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Race and Ethnicity Data Collection FAQ

The following document addresses "Frequently Asked Questions" regarding the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's race and ethnicity data collection policy. If you have any questions regarding this policy, please send an email to

Is it legal for the Department to collect race/ethnicity data?
Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 69, Section 1I, the Department is authorized to collect race/ethnicity data but cannot make such information public. The Department will report this data only in the aggregate.

For what purposes will the Department use the educator race data collected in EPIMS?
The Department uses data on the races of school and district staff only in the aggregate. The Department anticipates using the data to analyze the impact of policy decisions on issues such as the diversity of the Massachusetts educator workforce. The Department also plans to use the aggregated data to help schools and districts to recruit, hire, and support a diverse educator workforce. In addition to meeting the requirements of Massachusetts law, collecting the data through EPIMS will also assist in complying with U.S. Department of Education (USDE) requirements. Each year, the Department is required to submit a wide range of education data to the USDE as part of the EDFacts data initiative via the Education Data Exchange Network (EDEN). (For further information on EDFacts and EDEN, please see The ED Facts Initiative.) Staff race data has been collected as part of the EDFacts initiative in some years, and the EPIMS data collection will enable the Massachusetts DESE to provide this data to the USDE in future data collections, to the extent required.

Why were the codes changed from the five categories to the present 62?
This change was made to comply with the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revisions to the standards for classification of federal data on race and ethnicity announced in the Federal Register Notice of October 30, 1997.

When did the change take place?
The MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education changed the options used in collecting race and ethnicity data in the 2005-06 school year, starting with the October 1 SIMS data collection. The fall 2006 EPIMS pilot collection also used the new race and ethnicity codes and they will be used in the statewide EPIMS implementation in 2007.

How was race and ethnicity data collected before the introduction of the new standards?
Prior to the 2005-06 school year, there was no EPIMS collection. For SIMS, the Department collected data on students according to five race/ethnicity categories:

  • American Indian or Alaskan Native
  • Asian or Pacific Islander
  • Black
  • White
  • Hispanic

These categories were used to comply with previous federal reporting guidelines. Each student was identified by one and only one race/ethnicity category.

How is the data collected to reflect this change?
The revised standards require that agencies offer individuals the opportunity to select one or more races when reporting information on race in federal data collections. In addition, race and Hispanic origin are to be considered as two separate and distinct concepts. Therefore, Hispanic origin data are collected separately from race. The minimum designations, according to OMB, are:


  • Hispanic or Latino. A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. The term, "Spanish origin," can be used in addition to Hispanic or Latino.
  • Not Hispanic or Latino


  • 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 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.

Respondents select one ethnicity code, and one or more race codes, for a total of 62 different possible combinations.

May school districts or families identify additional race or ethnicity categories?
The above categories are the minimum set by OMB, and these are the categories the Department will use to report the Massachusetts data. Any additional categories would have to be mapped onto the five minimum categories for federal reporting. In addition, adding just one more race category would bring the number of possible combinations to over 120. Districts may decide to collect additional race or ethnicity categories, but will need to map to the minimum for reporting to the Department through SIMS and EPIMS.

How will the Department report the race and ethnicity data to the federal government?
Although we have not yet received specific guidance on aggregating student data for federal reports, we believe collecting the detail through SIMS will allow us to meet any aggregation requirements. The Department is studying whether any changes may be needed in using race and ethnicity data in determining adequate yearly progress under NCLB for schools and districts, and will inform you of any such changes.

What are the implications for desegregation plans and the racial imbalance law?
The Department does not anticipate that the change in federal reporting categories for student race and ethnicity will have any impact on school districts that are implementing voluntary desegregation plans under the racial imbalance law.

How can schools/districts collect the race and ethnicity data for staff if staff refuse to provide the information?
The Department suggests that districts ask staff to self-report. For staff who decline to submit a self-report, the district can rely on employment records or visual surveys to complete the required reports.

Last Updated: June 5, 2007

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

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