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Oklahoma Schools Are Doing Something Right for Native Students

Oklahoma was the only state in which the average reading score for American Indian and Alaska Native fourth-graders was higher than the score for all Native American students in the nation.

The National Indian Education Association presented a webinar on July 19 to help educators and Native American advocacy organizations decipher the National Indian Education Study 2011 released earlier in the month.

One of the most striking observations to emerge was the success of the state of Oklahoma in educating American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. The study examined results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) nationwide and for 12 individual states: Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.

Oklahoma was the only state in which the average reading score for AI/AN fourth-graders was higher than the score for all AI/AN students in the nation. The percentage of students performing at or above the basic level in reading was 61 percent in Oregon and 59 percent in Oklahoma. For eighth-graders, 69 percent in Oklahoma and 67 percent in Minnesota were at or above the basic level.

In math, 78 percent of AI/AN fourth-grade students in Oklahoma were at or above the basic level, the highest number for any of the states examined. The average math score for fourth-grade AI/AN students in Oklahoma was 234, higher than the score (226) for AI/AN fourth-graders nationwide. At grade eight, 64 percent of AI/AN students performed at or above the basic level, again higher than the average score for all AI/AN students tested nationwide.

And so it went…Oklahoma AI/AN fourth- and eighth-graders scored at or very near the top when compared with AI/AN students in the other 11 states for whom data was available and compared with AI/AN students nationally.

The question, then—and this was asked by several webinar attendees during the Q&A period following the presentations—is why? What is different in Oklahoma?

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“NCES [the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute of Education Sciences] is not a policy arm [of the federal government]. We are very cautious about determining causation,” said Dr. Arnold Goldstein, program director for reporting and dissemination for the Assessment Division, NCES. “To do that, it is critical to blend with our information with information from other sources.”

In response specifically to the question about Oklahoma’s success, he says, "That's where policy makers and stakeholders can really come in to bring a qualitative experience with the data we present. Looking at some things, I can point to free and reduced lunch. Oklahoma's American Indians on free and reduced lunch is 69 percent. That in most cases is lower than the other states that we have state-level data for. For example, New Mexico, 92 percent of their American Indian population is on free and reduced lunch. Going back to 2009, we found again that students in Oklahoma performed better than their peers. And I think that that's something that calls for further investigation."

The NIEA has plans to conduct their own research into the data. “We'll be looking at these data in detail and use this to identify what we need to be doing to provide technical assistance and capacity building support to identify specifically what needs are and next steps,” said NIEA Director of Research, Policy and Data Dawn Mackety, who hosted the webinar. “This is a conversation that needs to happen here among the staff and certainly with our board of directors. Also, we'll be turning to our membership to help us determine this information" and discussing the subject at NIEA's 43rd Annual Convention and Trade Show in October in Oklahoma.

In the meantime, educators who want to look for other correlations in the data, for Oklahoma or any other group of students, can go to the NAEP website and use its Data Explorer. The website provides a tutorial, a Quick Reference Guide and an NDE help button to assist in using the Data Explorer. The NCES also holds a training session once a year to teach people how to access the vast amount of data it collects from the NAEP. The next session is scheduled for June 2013. Visit the NCES website to sign up for announcements.

Related article:

National Indian Education Study Highlights Need for Changes