Oklahoma's Native Students: Good news and bad news
According to the National Indian Education study of 2009, Oklahoma's Native American students outperformed other Native American students from around the country. But there's good news and bad news:
Oklahoma's American Indian students continue to outperform those in other states, but academic progress for American Indian students nationally remains stalled, a new study indicates.
Key members of Congress expressed concern over the study's results and vowed to address the issue in upcoming education legislation.
According to the congressionally authorized National Indian Education Study 2009, the average reading scores for fourth-grade and eighth-grade American Indian students in Oklahoma were higher than the national average of Indian students.
That was repeated in math scores for fourth-grade American Indian students.
Gaps in the scores among Indian students and white students in Oklahoma also were smaller than the figures nationally.
"That is something the state has been striving for,'' said Shelly Hickman, public affairs director for the Oklahoma Department of Education.
"The report showed we are doing a better job of doing that than any other state in the country.''
Hickman conceded that math continues to be a weak area, not only for the state's American Indian students but also for others.
That shows up in state exams, she said.
Hickman said the state Board of Education recognized that issue and acted to address it last year. She predicted that the impact of that change will begin to be seen as more school districts adopt more rigorous curricula.
State Superintendent Sandy Garrett has
been among those advocating for students to take more math classes, Hickman said.
According to the study, more than a third of American Indian and Alaska Native fourth- and eighth-graders nationally scored below the basic level in math and reading.
Their progress since 2007, when the last study was conducted, is largely stalled.
"There remains a wide and persistent gap between the achievement of native students and white students,'' said John Easton, director of the Institute of Education Services, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Education.
U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, described the lack of progress by American Indian and Alaska Native students as alarming.
"This report offers further proof that we need to focus significantly more attention on our American Indian and Alaska Native students in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,'' Miller said.
Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Democratic chairman of the House Native American Caucus, agreed.
"These results are unacceptable and further underscore the vital need to improve education in these communities,'' Kildee said.
In addition to the national results, the study also included data from Oklahoma and 11 other states with large populations of American Indian and Alaska Native students.
There may be several reasons why Oklahoma's Native American students performed better than those in other states. First, since there have been no true reservations in Oklahoma since shortly before the 20th century, Natives are often more integrated into overall Oklahoma society. Reservations remain some of the most impoverished areas in the United States, and they tend to deny their inhabitants economic and educational opportunities, to put it mildly. This also leads to many students who identify as Native being actually of a quite varied racial ancestry.
Nonetheless, saying that your students are at the top of a group that suffers from an achievement gap is cause for mild celebration, at the most.