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States Sharing Native Students' Results With Tribes in Effort to Boost Achievement

A recent change in the federal law governing access to student test scores is providing more information to tribal nations, which previously couldn't get that kind of information.

Native-student advocates say this information sharing will be a boost to efforts to improve the educational opportunities for their children, who often live in rural areas.

In Utah, about 2,500 Navajo students attend public schools, and the state department of education and Navajo Nation signed a memorandum of understanding to allow the tribe access to those students' achievement data. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act didn't until recently identify tribal education agencies as being eligible to have access to the data.

"We signed an agreement, an understanding that we will commit to one another to help promote the best education we can offer to our children," said Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim in a statement.

The agreement will be retroactive to the 2011-12 school year. Before now, no student-specific information was shared between the Navajo Nation Department of Dine Education and the Utah State Office of Education.

Efforts to help Native students are needed. The head of the National Indian Education Association has said Native education is in crisis, citing a graduation rate of 69 percent, which is nearly 10 percentage points lower than the national average.

Oklahoma has the country's largest Native American student population with 130,000 students, and it offers the most Indian education programs. Its state school Superintendent Janet Barresi announced this past fall that she was working with the Choctaw Nation to launch a pilot implementation of a School Partner Data Tool. That tool will enable the sharing of student results with tribes, and the program eventually will be open to any tribe or community group partnering with the state's schools.

"We believe this necessitates real engagement between the school and the community to provide support to students and parents," Barresi said in a press release.

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