ERIC Identifier: ED448009
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Faircloth, Susan - Tippeconnic, John W., III
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Issues in the Education of American Indian and Alaska Native
Students with Disabilities. ERIC Digest.
There are approximately 500,000 American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN)
students attending K-12 schools in the United States. Of those attending
publicly funded schools, approximately 90 percent attend public schools, 10
percent attend schools operated or funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
and tribes, and a small number attend private schools. Data suggest that AI/AN
students are "slightly over represented in the special education population"
(U.S. Department of Education, 2000, p. xxxiii). Although AI/AN students
represent less than one percent of the school-age population, they represent 1.3
percent of the special education population. In addition, more than 10 percent
of AI/AN students in public schools (Pavel & Curtin, 1997) and more than 18
percent of AI/AN students in BIA and tribal schools are eligible for and/or
placed in special education (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2000). AI/AN students are
most often identified as having a specific learning disability, mental
retardation, emotional disturbance, or a speech/language impairment.
This Digest presents suggestions for addressing selected issues in the
education of AI/AN students with disabilities. Issues include preparation and
recruitment of special educators and related service providers, the rights and
responsibilities of parents, development and use of culturally and
linguistically appropriate assessments, and education in the least restrictive
PREPARATION AND RECRUITMENT OF SPECIAL EDUCATORS AND RELATED
The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) include provisions for the awarding of personnel
preparation grants to colleges and universities. Several of these grants have
been awarded for the specific purpose of training special educators to work with
AI/AN students (Office of Special Education Programs, 2000). Grant recipients
include the Reaching American Indian Special/Elementary Educators project
(RAISE) at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and two projects at The
Pennsylvania State University--the American Indian Special Education Teacher
Training Program (AISETTP) and the American Indian Special Education and
Education Administration Doctoral Program. RAISE trains both Indian and
non-Indian service providers. Participants work with Navajo children in their
local communities and schools, thereby experiencing firsthand the language,
culture, and traditions of their students. Graduates of the RAISE project earn
dual certification in special and elementary education. At Penn State, AI/AN
students complete course work in special education and educational
administration; attend seminars on Indian education; present at national
conferences (e.g., National Indian Education Association, The Council for
Exceptional Children, the American Educational Research Association); and
conduct research aimed at improving the education of AI/AN students with
disabilities and the personnel who serve them. Graduates of the AISETTP provide
special education services for two years for each year of funding they received.
Graduates of the doctoral program work as researchers, faculty members, and
Personnel preparation grants have also been awarded to tribal colleges and
Dull Knife Memorial College (MT) will train 24 paraprofessional and professional
Ft. Peck Community College (MT) will grant 16 associate and 16 bachelor degrees
in special education.
Little Big Horn College (NE) will train 24 American Indian special educators at
the associate, bachelors, and master's degree levels.
Sinte Gleska College and Sitting Bull College (ND) will work collaboratively to
prepare 15 special educators every 2.5 years.
Personnel preparation grants provide a unique opportunity to establish
partnerships between local communities, tribes, departments of education, and
universities and colleges for thepreparation and recruitment of special
educators and related service providers.
THE RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF PARENTS
education is a collaborative process involving students, parents, and educators.
IDEA defines parents as biological or adoptive parents, legal guardians, and
surrogate parents. IDEA guarantees parents the right to serve on teams that
conduct evaluations and develop individualized education plans (IEPs), review
their child's education records, request that information in the child's records
be amended, and be notified of proposed actions regarding their child's
education. Parents also have the right to have information presented in their
native language or primary mode of communication (Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act Amendments, 1997).
To facilitate parent involvement, it is recommended that educators:
encourage family-oriented activities and be prepared to interact with the entire
be knowledgeable of federal, state, and tribal agencies from which the family
receives services (Ramirez, et al., 1988)
when possible, utilize the services of Indian school liaisons who are trained to
act as advocates for AI/AN children and their families (Stuecher, Grossman,
Hakala & Kozlowski, 1985)
be responsive to parents' needs and concerns, which may impact the level and
extent to which parents are involved in their child's education (e.g.,
be flexible when scheduling meetings
establish parent support groups or networks (Johnson, 1991)
As parents become more involved in their children's education, it is
important to acknowledge, affirm, and encourage their efforts. Meaningful parent
involvement also requires parents to be proactive. The Education for Parents of
Indian Children with Special Needs Project (EPICS) (Manuelito & Johnson,
1995) encourages parents to ask for clarification, share information, express
their feelings (including what they like and dislike), and at the conclusion of
meetings, review information and plans of action to ensure that they are
EPICS is one example of resources available to parents and educators through
Parent Training Centers. These centers are funded by the U.S. Department of
Education and are located across the country. The Native American Families
Together Parent Training and Information Center (NAFTPTIC) is another example.
NAFTPTIC, operated out of Moscow, Idaho, is a collaborative effort in which
community members are recruited and trained to provide support and assistance to
AI/AN families of children with disabilities. This project serves AI/AN families
nationwide (OSEP, 2000).
CULTURALLY AND LINGUISTICALLY APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENTS
mandates that all students be evaluated using non discriminatory evaluations and
multiple forms of assessment. IDEA also requires that students be assessed in
their native language or other mode of communication. If tests are not available
in the student's native language, interpreters should be used. For students
identified as limited-English proficient, tests should focus on assessing the
impact of the child's disability on his or her educational performance rather
than assessing the child's English language skills (IDEA, 1997). When assessing
AI/AN students, educators are advised to:
use a combination of formal and informal assessments (e.g., norm-referenced,
curriculum-based, dynamic assessment, ecological inventories, observations,
self-reports, interviews, task analysis)
involve parents and families in the assessments
be aware of and responsive to cultural and linguistic differences
interpret the results of standardized tests with caution (e.g., Banks, 1997;
It is also important to identify and use tests that include culturally and
linguistically diverse students in their norms. Recognizing that there are few
tests that meet this criterion, Gallup-McKinley County Schools (New Mexico), has
begun developing Navajo norms for the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children -
Third Edition (WISC-III) (Tempest, 1998). This process not only allows educators
to compare the performance of Navajo students to their peers, it assists
educators in differentiating cultural and linguistic differences from learning
EDUCATION IN THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT
student has been evaluated and determined eligible for special education, the
IEP team must select an appropriate educational placement. IDEA requires that
students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment to
the maximum extent appropriate. The Kayenta Unified School District (KUSD)
(Arizona) has responded by adopting an inclusive model of education in which
general education teachers assume responsibility for the education of all
students (Dreisbach, Napier, Russell, Franklin, Bizardi, & Yellowhair,
1995). General educators are assisted by a team of special educators or support
facilitators. Support facilitators
help general education teachers write IEP goals and objectives
modify the general education curriculum
provide information and resources to general educators
provide individual and small-group assistance
collaborate with home liaisons to ensure that parents understand their rights
coordinate related services
KUSD utilizes a variety of instructional and planning tools to include
students with disabilities in the general education setting. Techniques used
include "A Circle of Friends," an empathy training program in which all students
are encouraged to actively participate in the classroom. The purpose of this
program is to build community within the school. The McGill Action Planning
System (MAPS) is used with students with more severe disabilities. MAPS is based
on the principals of integration, individualization, teamwork and collaboration,
and flexibility. MAPS is a collaborative effort involving the student with a
disability, non-disabled peers, friends, family members, and general and special
educators (Vandercook, York, & Forest, 1989).
Although this Digest does not attempt to address
nor to resolve all issues in the education of AI/AN students with disabilities,
it does provide suggestions for increasing the number of qualified special
educators; facilitating parental involvement; conducting non-discriminatory
evaluations; and educating students with disabilities in the least restrictive
environment. In preparing this Digest, the authors recognize the need to
publicize effective approaches in the education of AI/AN students with
disabilities. Too often, one reads about the failures or limitations of our
students, their parents, and those who educate them. This prompts one to ask
what are we doing successfully? As we identify, develop and implement effective
practices, we must make others aware of our successes. Use of these and other
effective practices will help to ensure that AI/AN students with disabilities
receive the free and appropriate education guaranteed by law.
Note: This list includes several Web links that
were operative at the time of publication. Web links in the on-line version of
this Digest will be continuously updated (http://www.ael.org/eric/indians.htm).
Banks, S. R. (1997). Caregiver and professional perceptions of assessment
practices and validity for American Indian/Alaska Native families. Journal of
American Indian Education, 37(1), 16-44.
Bureau of Indian Affairs. Division of School Program Support and Improvement.
(2000). Special education eligibility document, PL 105-17. Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Interior. [on-line]. Available:
Dreisbach, M., Napier, S., Russell, S., Franklin, P., Bizardi, V., &
Yellowhair, B. (1995, March). A description of an inclusion model that is
working in a rural area. In Reaching to the future: Boldly facing challenges in
rural communities, 353-357. Conference Proceedings of the American Council on
Rural Special Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services No. ED 381 331)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA), Pub.
L. No. 105-17. 20 U.S.C. Section 1400 et seq.
Johnson, M. J. (1991). American Indians and Alaska Natives with disabilities.
Washington, DC: Indian Nations At Risk Task Force. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 343 770)
Manuelito, J., & Johnson, M. (1995, March). Communicating effectively
with non-Indian service providers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
American Council on Rural Special Education, Las Vegas, NV. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 381 309)
Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). (2000). OSEP discretionary grant
projects database. [on-line]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Pavel, D. M., & Curtin, T. R. (1997). Characteristics of American Indian
and Alaska Native education: Results from the 1990-91 and 1993-94 schools and
staffing surveys, NCES 97-451. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 405 169)
Ramirez, B. A., Clark-Johnson, G., Valero-Figueira, E., Lee, L. Y., &
Walker, J. L. (1988). Culturally and linguistically diverse children: Black
children, Hispanic children, Asian children, and young American Indian children.
Teaching Exceptional Children, 20(4), 45-51.
Stuecher, U., Grossman, E., Hakala, N., & Kozlowski, G. (1985). Training
project for Indian school liaison and support personnel in special education.
Journal of American Indian Education, 24(1), 9-19.
Tempest, P. (1998). Local Navajo norms for the Wechsler Intelligence Scale
for Children - Third Edition. Journal of American Indian Education, 37(3),
U.S. Department of Education. (2000). Twenty-second annual report to Congress
on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Vandercook, T., York, J., & Forest, M. (1989). The McGill Action Planning
System (MAPS): A strategy for building vision. Journal of the Association of
Persons with Severe Handicaps, 14(3), 205-215.