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House hearing focuses on NCLB in Indian Country
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Filed Under: Education

Two-thirds of Bureau of Indian Affairs schools aren't meeting standards under the No Child Left Behind Act, a House subcommittee was told on Tuesday.

Passed in 2001, NCLB requires public and BIA schools to demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP). The goal is for 100 percent of students to achieve academic proficiency.

But only one-third of the 174 schools within the
Bureau of Indian Education are meeting AYP standards, according to the Government Accountability Office. Failure to meet AYP for multiple years could lead to restructuring under NCLB.

So far, that hasn't happened to any Indian schools. But a recent GAO report calls on the BIA to work more closely with tribes to ensure Indian students aren't being left behind.

"Our success in the 21st century economy is directly tied to our ability to produce a high quality labor force," said Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan), the chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee. "And that ability is, of course, directly tied to our ability to meet the challenge of providing every child -- including every Indian child –- with a world-class education."

NCLB recognizes tribal sovereignty and allows tribes to develop their own AYP standards, subject to federal approval. But as of this year, only two tribes and one tribal education consortium are developing programs to fit their needs.

That means all of the other BIA schools must comply with state AYP standards. With nearly two dozens states involved, measuring Indian student progress has become a complex process.

"There are currently 23 different state definitions of AYP being applied throughout the BIA school system, leaving the BIE without a single AYP determination process," testified Stanley R. Holder, the chief of the BIA's division of performance and accountability.

So far, the BIE has entered into agreements with 11 states to address AYP issues. But 12 more states -- including ones with large Indian student populations like Arizona, California, New Mexico and Oklahoma -- have yet to sign a memorandum of understanding.

"The 12 states without signed MOUs enroll about two-thirds of the students in BIE schools," Cornelia Ashby of the GAO said in her testimony.

Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, the president of the National Indian Education Association, said applying state AYP definitions to BIE schools is unfair because tribes haven't played a role in shaping those standards. "Tribal communities are in the best position to determine the needs and the appropriate assessment methods for Native students," he testified.

But the alternative -- developing tribal standards -- is an equally tough venture, Gilbert told the committee. "As the law is currently written, a single tribe, school board or BIE funded school may apply for a waiver, however, considering the significant amount of time and resources needed to successfully submit an application, very few tribes, if any, have been able to submit an application on their own," he said.

The Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, which serves over 4,400 Indian students in South Dakota, was the first to start the process, back in 2005. But OSEC has yet to receive federal approval -- or federal funds -- for its program.

"The first year of our attempts to get this work done, we were told repeatedly by the bureau that we could not apply as a group of schools for an alternative definition, were told that it would be too expensive and that there was no money for this type of work," said Theodore Hamilton, the executive director of the OSEC.

The Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the country, started the process more recently, in November 2007, but hasn't received approval either. The BIE schools on the reservation serve over 16,000 students in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

The BIE agreed with the recommendations of the GAO report and has taken steps to negotiate more MOUs and to help OSEC, the Navajo Nation and the Miccosukee Tribe with their AYP programs.

Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Hearing:
Challenges Facing Bureau of Indian Education Schools in Improving Student Achievement (September 9, 2008)

GAO Report:
Bureau of Indian Education Schools: Improving Interior's Assistance Would Help Some Tribal Groups Implement Academic Accountability Systems (June 27, 2008)

Related Stories:
Audit finds BIA schools unprepared for violence (8/19)
Tribal schools fail to conduct fingerprint checks (7/24)
BIA school criminal checks found lacking (7/21)
Report warns of serious dangers at BIA schools (7/17)
BIA officials faulted for student's death still at work (7/27)
Survey finds high-risk behaviors among BIA students (11/13)

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