Lists frequently asked questions for New Federal Standards for Collecting and Reporting Race and Ethnicity Categories.


What is the new federal requirement for collecting data on race and ethnicity?

The re-identification of all students and staff is required by Federal Register Doc E7-20613 effective December 3, 2007, which requires maintenance, collection, and reporting of ethnic data to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).

The guidelines for both student and staff are identical with the exception of parent involvement, as it is not needed to identify staff.

Is there a federal requirement on how we should collect data on race and ethnicity?

Two distinct questions with two distinct responses must be used to collect data about student and staff member race and ethnicity.

The first part should consist of a question about ethnicity:

  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Not Hispanic or Latino

The second part asks to select one or more races from the following categories:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White

Answers to both questions are mandatory.

Who is requiring this?

The USDE requires these standards for federal education eligibility and accountability reports. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) also requires local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools to collect and report data in unison with these federal requirements.

Why collect race and ethnicity data?

Reporting race and ethnicity data to the USDE is required as a part of accountability reports and allows states to request federal funding.

Where did the definitions for the ethnicity and race originate?

The definitions used for all races listed in the document were taken from the Federal Register, October 30, 1997, Sections SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION, D. OMB's Decisions (13), and Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, 1. Categories and Definitions.

When is the deadline to implement the new federal race and ethnicity categories?

North Carolina is implementing these new requirements in the fall of 2009 and includes the new categories in the North Carolina Window of Information on Student Education (NCWISE) for the 2009-10 academic year. LEA and school personnel systems will also need to meet this collection requirement for 2009-10 academic year. Although, the federal guideline requires implementation no later than July of 2010 for the 2010-11 academic year, the USDE encourages reporting of aggregate race and ethnicity data in accordance with the guidance prior to the deadline.

Why are the changes taking place?

Since 1997, federal agencies have been working to adopt the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards for classifying federal data on race and ethnicity. The new race and ethnicity standards: allow race and ethnicity to be more accurately reported for students and staff; are consistent with the U.S. Census Bureau data and other national data sets and therefore align with other agencies that are already using the new standards; and are required.

Is it really legal to collect race and ethnicity data on students and staff?

Yes. State and federal laws require race and ethnicity data to be collected. Examples include laws enabling state assessments (e.g. Education Code Section 60640), Special Education data collection (Education Code sections 56601 and 56602), and federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) work force reports (Section 709(c), Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1967, as Amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972).

For what purposes will USDE use the race data collected?

Aggregate reports, policy decisions, and workforce support.

Where can I get more information on the federal guidance?

Federal Register Final Guidance Document

Federal Policy Race and Ethnicity Category Questions

Managing an Identity Crisis: Forum Guide to Implementing New Federal Race and Ethnicity Categories



How were race and ethnicity data collected before the introduction of the new standards?

Up through 2008-09 school year, the department (and state) collected data using one element and five (and six) Racial/Ethnic Categories:

American Indian or Alaska Native American Indian or Alaska Native
Asian or Pacific Islander Asian or Pacific Islander
Black Black
Hispanic Hispanic
White White

Does the two-part question have to be asked in exactly that order?

Yes, for uniformity and consistency. The first part of the question must ask the respondent whether he or she is Hispanic or Latino) and must come first. The second part of the question must ask the respondent to identify one or more races, and it must follow the ethnicity part of the question. All respondents must answer both parts of the question.

Have the race definitions changed?

No. Although the collection categories for Asian and Pacific Islander have changed, the definitions for each of these have not changed.

What is the federal definition of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity?

A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race should be categorized as Hispanic/Latino.

What are the definitions of the federal race categories?

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains a tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

There doesn't seem to be a race category to select when respondents select their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino. What's the correct race selection for someone who is Hispanic or Latino?

The federal government considers "Hispanic/Latino" to be an ethnicity, not a race. Accordingly, "Hispanic/Latino" is not in the race part of the question. The NCDPI supports self-identification, so the correct answer is whatever the person indicates in both parts of the question. Someone who is Hispanic or Latino could see themselves as belonging to one or more races. If the respondent leaves the race part blank, federal guidelines state that a third-party is to identify non-respondents by observation.

Can we put space on our form for parents/guardians to indicate "Declined to answer" under the Race question or can we put "You may leave this question blank if you answered Yes to the Hispanic question" in our instructions for the race question?

No, you may not put a "Declined to answer" field on your form for the respondent or parent/guardians to use. No, your instructions may not tell the respondent or parent/guardians that they may leave the answer blank if they answered yes to the Hispanic question.

Can I collect even more detailed race data?

Yes, LEAs have the option to collect even more detailed race data. However, the data must be mapped to the new race and ethnic categories when reporting to NCWise and LEA and school personnel systems. Also, the data collection process must include the two-part question. NCDPI would prefer this be a state-wide decision for consistency and as such requests that the determination of additional collection be a state level decision. Questions and special requests can be sent to the Enterprise Data Manager.

May the district include a category for "two or more races?"

No, respondents may not be offered the choice of selecting a "two or more races" category.

Do we need to re-survey respondents whom we’ve already identified?

School districts must allow all individuals to re-identify their ethnicity and race for the 2009-10 school year. Prior racial/ethnic categories and the new race and ethnicity categories will need to be reported.

LEAs and schools may for this information upon entry into school on the school’s application and on update forms sent home during the first weeks of school. Staff is typically asked for this information upon employment or application for employment. Returning staff must be re-surveyed for purposes of this reporting requirement.

What do we do when respondents refuse to identify their race or ethnicity?

The strong preference is for the respondent to self-identify. Schools and districts should do everything possible to encourage respondents to identify themselves according to the new format, and to follow up with those who are reluctant to respond for themselves. For reporting respondent level information to NCWISE or LEA or school personnel systems, there will not be a category for "Decline to State" or "Unknown". When reporting to these systems, if either race and/or ethnicity information is missing from a record, federal guidelines state that a third-party is to identify non-respondents by observation. Observers must select one ethnicity code and one or more race codes.

Can it be a condition of employment that the staff member identifies a race and ethnicity?


How long must local collectors maintain data records?

Three years is the minimum regulatory requirement, unless a given collection specifies otherwise. The collection of the data is associated with the disbursement of federal funds. In addition, if there is an audit, inspection, compliance review or investigation, the responses must be retained at least until the case involving those records is resolved.



I have aggregate reports that I need to send off for other state and federal programs. How do I aggregate the data according to the new categories?

Aggregation will not be an issue with NCWise or LEA or school personnel systems reporting, because LEAs will report student or staff level data to NCWise or LEA or school personnel systems. Race and ethnicity data should be aggregated into the following seven categories for federal education program reporting:

  • Hispanic/Latino of any race;

Only for individuals who are non-Hispanic/Latino:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native,
  • Asian,
  • Black or African American,
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,
  • White

Please contact your NCDPI program representative to confirm specific state program reporting instructions.

The category “2 or more” should be added to the non-Hispanic race data for aggregate results.

What should be done if it is believed that a student or staff member is of a different race or ethnicity than he/she claims to be?

The school or district must accept self-identification of race and ethnicity. Self-identification is a basic principle underlying the collection of this information. The respondent’s choice is not to be changed by the district.

Why doesn’t the federal government ask for the race of Hispanic/Latino students and staff in its aggregated reports?

The USDE did not require aggregate reporting of race information for the Hispanic population due to the burden and cost of adding more data elements to information systems. The USDE will require agencies to keep the original individual responses using the two-part question for a minimum of three years, and information regarding the race of Hispanic respondents can be accessed locally, if necessary. Race information on all respondents is also required for civil rights monitoring and enforcement.



Will this new federal requirement format be adopted in all North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI)-administered education data systems?

Yes. NCWise will adopt the new scheme in 2009-10. The student and staff demographic data must be collected consistent with the two-part question. Since schools and LEAs will be maintaining the student and staff data in their local systems consistent with the federal requirement, all other student and staff data systems will also need to adopt the federal standards in 2009-10.

Will the changes affect data reporting to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

No, the aggregated categories are consistent with staff data reported to the EEOC.

Will the changes affect the information needed for civil rights enforcement?

No, detailed responses to the two-part question must be maintained locally for a minimum of three years and available to resolve specific issues. In addition, if there is an audit, inspection, compliance review or investigation, the responses must be retained at least until the case involving those records is resolved.

Is the USDE checking immigration status?

No, USDE data will be maintained in your employment or student records and will not be reported to any federal agency in a way that identifies you or your child. Immigration status will not be checked from this data.

Will the school release my student or staff member’s race and ethnicity to other parties?

Individual student and staff member records are protected by the Federal Education Records and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA’s protection of student and staff member records remains intact. FERPA does not designate race and ethnicity as directory information, and race and ethnicity have the same protection as any other non-directory information in a student’s education record or staff member’s record.