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Native students face barriers

WSU research team reports on state’s ‘Eurocentric’ education system

Cultural, linguistic and historic barriers interfere with the achievement of Native American children in the Washington school system, according to a recently released study requested by the Legislature.

The “Eurocentric system” is not set up to find out who these children are, much less honor their strengths and talents, said Susan Rae Banks-Joseph, associate professor in the Washington State University Department of Teaching and Learning.

Banks-Joseph, an Arapaho, is a member of the research team led by WSU associate professor Michael Pavel that analyzed Native student test results and met with tribes and urban Indian communities across the state.

The team’s report, “From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement Gap of Native American Students in Washington State,” was completed in six months. It was funded through a $131,000 grant administered through the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs.

Among the report’s recommendations:

•Improve relationships between school districts, tribes and urban education programs.

•Create college education programs that stress culturally appropriate teaching methods.

•Improve collection and reporting of Native student achievement data.

The study compared Native American student achievement with that of European American students in Washington in 2006 and 2007.

Native American children scored significantly lower, for example, on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in reading and math in grades four through eight.

Critics of the WASL have said the assessment’s cultural bias is an advantage to European American students at the expense of minority students.

The WSU report also noted a lack of relevant test results. Out of the state’s 296 school districts, only 81, or 27.6 percent, reported WASL scores for Native Americans, and only part of these provided data for all subjects tested.

Researchers asked whether this “data gap” rendered Native American students “invisible in terms of educational policies and procedures.”

The report recommended more research to assess the progress of Native children in a “consistent, respectful and timely manner.”

Contact Kevin Graman at (509) 459-5433 or
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