Press Release

WASHINGTON (August 13, 2013) Despite recent progress in improving achievement among students of color, achievement results for Native students have remained nearly flat. As performance has stagnated, the gaps separating Native students from their white peers have mostly widened.

A new brief from The Education Trust, The State of Education for Native Students, finds that schools aren’t performing nearly well enough for Native students – defined as American Indian and Alaska Native students. In 2011, only 18 percent of Native fourth-graders were proficient or advanced in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), compared with 42 percent of white fourth-graders. In math, only 17 percent of Native eighth-graders were proficient or advanced, and nearly half (46 percent) performed below even the basic level. For white students, the pattern was almost exactly the reverse, with 17 percent below basic and 43 percent proficient or advanced.

This low achievement for Native students is coupled with little to no improvement over time. In fact, NAEP results for Native students improved more slowly between 2005 and 2011 than for any other major ethnic group. As a result, while Native students were performing better in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math than African American and Latino students in 2005, by 2011 that lead had all but disappeared.

“Our country’s focus on raising achievement for all groups of students has left behind one important group -– Native students,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “To ensure that all Native students succeed, we must do more and better for them starting now.”

Achievement for Native students has continued to lag in higher education as well. Of the Native students who enrolled in a four-year college in the fall of 2004, only 39 percent completed a bachelor’s degree within six years, the lowest graduation rate for any group of students.

These trends are not inevitable. Schools like Calcedeaver Elementary in Mobile County, Alabama – where 80 percent of students are American Indian – prove that Native students, like all other students, can achieve at high levels. Calcedeaver combines high expectations with rigorous instruction that aims to help students understand their heritage. The results? In 2012, 61 percent of Calcedeaver’s sixth-graders scored at the advanced level in math on Alabama’s state assessment, as compared with only 35 percent of sixth-graders statewide.

And although no state is doing as well as it should for Native students, some states are doing better than others. In 2011, the percent of students reaching proficient or advanced levels on NAEP in fourth-grade reading, for example, was at least three times higher in Oregon and Oklahoma than in Alaska and Arizona.

“There’s an urgent need to pick up the pace of improvement for Native students in this country,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, Ed Trust senior data and policy analyst and author of the brief. “Some states, schools, and institutions of higher education are already working hard to ensure progress for Native students. We need to understand what they are doing right and use those strategies to improve outcomes for Native students around the country.”

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