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Equity & Diversity

Why Getting a Student’s Name Right Is Important for All School Staff

By Corey Mitchell — June 14, 2016 2 min read

Researchers have explored how mispronouncing a students’ name can affect a child’s experience in school.

Now, the research arm of the federal Education Department says that getting a students’ name right is essential to ensure they’re getting the services they need.

A recently released guide from the Institute of Education Sciences’ Regional Education Laboratory Northwest is designed to help district employees accurately enter student data to ensure that students aren’t listed in multiple databases in different ways: It’s the kind of mistake that can lead to students being overlooked for services, such as English-language learner support, that they may desperately need.

While conducting a study in the Seattle metropolitan area on how long it takes elementary school-aged English-language learners to be reclassified as English proficient, REL Northwest researchers stumbled upon a problem: there were no policies on accurately entering student names’ in databases. That led to confusion.

“We kept on seeing the same kids over and over again with different student IDs, but the same home addresses,” said Jason Greenberg Motamedi, a senior researcher at REL Northwest. “We kept on hearing the same story over and over again. There was no deep knowledge about what they should be doing and they didn’t know who to ask.”

Available in eight languages, the manual, Getting It Right: Reference Guides for Registering Students with Non-English Names, offers reference guides for students whose home languages are Cantonese, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Ukrainian, or Vietnamese.

Each guide offers a brief overview on naming conventions in each language, advice on greeting and addressing ELLs and their families, and tutelage on where their names might fit into common database fields in school, district, and state systems.

An earlier version of the naming conventions guide was field-tested by an outside consultant in six districts in 2013: three in Washington state and one each in California, New York, and Texas. After giving in-depth previews to other districts, REL Northwest is already fielding requests for more languages to be included. Some of the nation’s largest school districts, such as New York, have students and families who speak more than 150 languages.

Here’s a look at a pictorial guide for a Vietnamese family:

Education Week produced a story and video multimedia package this spring that explored the importance of getting a students’ name right. We also participated in a Google hangout discussion with the PBS NewsHour to discuss the topic.

“A kid who goes from one district to another and suddenly they’re not getting English-language-development support or special education support because it just wasn’t spotted from previous records. It could be a disaster,” Motamedi said.

“It’s about culturally responsive teaching and policies that districts really need to have in place. It’s not just a teacher, it’s somebody deep in a data office somewhere who also needs to be aware of the issues.”

Getting It Right

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Pronouncing Student Names Correctly: A Quick Guide

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.