately puts its federal funds in jeopardy, said Randolph Thomas, VIDOE’s director of Research and Evaluation.
"This has nothing to do with anyone’s immigration status, and the information is not being released to the public," Thomas said Wednesday, offering an assurance for parents who might be hesitant to fill out a race and ethic re-identification form that will be sent home at the beginning of next month after the students sit their V.I. Territorial Assessment of Learning (VITAL) exam.
The form gives parents two ethnicity options (Hispanic/Latino or non-Hispanic/Latino) and five race options: American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native American or Other Pacific Islander; and White.
For the first time, parents can tick off more than one category under race, Thomas said.
"Basically what’s happening is that the list of demographics for our students is constantly changing," he explained. "So we need some better data."
Parents who don’t respond to the form also run the risk of having a teacher or administrator — called "observer identification" under the new standards — fill out the form for their child, which could create inaccurate data.
Thomas added that some or all of the new data sets could appear on the territory’s annual report card, which breaks down the results of the VITAL, how students performed within their various subgroups, and how many classes are being taught by highly qualified teachers, among other things.