Using Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate
Assessments To Ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native Students Receive
the Special Education Programs and Services They Need. ERIC Digest.
by Tippeconnic, John W., III - Faircloth, Susan C.
The "American Indian and Alaska Native Education Research Agenda" (Research
Agenda Working Group, Strang, & von Glatz, 2001) represents the most
recent formal call for research leading to improved assessments for American
Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students with special learning needs.
Similar calls were recorded at hearings and published in commissioned papers
in the early 1990s (Cahape, 1993; Johnson, 1991). The disproportionate
number of AI/AN students receiving special education services and identified
as "limited English proficient" (LEP) indicates an ongoing need for this
research. This Digest briefly reviews the legislation and literature pertaining
to the influence of language and culture in making referrals, administering
assessments, and providing appropriate services and programs to AI/AN students.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AI/AN STUDENTS IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
Most (90%) of the approximately 500,000 AI/AN students attend public
schools, while approximately 50,000 attend schools operated or funded by
the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) (2001). Although AI/AN students accounted
for only 1% of the total public school enrollment during the 1999-2000
academic year, they accounted for 1.3% of all students served under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (U.S. Department of
Education [USDE], 2001), a 30% higher than expected representation in special
education programs and services.
In addition, among all U.S. students identified as being in need of
LEP services 1.9% were AI/AN (nearly 55,000 students) and of all those
reported to be enrolled in LEP programs, approximately 1.8% were AI/AN
students (nearly 48,000) (USDE, 1999). According to the U.S. General Accounting
Office (Shaul, 2001), approximately 20% of students attending BIA-operated
or -funded schools received special education programs and services, and
nearly 60% of the students in these schools were identified as LEP.
Citing the potential for over representation of minority students in
special education programs, the 1997 Amendments to the IDEA required states
to begin collecting and reporting data on the number of students served
in special education programs by race and/or ethnicity (USDE, 2001).
Under IDEA, 13 categories of disability may qualify students for services.
According to a 2001 U.S. Department of Education report, AI/AN students
were over represented in all disability categories with the exceptions
of developmental delay (0.9%), orthopedic impairments (0.8%), and autism
(0.7%). This over representation was the highest for the categories of
deaf-blindness (2.0%) and traumatic brain injury (1.6%). The largest numbers
of AI/AN students appeared in the categories of specific learning disabilities
(40,208), speech or language impairments (13,080), mental retardation (6,759),
and emotional disturbance (5,171).
ADDRESSING LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENCY
As mentioned previously, the Office for Civil Rights estimated that
in 1997, 54,718 American Indian students needed services to address limited
English proficiency (USDE, 1999). As defined in Title IX of the No Child
Left Behind Act of 2001, the term "limited English proficient" refers to
* who is aged 3 through 21;
* who is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary school or
* who was not born in the United States or whose native language is
a language other than English; who is a Native American or Alaska Native,
or a native resident of the outlying areas, and who comes from an environment
where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the
individual's level of English language proficiency; or who is migratory,
whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from
an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and
* whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding
the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual (i) the ability
to meet the State's proficient level of achievement on State assessments
. . . ; (ii) the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the
language of instruction is English; or (iii) the opportunity to participate
fully in society (section 9101).
CULTURALLY AND LINGUISTICALLY APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENTS AS MANDATED
Citing the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment,
the 1997 Amendments to IDEA included provisions for nondiscriminatory assessment/evaluation.
These provisions apply both to pre-placement assessment and to reevaluation
of students currently served by special education programs and services.
According to IDEA
* students must be tested in their native language or primary mode of
* multiple forms of assessment must be used to ensure adequate assessment
of a number of factors including cognitive, behavioral, physical, and developmental
factors, and the results of these assessments are to be used when making
* tests and other evaluation materials are to be selected and administered
in a manner that does not discriminate based on race or culture; and
* students must be assessed in all areas of the suspected disability.
In addition, standardized tests must be
* validated for the purpose for which they are to be used;
* administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and
* administered in accordance with the instructions issued by the developers
of the tests (adapted from section 614).
Finally, assessments should incorporate tools and strategies that provide
relevant information, which can be used to determine the educational needs
of the child.
A strong indication of the need for tests and testing as outlined in
the law is the increasing number of AI/AN students who are identified as
LEP (Shaul, 2001). To ensure that these students are appropriately educated,
assessments must be conducted in a manner that facilitates the identification
of and distinction between "language-related disabilities" and poor academic
performance resulting from a "lack of English language proficiency." According
to Rice and Ortiz (as cited in USDE, 2001), when assessing students who
have been identified as LEP, evaluators should obtain a clear description
of the student's "communicative competence in both languages" (i.e. how
well the student speaks and writes in his or her native language and in
the English language). This will assist in determining whether the student
has a language-related disability or if the student's academic difficulties
are related to a lack of competence in the English language.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ENSURING CULTURALLY AND LINGUISTICALLY APPROPRIATE
Use culturally and linguistically appropriate assessments. As discussed,
evaluators should develop and use culturally and linguistically appropriate
assessments to ensure that AI/AN students receive appropriate educational
services (Banks, 1997; Johnson, 1991). Using multiple assessments rather
than relying on a single instrument, such as a standardized test, can help
to achieve this. Further, when using standardized tests, noting the potential
for bias is especially important if the test has not been normed on the
population with which it is to be used (Chamberlain & Madeiros-Landurand,
1991; Ishii-Jordan, 1997).
Use authentic or performance-based assessments. Educators should explore
the use of authentic and performance-based assessments, such as the Learning
Record (1), to complement standardized testing. The Learning Record, currently
used in a number of BIA-funded schools, has been characterized as "a performance-based
assessment system that provides teachers with a structured method of tracking
students' academic development and planning instruction to meet students'
needs" (Fox, 1999, p. 167). Authentic or performance-based assessments
provide students with opportunities to demonstrate knowledge of a particular
task or set of tasks and ability to perform the task(s) in a real-life
Involve parents and families in the assessment process. According to
Bordeaux (as cited in Fox, 1999), "the effort to improve cultural relevance
of curriculum and assessment must be guided by all stakeholders, including
parents and other tribal community members" (p.174).
Be aware of and responsive to students cultural and linguistic differences.
When assessing AI/AN students, remember that there are more than 500 tribes
across the nation, each with its own distinct language and culture.
Educators must constantly monitor the influence of language and culture
on the referral, assessment, and provision of special education programs
and services to ensure that AI/AN students are appropriately served. As
noted in the "Twenty-Third Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation
of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act," educators should understand
that "differences in learning, behavior, culture, and language, either
separately or in combination, may exacerbate educational problems caused
by disabilities" (USDE, 2001, Section II, p. 38). This report points out
that educators must also know how to distinguish between a student who
has a learning disability and one whose poor academic performance results
in part from limited English proficiency.
A need for continued research related to the referral, assessment, and
provision of special education programs and services to AI/AN students
has long been recognized, and recently reinforced by the "American Indian
and Alaska Native Education Research Agenda" (Research Agenda Working Group,
et al., 2001). Educators and parents face questions far more complex than
whether to place AI/AN students in special education programs or services.
They need good information to determine what service or combination of
services can ensure that AI/AN students receive the free and appropriate
education guaranteed by law.
Continuing to develop, identify, and publish best practices in culturally
and linguistically appropriate assessment will help to produce good information
and ensure that AI/AN students receive educational programs that meet their
needs and nurture their talents.