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Governing Board Member Brent Houston, Okla. Principal, Comments on 2011 National Indian Education Study

Governing Board Member Brent Houston, Okla. Principal, Comments on 2011 National Indian Education Study

National Assessment Governing Board member Brent Houston has issued a statement in reaction to today’s release of The Nation’s Report Card: National Indian Education Study 2011: The Educational Experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native Students at Grades 4 and 8. The National Indian Education Study 2011 presented findings about the performance of American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) students in the United States at grades 4 and 8 in reading and mathematics, and the role of native language and culture in their educational experiences. The report features data from 12 states with high proportions of AI and AN students

Mr. Houston, of Cherokee heritage, is principal of Shawnee Middle School in Shawnee, Oklahoma where 53 AI tribes are represented. Thirty-one percent of the students at Shawnee Middle School list American Indian as their main ethnicity or one of their ethnicities. Mr. Houston’s statement is below.


I am pleased to see Oklahoma as one of the highest-performing states for AI/AN students. However, it's disheartening to see no overall change in national reading or mathematics scores for AI/AN students compared to 2009 or 2005. It is also disappointing to see larger performance gaps in mathematics between AI/AN students and all other students than existed in 2005. I, like many others, would prefer to see the gaps closing.

As a principal who serves this important student population, I know that it is essential not only to improve academic performance in K-12, but to help these students plan for their futures. The report finds that nearly two-thirds of AI/AN eighth-graders never talked to a school counselor about classes for high school or future plans-this percentage has not changed since 2009. For high-density schools (where the AI/AN population is 25 percent or greater) this should be a wake-up call to school counselors to increase their efforts to communicate to students and families about high school and beyond.

At Shawnee Middle, we employ an advisor/academic coach who helps our AI students with assignments, organizational strategies, attendance issues, and communication between home and school in our efforts to foster success. Additionally, we are constantly analyzing assessment data to determine strengths or weaknesses in our student population as well as in our instructional delivery system and curriculum. For example, we now have a class that students are required to take if they fall below the proficient level in the previous spring's Oklahoma state math test. We have seen improvement for students enrolled in that course.

It is just as important for AI students to be well-versed in their traditions, heritage, and culture as it is for students of other races and ethnicities. Many of my AI students are actively involved in cultural traditions of their tribe, and our teachers are engaged in professional development to enhance their multicultural awareness.

We especially need to understand the report findings related to cultural differences and areas where teachers can provide richer classroom experiences and instructional supports. For example, the report finds that there is a large gap in performance on open-ended questions between AI/AN students and all other students. At my school, we are very deliberate about making sure we engage our students in deeper levels of knowledge and understanding in various content areas, including learning to express themselves in writing. Most of our AI students are very private and reluctant to self-express and we find that most AI students prefer to demonstrate a skill rather than write about it. Learning to express information in writing is important for later success; therefore, it is imperative that we focus on academic skills within the cultural context of our students in order to ensure success.

In conclusion, I hope that this illuminating report encourages action among educators, tribal leaders, parents, and students to focus on efforts that improve both the academic performance and the quality of life of our nation's American Indian and Alaska Native students.

Stephaan Harris

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through the Nation's Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what American students know and can do in various subject areas and compares achievement between states, large urban districts, and various student demographic groups.
The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, bipartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee and set policy for NAEP.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a congressionally authorized project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Center for Education Statistics, within the Institute of Education Sciences, administers NAEP. The Commissioner of Education Statistics is responsible by law for carrying out the NAEP project.