A District that Added an Optional Question

The district had heard from one of its larger CBOs, Coalition of Communities of Color, which represents many minority groups, about a desire to ensure that students of color have positive performance outcomes. Also, the district experienced a fairly significant backlash when the federal racial/ethnic groups were changed. The backlash centered especially on breaking out the Hispanic/Latino subgroup:
some families felt like they could no longer see themselves on the list because they wanted to select the Hispanic/Latino subgroup only, without choosing a racial subgroup.

Portland Public Schools leadership has invested almost 10 years in a racial equity program that works to confront underlying racial issues with the goal of helping to erase the achievement gap. The district’s Equity Department—which drives policies, activities, and relationships with CBOs within the racial equity program—and the Equity Team within Evaluation and Research spearheaded the move to collect detailed information on the racial/ethnic identification of the student population (in collaboration with the IT and Communications departments).

In June 2011, the Portland School Board unanimously approved the Portland Public Schools Racial Educational Equity Policy. This plan
includes a strategy for reviewing how to report on racial/ethnic subgroups in a way that is culturally sensitive. The district believed that disaggregated data would help in two ways. First, the data would help it better understand the students, and their unique backgrounds, and allow it to provide them a better education. Second, the data would help families “see themselves” on the district’s enrollment form—something they didn’t have with the aggregated
federal categories.
How the Change Was Made
The district reviewed several resources to help determine which new subgroups to add. For example, it looked at other districts—Seattle in particular—to see what subgroups they used. District staff also reviewed the data on home language and primary language spoken by students, as well as the list of American Indian tribes that reported to ED for funding.
The district involved both internal and external stakeholders throughout the iterative process.

The implementation of a new district SIS in the 2013-14 school year allowed Portland Public Schools to plan for additional subgroups. Each family in the district receives a paper form that asks them to update any demographic information that has changed during the last year. The form included the additional racial/ethnic subgroups for the first time during the 2014-15 school year, but schools were not required to add the new subgroups until the 2015-16 school year.

Portland Public Schools’ Racial/Ethnic Question
Race/Ethnicity Information

  1. Federal and state regulations require PPS to gather this information for statistical reports. (Both 26a. and 26b. are required)
    26 a. Is your child of Hispanic or Latino origin? • Yes • No
    26 b. What races do you consider your child? Mark the one or more races that apply.
  • Asian • Black • Native American or Alaska Native • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White
  1. Please provide the following additional information to assist PPS in better representing and responding to our students’ racial/ethnic identities:
    What races/ethnicities do you consider your child? Please mark all that apply.
    • African American African
  • Burundian • Eritrean • Ethiopian • Somali • Other African:
    Other Black

• Caribbean Islands:
American Indian/Alaska Native

• Other Black:

  • Alaska Native • Burns Paiute Tribe • Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw Indians
  • Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon • Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation • Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
  • Coquille Indian Tribe • Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians • Klamath Tribes
    • Other American Indian Tribe/Nation:
    • Native/Indigenous to Canada Please Describe:
    • Asian Indian • Burmese • Cambodian • Chinese • Filipino • Hmong • Japanese • Karen • Korean
    • Laotian • Mien • Nepali • Thai • Tibetan • Vietnamese • Other Asian:
    • Caribbean Island(s): • Central American Country(s):
    • Indigenous Mexican, Central American or South American • Mexican

• South American Country(s):
• Middle Eastern/North African Please describe:
Pacific Islander

• Other Hispanic/Latino:

• Chuukese • Guamanian or Chamorro • Micronesian • Native Hawaiian • Samoan • Tongan
• Other Pacific Islander:
• Romanian • Russian • Ukrainian
• European Country(s): • Other White:
Optional: If you would like to share in your own words how you describe your child’s race, origin, ethnicity, ancestry and/or Tribal affiliations, please use this space:

SOURCE: Portland Public Schools, 2014.

Figure 12. Portland Public Schools uses two questions to ask about students’ racial/ethnic identity. Data gathered from the first question are used for state and federally mandated reporting, while data gathered from the second are used locally in the district.

The district decided to break the racial/ethnic status request into two questions (see figure 12). The first question includes the required state and federal groups; the second question is optional and includes the additional subgroups collected by the district. In addition, under or beside each heading is a blank line where families can describe their racial/ethnic identity more specifically, or list it if it does not appear as a checkbox. Finally, an optional descriptive area appears at the end where families can describe their identity in their own words. These write-in sections are meant to capture data that might suggest that more subgroups have become necessary in the district. All of this information is collected in the district’s SIS; however, only responses to the first question (the state and federally mandated part of the form) are reported to the state.
Data Quality
The first year of implementation, school year 2014-15, was a soft rollout in which not all schools used the new optional question. In the second year, 2015-16, all schools should have used the new question, but responding to the question was still optional. Because the data are new, the district has not completed an audit of the data as of this publication.
However, after the 2014-15 school year, staff ran an internal report to review the data coming in, and it plans on replicating that report to review the 2015-16 school year data.
Using the Disaggregated Data
Since the data are new, no public reporting of the data has occurred as of this publication. The district hopes to use the detailed racial/ethnic information to break out data for public reporting in the future. The data have been used to
answer a few requests by specific racial/ethnic communities, and results were shared even though they were incomplete. The data have helped identify two new possible immersion schools: Somali and Vietnamese. In the future the district plans to use the data to develop more dual-language immersion programs, select instructional materials, and refine communications by audience.
Lessons Learned
Portland Public Schools offers the following lessons learned:

• Do not make the disaggregated portion of the racial/ethnic question optional. If the district could do it again, it would not have made its second racial/ethnic question optional. The optionality reduced both the response rate and the quality of the data. If detailed analyses are to be performed based on these data, the question will have to be required. There is hope within district leadership that implementing a broader communications and marketing campaign will result in a higher response rate in future years.
• Be bold in communications to stakeholders. Portland Public Schools had a very quiet rollout of the new racial/ethnic question. If it could do it again, it would have used a much broader communications strategy to announce the change. This would have earned the district better buy-in and compliance, which likely would have resulted in a higher response rate.

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