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Better than average

Study finds Oklahoma's American Indians graduating higher than national average

ANADARKO, Okla. - A recent study of high school graduation rates found that Oklahoma's American Indian students are graduating at the rate of 63.8 percent, more than 12 percent higher than the national American Indian/Alaska Native average of 50.6 percent.

The study, ''Diplomas Count 2008,'' was conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center based in Bethesda, Md., with assistance from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report, published in the June 5 edition of Education Week, uses 2005 data from the U.S. Department of Education's Cumulative Promotion Index.

According to the study, 1.23 million American high school students will not be graduating with a high school diploma. This makes the current high school dropout rate at 6,289 students per day.

''Students with certain risk factors are more likely to drop out,'' said Sterling Lloyd, a senior research associate with the research center. ''Students from low-income families or who could be facing difficult circumstances outside of school are at greater risk of dropping out. Research shows that what schools do matters a lot as well. Students who earn low grades or who fall behind in course credits or who have poor school attendance are more likely to leave without a diploma.''

What Lloyd said makes the difference in increasing graduation rates were intervention programs in school systems. Examples of these would be mentoring or tutoring programs that serve American Indian populations such as Johnson O'Malley and other federally funded programs.

''Schools with strong relationships between students and teachers, where struggling students get good academic support services, may be expected to have better graduation rates,'' Lloyd said.

For Oklahoma as a whole, the graduation rate is 70.8 percent, slightly higher than the national graduation average of 70.6 percent. When Oklahoma's American Indian graduation rate of 63.8 percent is broken down by gender, it shows that Oklahoma's American Indian male graduation rate is 61 percent, compared to the national American Indian male average of 45.8 percent. Oklahoma's female American Indian graduation rate is slightly higher, at 61.3 percent, compared to the national American Indian female graduation rate of 52.5 percent.

''I can't say whether Oklahoma is doing things differently than other states,'' Lloyd said about Oklahoma's American Indian graduation rates, ''because I haven't investigated the particular policies in that state. It's possible to the extent that they're able to target interventions to students who are at risk - that could lead to better graduation rates.''

According to Valeria Littlecreek, director of tribal affairs for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, it's a combination of factors that include mentoring, Title VII and Johnson O'Malley programs and funding. ''It's something we have been working at for a very long time,'' she said.

Littlecreek, a Muscogee Creek Nation tribal member, said that accountability for graduation rates is not something that began with federal mandates. Instead, the higher graduation rate for Oklahoma's American Indian students has been a long time in the making.

''There have been many efforts made over the years. It's not something that started since No Child Left Behind. This cannot be attributed to one factor. It's been a concentrated effort.''

Littlecreek also said that these graduation rates of American Indian students are the result not only of these students ''being given the attention they need,'' but that it's also the result of Native students making the effort in the classroom.

''Their efforts are starting to pay off,'' she said.