ERIC Identifier: ED482322
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Tippeconnic, John W., III
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
The Use of Academic Achievement Tests and Measurements
with American Indian and Alaska Native Students. ERIC Digest.
Although there has long been research and interest in how well American
Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) perform on standardized tests, the
current emphasis on test scores as the major measure of student academic
success in schools creates a sense of urgency to know more and to find
ways for students to achieve higher scores. The stakes are high for students,
schools, and communities, given the current national focus on accountability,
standards, and student assessment. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
(NCLB) has resulted in the reality that every child will be tested often
and that all schools will be held accountable with consequences if adequate
yearly progress is not made on student test scores and other educational
This Digest focuses on academic testing and AI/AN students. Topics covered
include the use of test results, student performance on tests, the identification
of major test issues, and suggestions to improve test scores
INDIAN EDUCATION LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Approximately 90% of the 600,000 AI/AN students in K-12 education attend
public schools, while about 49,000 students attend schools supported by
the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) (Swisher & Tippeconnic, 1999). NCLB,
with its emphasis on adequate yearly progress (AYP), public accountability,
and categorizing schools that do not meet AYP (i.e., "school improvement,"
"corrective action," or "restructuring" schools), puts a lot of pressure
on schools to have their students do well on standardized tests.
The learning environment is quite complex for AI/AN students and their
teachers, given the assimilation approach to Indian education, the types
and locations of schools, and the cultural and linguistic diversity (over
200 languages) found in the approximately 600 federally and state recognized
Ideally, test results should be used to improve learning for all students
Gollnick & Chinn, 1998). Proponents of testing identify three reasons
why high-stakes testing is needed: "1) to measure student achievement,
2) to provide information about the quality of schools, and 3) to hold
students and educators accountable" (Jones, Jones, & Hargrove, 2003,
p.10). High-stakes testing is also used to publicly compare teachers, schools,
and school districts. Testing has been used to determine entrance into
gifted and special education programs, advanced courses, colleges and universities,
and professional schools (Gollnick & Chinn, 1998); as criteria for
grade promotion and high school graduation; and to make decisions about
how to allocate
resources (Stiggins, 2001).
Opponents of testing argue that current testing programs do not provide
valid or reliable information, especially for English language learners,
low socioeconomic status (SES) students, and ethnic and cultural groups.
In fact, there are a number of unintended negative consequences for students,
for example, "labeling students, teachers, and schools as low performing,
[and] narrowing of the curriculum" (Jones et al., 2003, p. 171). Barton
(1999), in an ETS publication, states "the way tests are used in practice
in elementary and secondary schools--of rewarding and punishing schools,
closing schools, and judging educational progress--is often appallingly
primitive" (p. 21).
HOW DO NATIVE STUDENTS PERFORM ON TESTS?
Since test results have multiple uses, it is critical that AI/AN students
do well if Indian education is to improve. Although a number of AI/AN students
perform exceptionally well on standardized tests, the reality is that too
many do not. In 1988, the BIA reported that their students scored well
below the national mean of other students on standardized tests in reading,
language, and mathematics (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1988). The 2002-2003
BIA Report Card showed 54.0% and 50.5% of their students at the proficient
or advanced levels in math and language arts respectively (Bureau of Indian
Affairs, 2003). Test performance for Whites was higher on the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics and science at
grades 4, 8, and 12 compared to AI/AN students, although Native students
scored higher than Hispanics and Blacks in both areas (Wirt et al., 2002;
Testing has been a concern for years. The Meriam Report (Institute for
Research, 1928) found that there was little measurement and testing
especially in government Indian schools. The study identified a possible
cautioned that "testing, particularly intelligence testing, should
never be used in a school as a means of denying opportunity, but only as
a means of directing opportunities more wisely" (p. 380). The point is
to use testing to meet the needs of students and develop their potential,
not to deny educational opportunities by using test results to label "Indian
children as not being worthy of an education beyond the grades" (p. 380).
In the 1950s, the BIA acknowledged the importance of the relationship
between AI/AN culture and language and student achievement, but from an
assimilation and cultural deficit perspective. Anderson, Collister, and
Ladd (1953) stated "that as the cultural and educational backgrounds of
Indian children become more like those of White children in public schools,
the more closely will the educational achievement of Indian children match
that of White children" (p. 79). It was clear that testing results would
not only be used to compare Indian students in different school types,
but also the performance of White students would be the benchmark when
comparisons are made.
Today members of the dominant White group continue to have higher scores
members of historically oppressed groups, including Native Americans.
achievement gap between White students and Native students continues
to be wide,
although AI/AN students have performed better in recent years.
MEASUREMENT AND TESTING ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED
Standardized testing fails to consider the vast diversity of AI/AN cultures
and languages (Bordeaux, 1995). If tribal languages and cultures are ignored,
then cultural bias, content comparability, the norming of tests, and test
validity and authenticity become serious issues (Lomawaima & McCarty,
2002; Padilla & Lindholm, 1995; Fox, 2001).
McInerney (1992) contends using test scores leads to flawed research
since the studies did not establish that the "behaviors and responses being
measured were functionally, conceptually or metrically equivalent to those
from which norms for comparisons were drawn, and that the constructs and
tools used were culturally appropriate" (p. 2)
Jordan, French, and Tempest (1997) found that environmental factors,
trauma, and physical or health factors have been correlated to underachievement
AI/AN students. Clarke (2002) identified AI/AN youth risk factors associated
with peer group high-risk behaviors, family situations, community economic
and social distress situations, and factors that lead to dropping out of
school. Low SES, family dysfunction, and poor health conditions need to
be considered when testing AI/AN students. SES is critical since there
is a correlation between successful standardized test results and SES (Fox,
Other factors in education influence student success. Not only is there
the history of
education systems that tried to do away with Indian culture and values
(Association of Community Tribal Schools, 1996), but there are a host of
other issues that influence teaching and learning. Examples include the
lack of funding, the need for quality teachers and administrators, meaningful
parent involvement, the integration of language and culture in the curriculum,
attendance and drop-out rates, and discipline and behavior incidents. Gollnick
and Chinn (1998) contend that low-income and minority students are less
likely to have their classes taught by teachers who majored in the fields
they are teaching; more likely to lack sufficient books and other reading
materials; more likely to be taught a low-level curriculum with low performance
standards; and less likely to take advanced math, earn a high school diploma,
or go to college.
The assessment of AI/AN special education students is also an issue.
Tippeconnic and Faircloth (2002) discuss the overrepresentation of AI/AN
students receiving special education services and the need for culturally
and linguistically appropriate assessment to determine if a student has
"a language-related disability or if the student's academic difficulties
are related to a lack of competence in the English language" (p. 2).
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Jones et al. (2003) suggest strategies that can be used to improve test
special populations, including AI/AN students:
* Allow students who are not proficient to get extra help after school
or during the
* Allow special testing accommodations for special-needs students.
* Recruit, employ, and retain competent faculty members who reflect
the diversity of the student population.
* Provide meaningful professional development opportunities to enable
administrators to work effectively with diverse learners.
* Invite successful minority adults to serve as role models for young
* Provide data from statewide testing programs that can be used to inform
planning and instruction.
* Embrace the notion that learning must be demonstrated through tasks
that are real
and not just measured by regurgitating facts (performance-based assessment
* Align assessment with curriculum and classroom instruction, to make
sure the tests
match what is taught in the classroom.
* Always use multiple methods of assessment when making high-stakes
decisions (pp. 119-121).
A FINAL WORD
Even during this era of high-stakes testing, performance-based assessment
continue to be developed and used (Jones et al., 2003; Fox, 1999; Bordeaux,
1995) to encourage instruction that truly meets the educational needs of
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