While every other traditional category of historically disadvantaged students has made gains on measures of academic achievement over the last decade, performance for American Indian and Alaska Native students has stalled or lost ground, according to a new policy brief from Education Trust.
Between 2005-2011, for example, Native students were the only major ethnic group to demonstrate virtually no improvement on the 4th grade reading exam administered as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, although the rate of improvement posted by white students was not significantly faster. In 2005, American Indian and Alaska Native students were performing better on the 4th grade reading NAEP than their black and Latino peers, but lost that lead to both groups by 2011, according to Ed Trust.
The pattern for the 8th grade math NAEP between 2005-2011 was somewhat similar, when scores for all groups improved significantly faster than for Native students. African-Americans and Latinos had significantly lower scores than Native students in 2005, but by 2011, Latinos had scores that were significantly higher. African American students' scores remained significantly below Native students, but less so. On another indicator—access to Advanced Placement courses in high school—American Indian and Native Alaska students were the least likely to attend a school that offered even one of the rigorous, college-preparatory courses.
Ed Trust folks explained that the results they used for Native students came from the National Indian Education Study, while results for all other groups came from Main NAEP, which they said makes it difficult to run significance tests for the results. Main NAEP excludes results for American Indian students who are enrolled in Bureau of Indian Education, or BIE, schools, so it's hard to know how the comparisons might change if those studenst had been included. Also, for their report, Education Trust looked only at data for students who are American Indian or Alaska Native; Native Hawaiians were not included.
And when it comes to high school graduation rates, according to federal data from the 2009-10 school year, roughly 69 percent of Native high school students graduated in four years, compared to 83 percent of white students. (These results also exclude BIE students.)
By other calculations, the graduation rates for American Indian students look even worse. While most demographic groups have seen their grad rates accelerate in recent years, Native American students have not, and have even been on a downward trend since 2008, according to calculations done by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center for the 2013 Diplomas Count report. The gap between Asians and Native Americans is 30 points, according to the EPE Research Center. The chart below illustrates the trend lines starkly.
It's important to note, as the Education Trust report does very prominently, that regular school districts are where the vast majority of American Indian and Alaska Native kids are enrolled. Just 7 percent of the nation's roughly 600,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students attend BIE schools. Oklahoma, Arizona, and California each educate more American Indian students in their K-12 schools than BIE schools do.
Ed Trust also provides NAEP data to show that some American Indian students in some states—Oregon and Oklahoma, in particular—are reaching far higher levels of performance (either proficient or advanced) than their peers in Arizona. The report also mentions an elementary school in rural Mobile County, Ala., where more than 80 percent of students are Choctaw, and after deliberate turnaround strategies and a sharp focus on building literacy skills, the school now outperforms many of the state's elementary schools on state reading and math exams.