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Study: Native Americans Make Achievement Gains Since Passage of NCLB


In a majority of the 26 states that enroll the most American Indian or Alaska Native students, the proportion of such students who score proficient in reading and math on state tests has increased since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a study released this month by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

What's more, the achievement gap between Native American students and other students in reading and math has narrowed in a majority of states that have three or four years of continuous data. (Or, in a majority of states where Native American students outperform other groups of students, the Native American students have increased their lead.)

While the study looked at 26 states, only 19 had continuous data for three or four years in reading and 18 had continuous data for several years in math. The study examined test scores of 8th graders, from the 2003-04 school year to 2006-07 school year.

The study of Native American students' proficiency rates on state tests was conducted at the request of the Council of the Chief State School Officers. That Washington-based organization has a Native Education Network of 22 state education agencies that has a goal of annually increasing the performance of Native American students until it is on par with all other students.

While the study just released indicates the achievement gap between Native American students and all other students is narrowing, another federal study, the "National Indian Education Study 2007," indicated that achievement gap is growing, when measured by students' performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In the National Indian Education Study 2007, for instance, the average score in reading for Native Americans in 8th grade was 14 percentage points behind that of other students in 2005 and 18 percentage points behind in 2007, which represented an increase of 4 percentage points in the gap. The achievement gap in math for students of the same grade was 16 percentage points in 2005 and 19 percentage points in 2007, an increase in the gap of six points.

What's particularly interesting about the newly released report is that it contains a short description of how Native American students are faring on state tests in each state that was examined in the study. For example, in California, from the 2003-04 to 2006-07 school year, the proficiency rate in reading for Native Americans rose 9.8 percentage points and the achievement gap between those students and other students narrowed by 0.6 percentage point.

A decrease of less than a percentage point in the achievement gap seems rather small, but yet it's something.


The report does not address the main question: Have rates of improvement increased since NCLB? Previous reports (J. Lee and B.Fuller and their associates) have shown that state test scores were going up before NCLB and NCLB did not increase this rate of improvement. The same might be true of Native Americans. We don't know because the authors only looked at scores after 2003.

As the lead author on the Indian Achievement Gap study, I want to point out that the writer inferred that we intended to attribute changes in achievement to the NCLB. That was not the intent, but rather to use the opportunity that NCLB affords, e.g., state standards and assessment, coupled with disaggregated subgroup results, to take a look at patterns in the achievement gap itself.

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