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.

AAPI Data Disaggregation

AAPIs are comprised of diverse cultures and ethnic groups and disaggregated data is key in representing their unique experiences and needs. The practice of grouping all AAPIs in one category 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 experiences among AAPI students.API Disaggregated Data 5th Grade Smarter Balanced Results

Progress on AAPI 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 2008, the Washington State Legislature funded five achievement gap studies, including two separate, groundbreaking studies of Asian American and Pacific Islander students in the state’s public schools. The studies found hidden educational disparities due to the practice of aggregating data and made recommendations to close the opportunity gaps for all AAPI students.

The Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC) was formed in 2009 to develop an implementation plan and recommend policies and strategies to close the opportunity gaps. The 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. In 2016, the EOGOAC championed legislation, House Bill 1541, that launched an effort to further disaggregate student data starting in the 2017-18 school year and develop best practices for school administrators to use when identifying the race and ethnicity of students and families.

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

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. The issue brief found that SBCTC should utilize the disaggregated AAPI that it currently collects in its reports and accountability metrics. 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 allowed 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 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, beginning with the 2016 survey. The BRFSS is a yearly survey that measures changes in the health of people in our state.