A new report outlines the diversity of the nearly 19,000 black and African-American students in South Seattle and South King County. And it includes ideas from students and parents about how to improve their schools.

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Depending on the school district, when families in Washington enroll their children in a public school, they have to choose among several dozen boxes to identify the race and ethnicity of each child.

In Tukwila, for example, schools collect demographic data for students of Hispanic or Latino origin based on nine different subrace or subethnicity data, such as Central American or Spaniard. Parents of Asian students choose from 16 boxes, while American Indian or Alaskan Native students choose from more than 30 different subgroups.

But black families have just one option: African American/Black.

That’s in line with state law, which, until 2018-19, only requires districts to report subrace and subethnicity data for American Indian, Asian, Hispanic/Latino and Pacific Islander students. As a result, many districts now don’t know what academic, cultural or linguistic support to offer students because they don’t always know if they’re recent immigrants or not.


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It also means that Somali and African-American communities are invisible in state data, according to a new report released last week by The Road Map Project, a regional partnership working to boost college-completion rates in South Seattle and South King County.

One goal of the report, “Start With Us,” was to provide the demographic detail on black students that the state doesn’t yet have.

Shelby Cooley, a research scientist and the report’s author, presented her findings Friday in Des Moines at the first statewide conference of the Black Education Strategy Roundtable.

Some highlights:

• Nearly 19,000 black and African-American students attend school in the Road Map region, and they speak 87 languages and come from 79 countries. (After English, Somali was the most common language.)

• Of the black and African-American students who graduated high school on time in 2010, a full two-thirds eventually enrolled in college. But of those graduates, just 18 percent completed a two- or four-year program by their mid-20s.

Cooley and her team also interviewed 100 parents and families about their experience with schools and what they would like to see change.

“Traditional measures, when examined out of context, can place the blame on students, rather than holding education systems accountable for student success,” Cooley wrote in the report.

From black high-school students, the researchers discovered four common themes: They want teachers who look like and identify with them. They crave a classroom environment less focused on testing and more on deeper learning. They also want adults to prepare them for success after high school, and want schools to offer more culturally relevant lessons.

Three-quarters of the students and parents also said it would be helpful if schools broke down the racial and ethnic data for black and African-American students. The rest expressed concern with breaking down that data, and some worried that would lead to more divisions between groups.