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 measures.

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

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 tribes.


Ideally, test results should be used to improve learning for all students (Fox, 2001;
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).


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; 2003).


Testing has been a concern for years. The Meriam Report (Institute for Government
Research, 1928) found that there was little measurement and testing going on,
especially in government Indian schools. The study identified a possible danger and
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 than
members of historically oppressed groups, including Native Americans. The
achievement gap between White students and Native students continues to be wide,
although AI/AN students have performed better in recent years.


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, emotional
trauma, and physical or health factors have been correlated to underachievement of
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, 1999).

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).


Jones et al. (2003) suggest strategies that can be used to improve test results for
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 teachers and
administrators to work effectively with diverse learners.

* Invite successful minority adults to serve as role models for young minority students.

* 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 is

* 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).


Even during this era of high-stakes testing, performance-based assessment should
continue to be developed and used (Jones et al., 2003; Fox, 1999; Bordeaux, 1995) to encourage instruction that truly meets the educational needs of AI/AN students.


Anderson, K. E., Collister, E. G., & Ladd, C. E. (1953). The educational achievement of Indian children. A re-examination of the question: How well are Indian children educated? Lawrence, KS: Haskell Institute Print Shop. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 128 110)

Association of Community Tribal Schools. (1996). Our children, our schools, our tribes: Thirty years of local control of Indian education 1966-1996. Sisseton, SD: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 395 740)

Barton, P. E. (1999). Too much testing of the wrong kind; too little of the right kind in K-12 education. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 430 052)

Bordeaux, R. (1995). Assessment for American Indian and Alaska Native learners
(ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 385 424)

Bureau of Indian Affairs. (1988). Report on BIA education: Excellence in Indian
education through the effective schools process. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 297 899)

Bureau of Indian Affairs. (2003). Office of Indian education programs annual report
cards 2002-2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved
December 16, 2003, from 003.pdf

Clarke, A. S. (2002). Social and emotional distress among American Indian and Alaska Native students: Research findings (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 459 988)
Fox, S. J. (1999). Student assessment in Indian education or what is a roach? In K. G. Swisher & J. W. Tippeconnic III (Eds.), Next steps: Research and practice to advance Indian education (pp. 161-178). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 427 909)

Fox, S. J. (2001). American Indian/Alaska Native education and standards-based
reform (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 459 039)

Gollnick, D. M., & Chinn, P. C. (1998). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill, Inc.

Institute for Government Research. (1928). The problem of Indian administration:
Report of a survey made at the request of Honorable Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior, and submitted to him, February 21, 1928. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint, 1971. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 087 573)

Jones, M. G., Jones, B. D., & Hargrove, T. Y. (2003). The unintended consequences of high-stakes testing. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Jordan, E., French, L., & Tempest, P. (1997). Assessing Navajo psychological and
educational needs in New Mexico. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 16(4), 24-32.

Lomawaima, K. T., & McCarty, T. L. (2002). Reliability, validity, and authenticity in American Indian and Alaska Native research (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 470 951)

McInerney, D. (1992, November). Indigenous educational research. Can it be
psychometric? Paper presented at the meeting of the Australian Association for
Research in Education and the New Zealand Association for Research in Education,
Geelong, Victoria, Australia. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 355 278)

Padilla, A. M., & Lindholm, K. J. (1995). Quantitative educational research with ethnic minorities. In J. Banks & C. A. McGee Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 97-113). New York: Macmillan. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 382 701)

Stiggins, R. J. (2001). Introduction to the special section. Building a productive
assessment future. NASSP Bulletin, 86(621), 2-4.

Swisher, K. G., & Tippeconnic III, J. W. (1999). Research to support improved practice in Indian education. In K. S. Swisher & J. W. Tippeconnic III (Eds.), Next steps: Research and practice to advance Indian education (pp. 295-307). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 427 915)

Tippeconnic III, J. W., & Faircloth, S. C. (2002). 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).
Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 471 719)

Wirt, J., Choy, S., Gerald, D., Provasnik, S., Rooney, P., Watanabe, S., et al. (2002). The Condition of Education 2002. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved December 19, 2003, from

Wirt, J., Choy, S., Provasnik, S., Rooney, P., Sen, A., & Tobin, R. (2003). The Condition of Education 2003. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved December 19, 2003, from

Library Reference Search Web Directory
This site is (c) 2003-2005.  All rights reserved.

Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related to any Federal agency or ERIC unit.  Further, this site is using a privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government. This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents previously produced by ERIC.  No new content will ever appear here that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.

privacy policy