Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Washington State

In Washington State, there are more than 674,573 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) according to the U.S. Census Bureau. AAPIs are among the fastest growing populations in the state and nation. More than 48 distinct Asian and Pacific Islander ethnic groups exist representing a diverse range of cultures, languages, religions, and immigration patterns.

Washington State has the seventh largest Asian American population and third largest Pacific Islander population in the nation. While nearly 88 percent of the population lives in the greater Puget Sound area, significant populations reside in the Yakima Valley and Clark, Whitman, and Spokane counties.

Data Disaggregation

AAPIs are comprised of distinct cultures and communities and disaggregated data is key in representing unique attributes, barriers, and experiences. The practice of lumping all AAPIs in one group hides educational, health, and economic disparities facing many communities. Fortunately, Washington State is at the forefront of the AAPI data disaggregation movement, particularly in education, through the work of community advocacy and policymaking.

The chart below by the State Board of Education shows why data disaggregation is key in understanding the opportunity gaps among AAPI students.API Disaggregated Data 5th Grade Smarter Balanced Results

Progress on Data Disaggregation

Education: The Commission and community leaders have worked closely with policymakers and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) on data disaggregation efforts. In 2009, OSPI launched the Comprehensive Education Data and Research System (CEDARS), a longitudinal data warehouse of educational data, which enabled the collection of disaggregated data for the following AAPI ethnicities.

Asian American

  • Asian Indian
  • Cambodian
  • Chinese
  • Filipino
  • Hmong
  • Indonesian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Laotian
  • Malaysian
  • Pakistani
  • Singaporean
  • Taiwanese
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese
  • Other Asian
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander

  • Native Hawaiian
  • Fijian
  • Guamanian/Chamorro
  • Mariana Islander
  • Melanesian
  • Samoan
  • Tongan
  • Other Pacific Islander

The Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC), which includes two members appointed by the Commission, has been a staunch advocate for analyzing opportunity gaps through deeper disaggregation of student demographic data. The EOGOAC championed legislation, House Bill 1541, that launched an effort to further disaggregate student data and develop best practices for school administrators to use when identifying the race and ethnicity of students and families.

In 2015, the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) released the first study of AAPI disaggregated data from OSPI and the Education Research and Data Center. The Commission held a launch event with CARE to inform the public about the findings in its report, The Hidden Academic Opportunity Gaps Among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: What Disaggregated Data Reveals in Washington State.

The Commission met with the State Board for Community and Technical regarding the reporting of AAPI data by the colleges, which were being lumped together in one category. Subsequently, the SBCTC released an issue brief, Reporting Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Outcomes, to provide guidance to the colleges about data reform. In its latest 2016-2017 Field Guide, AAPI population data for each college is now reported in two separate groups.

Health: The Commission and community leaders have met with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Local Health Jurisdictions on data disaggregation efforts.

The Commission and DOH worked together to improve the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey to better reflect Washington’s fast-growing Asian American student population. The survey provides important information about the health of youth in Washington relating to safety and violence, physical activity and diet, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, and related risk and protective factors. The survey allows students to self-identify their race or ethnicity, such as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. For the first time, the 2016 survey will allow students to choose from the following Asian subgroups: Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Cambodian.

In addition, the Commission worked with DOH to include Cambodian as an ethnicity option for respondents on the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, which builds on data collected from the 2016 BRFSS. The BRFSS is a yearly survey that measures changes in the health of people in our state.