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National Indian Education Study Reveals Varying Progress

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Average math scores for fourth-grade American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students attending Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools have improved since 2009 according to a national study released today, though the overall academic progress of these students has stalled since 2005.

The National Indian Education Study (NIES) study, which provides data on the educational achievement and experiences of AI/AN students, also reveals details about these students' cultural exposure, academic aspirations, school conditions, and curriculum.

"For too many American Indian and Alaska Native students, progress in closing the achievement gap has been too slow," said Joyce Silverthorne, Director of the Office of Indian Education. "This report provides a key opportunity for increasing our understanding of the challenge and fostering the collaboration necessary to erase the achievement gap."

About one-half to two-thirds of AI/AN fourth-and eighth-graders score at or above the Basic level in mathematics and reading, according to the study.

"American Indian and Alaska Native students need a top-flight education in order to fully participate in a 21st century economy, and the wide and persistent gap between our fourth- and eighth-grade Native students and their peers highlights that we need to do more to help these students," said Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education.

First conducted in 2005 and again in 2007, 2009, and 2011, the NIES reports results for the overall AI/AN population. Additionally, results are broken down by eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, gender, and type of school. The report categorizes public schools as--"high density," where 25 percent or more of the students are AI/AN, and "low density" schools, where less than 25 percent of the students are AI/AN. The report also shows results for AI/AN students attending schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). NIES uses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted in 2011. A national sample of approximately 9,500 AI/AN students at grades 4 and 8 participated in the 2011 reading assessment, and the same number participated in the mathematics assessment. In addition to the national results, the study includes results for 12 states with relatively large populations of AI/AN students: Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington.

Findings include the following:

There was no significant change in average reading scores for fourth- or eighth-grade AI/AN students compared to 2009 and 2005.
Forty-seven percent of AI/AN students at grade 4 and 63 percent at grade 8 performed at or above the Basic level in reading in 2011. Eighteen percent of AI/AN fourth-grade students scored at or above Proficient in reading; 22 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above the Proficient level.
The 2011 average mathematics score for AI/AN students was not statistically different from that of 2009 or 2005 in either grade.
Two-thirds of AI/AN fourth-graders performed at or above the Basic level in mathematics in 2011. Fifty-five percent of AI/AN eighth-graders performed at or above the Basic level in 2011. Twenty-two percent of AI/AN fourth-grade students scored at or above Proficient. Seventeen percent of AI/AN eighth-graders scored above this level.
In both reading and mathematics, AI/AN students in low-density public schools scored higher than those in high-density public schools or BIE schools.
The 12 states ranged widely in performance of their AI/AN students. For example, in fourth-grade reading, 61 percent of AI/AN students performed at or above the Basic achievement level in Oregon compared with 26 percent at this level in Alaska.
NIES also explores the educational experiences of AI/AN students. Students, teachers, and administrators provided information about their communities, the integration of AI/AN culture into their classroom practices, and interactions between the school and the AI/AN community.

Findings include the following:

Fifty-six percent of all fourth-grade AI/AN students and 63 percent of eighth-grade students reported knowing some or a lot about their tribe or group's history. These percentages were higher in BIE schools than in low density public schools.
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of AI/AN eighth-graders report never talking to a school counselor about classes for high school or about what they wanted to do after high school.
Seventy-three percent of AI/AN fourth-graders reported getting help with their schoolwork from a parent or family member once a week or more. Sixty-two percent reported getting help from a teacher at least once a week.
Higher percentages of students in BIE schools than in high or low density public schools had teachers who learned about AI/AN students to at least a small extent from living and working in an AI/AN community.
The full report, as well as the NIES Data Explorer, can be found at

NIES is sponsored by the Office of Indian Education, within the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and is conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences. This report was ordered in 2004 to assist American Indian and Alaska Native students in meeting challenging academic standards in a manner consistent with tribal traditions, language, and culture.

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