Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Educational Message for Tibetan Americans

A month ago, with great enthusiasm and expectation, I participated in the 2012 Seminar on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Databases at Washington DC. My primary purpose on attending this seminar was to explore the possibility of using the NAEP data for conducting some research on Tibetan American students such as assessment of these new group of Tibetan students’ academic performance in the U.S. schools and also, to compare their performances with other race categories (such as White, Hispanic, Black, Asian) and sub-race categories (such as Chinese, Indian). If you are new to NAEP, below is a brief introduction.

“The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. Assessments are conducted periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history” (NAEP Webpage). NAEP results are based on representative samples of students at grades 4, 8, and 12 for the main assessments, or samples of students at ages 9, 13, or 17 years for the long-term trend assessments. These grades and ages were chosen because they represent critical junctures in academic achievement (NAEP Webpage). To put "critical junctures" in simple terms, grade 4 generally represents elementary, grade 8 middle, and grade 12 high school. FYI -  NAEP falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Education. For more details, visit NAEP website at

Sadly, after attending the seminar for three days, my hope of conducting some research on Tibetan American students’ academic performances turned upside down. I learned that the NAEP datasets reflect only the official U.S. race category i.e., White, Black, Hispanic, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native. The datasets has no data on sub-race categories (Though I did not expect to find Tibetan as a sub race category in the NAEP data, I did expect Chinese, Mexican, etc. as a sub race category).

Without getting much deeper into strengths and weaknesses of the NAEP data, let me share what I learned through my discussion with NAEP personal at the seminar and through my little research on the topic so far. As of now, the NAEP data may not be relevant to assess Tibetan American students' academic performances but Tibetan Americans may be able to change the future with their collective efforts. Below are few insights on how to bring this change. 

First, in the Student Enrollment Form of most public and charter schools in the United States, there is an option to select race. Within this race category, it is important to select or write "Tibetan" under the “others” race category. This small step may not bear any immediate result in the near future but in the long run, it may. For instance, if NAEP starts to collect data with an item questionnaire to identify student-reported race, the option to select/write "Tibetan" may come up under the general Asian American/Pacific Islander race category. 

Second, the small act of selecting or writing “Tibetan” as a race in the Student Enrollment Form notifies the school, district, county, or state education department about the presence of this unique race. In other words, Tibetan as a student-reported race is identified in the official record or knowledge. 

Besides NAEP, some school districts, counties, or states collect data on their students’ academic performances. In such cases, the chances of having Tibetan as a race or a defining variable (for data analysis purpose) may be slightly higher if every Tibetan parent in the district, county, or state starts identifying their child as a Tibetan race.

Third, in addition to selecting Tibetan as a race in the Student Enrollment Form, Tibetan parents also need to understand the importance of selecting "Tibetan language" as their child's mother language or first language. This small step may one day bring Tibetan language curriculum in the public or charter schools. 

Moreover, the school district, county, or state may start to recognize the importance of Tibetan language. For instance, if you look at the “Publication and Translation” page of NYC Department of Education webpage, you will see nine international languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu (Click to see the page Publication and Translation). The Bengali language in the NYC Department of Education page is made possible by Bengali parents who identified Bengali as their child's mother/first language. This credit should go to the collective efforts of Bengali parents to recognize their mother/first language. 

Lastly, a small step now may bring a big change in the future.  For this to happen, Tibetan parents need to act now.  Tibetan as a race in the official school records may come true with these small collective steps. 

To conclude, if Tibetan as a Race is identified in the official school records, then, the benefits are beyond our imagination. Among many, one could be the study of Tibetan American students' academic performances using the official data: are they performing better in Mathematics than Chinese or Indian American students? are there any differences in the academic performances of Tibetan male students as compared to Tibetan female students? how many Tibetan students graduate from elementary school or middle school or high school? and so on... 

Please share and spread the word out about the importance of this small step. Thank you. 

Note: Even if a child is born in the United States, his or her mother/first language may still be Tibetan. 

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