STANDARDIZED TESTING OF AMERICAN INDIAN STUDENTS
Las Cruces, NM -- The following report prepared by William
Brescia and Jim C. Fortune discusses the difficulties of using
standardized testing on American Indian students.
CONTACT: ERIC/CRESS, Department 3AP, Box 30001, New Mexico State
University, Las Cruces, NM 88003-0001 (505) 646-2623.
Testing students from backgrounds different from the culture in
which the test was developed magnifies the probability of invalid
results. In addition to the limits of test theory and the the
constraints associated with a given test, the test administrator
is faced with several potential sources of error arising from
the differences in the two cultures. these include lack of
compatibility of the languages, differences in the experiential
backgrounds of the students being tested and those for whom the
test was developed, and differences in affective dispositions
toward handling testing environments between the two groups of
The testing of many American Indian children using exams
developed for the majority of American society represents a case
of cross- cultural testing which is likely to produce invalid
results in the form of underestimation of student performance.
In this digest limitations of the use of standardized these with
many American Indian students are discussed as a problem that
must be addressed by educators who use these tests for placement
and grading of students. Sources and consequences of invalid
test results ensuing from the administration of standardized
test to unacculturated American Indian students are delineated.
OVERVIEW OF STANDARDIZED TESTING
WHAT IS A STANDARDIZED TEST?
Technically, a standardized test is a systematic process for
assigning numerical values to samples of behavior, such that the
same or equivalent items are administered to all test-takers
using uniform directions and scoring methods (Brown, 1976).
Standardization can be extended to include uniform methods of
test interpretation derived through the development of norms for
the group for which the test was designed, information on the
consistency of test performance (reliability), and evidences
that the test measures what it was designed to measure
(validity) (Aiken, 1976).
Tests addressed in this digest will be limited to four types
which are commercially available. These include achievement,
aptitude, ability, and intelligence tests. These tests are
those that are most frequently used in educational placement and
ACHIEVEMENT TESTS. An achievement test is one that has been
designed to measure the knowledge and skills accrued in a
specific content area. The content areas are usually school
subjects taught at a given grade level. Commercially available
achievement tests are most frequently multiple choice,
group-administered tests of content selected to apply to a wide
range of school programs.
APTITUDE TESTS. An aptitude test is a test that has been
designed to measure the capability of an individual to profit
from instruction in a specific content area. An aptitude test
is designed to measure skills, traits, and talents predictive of
future performance in the area.
ABILITY TESTS. An ability test is one designed to measure the
capability of one to perform in a content area. The difference
between an ability test and an aptitude test is one of status;
present capability versus potential (Brown, 1976).
INTELLIGENCE TESTS. An intelligence test is one designed to
measure an individual's ability to reason and to perform
verbally. The IQ test is a generalized form or aptitude test
for scholastic work (Aiken, 1976).
PERFORMANCE CRITERIA FOR STANDARDIZED TESTS
Criteria for the performance of a standardized test can be
classified into two categories: requirements for obtaining
accurate and appropriate scores; and requirements for making
accurate and useful interpretations of the scores. Requirements
for obtaining accurate and appropriate scores include matched
level of test to the students, clarity and comprehensiveness in
the administration of instructions, and logistics. Requirements
associated with test interpretation include norms, reliability,
LEVEL OF TEST. Tests are designed to measure specific knowledge,
skills, and abilities of students sharing a particular array of
characteristics. The test will likely not perform for students
who do not have the characteristics. Hence, tests should be
used with students for whom test norms exist.
CLARITY AND COMPREHENSIVENESS OF INSTRUCTIONS. Noise during
testing, distractions, incomplete instructions, failure to allow
the time allotted to the test (mistiming), and inadequate
coverage of practice examples can reduce student performances.
Instructions should be brief and clear. They should also show
what the test-taker should do to respond, and tell that
individual how much time is available for each part of the test.
LOGISTICS. Tests should be administered under favorable
conditions and should be monitored. Rushed, disorderly
arrangements raise the potential of test anxiety. Cheating
either from copying or from obtaining prior copies of the test
can invalidate any test. Harshness or condescending remarks can
lower the performance of a student on a test.
NORMS. Norms permit an interpretation of a test taker's score to
be made relative to the scores made by a large number of similar
individuals. these interpretations do not address how much
content was mastered by how well the test-taker did in
comparison to his/her peers. In the case of achievement
testing, test administration should be in the same time of the
year as the test was normed. Most achievement test have fall
and spring norms. When tests are administered to members of a
minority group, it is very important to have norms on the
minority group or to assure that the norm group includes
adequate representation of the minority group.
RELIABILITY. Reliability addresses the reproducibility of test
performances across time, as well as forms of the test and items
in it. Low reliability is due to unsystematic errors which
affect test scores in unpredictable ways. These unsystematic
errors may occur due to ambiguous items, guessing, or poor
content coverage. Poor content coverage may involve uneven,
sparse, or spotty coverage of content. Standardized tests used
for educational decisions concerning individual students should
have reliabilities greater than 90 percent.
VALIDITY. Uses of a test are subject to validity concerns. One
test may be valid as a measure of the achievement of a
mathematics unit within the context it was taught and yet not be
a valid measure for the generic achievement of the mathematics
included in the unit. If addition of several numbers is taught
vertically and all of the test items are arranged vertically
then the test may be a valid measure of the unit within the
instructional context. Yet, the test is not a valid measure of
the addition of several numbers, since the numbers can also be
arranged horizontally. Validity refers to measuring what the
use is referencing.
In tests designed to measure acquisition of a body of content,
such as achievement tests, content validity is a required
criterion. It is of vital importance that the designated
content is covered adequately and in the appropriate
proportions. Administrative manuals of tests usually describe
the table of content specification as evidence of content
validity . In achievement testing, instructional validity or
evidence that the content was taught is also important.
In tests designed to measure potential, predictive validity is
required. Predictive validity is evidence that shows that
performance on the test is correlated with future performance in
the content area. A second validity concern with tests that
measure potential is that of test bias. Test bias occurs when
individuals with a given characteristic not logically related to
skill consistently score differently than the norm group on the
APPLICATION TO AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION
USE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS
Standardized test scores are used to make decisions about
programs and to make decisions about individuals. Although all
four types of tests can be used indirectly to make decisions
about programs, the primary uses of tests to make program
decisions involve the use of ability tests in program design and
the use of achievement tests in program evaluation.
All four types of tests are used to make decisions about
individuals. Aptitude, ability, and intelligence tests are used
primarily in the rendering of decisions involving selection and
placement or to provide feedback to the test-taker concerning
his or her capability. Achievement tests may be used in four
ways to make decisions about individuals as a survey of
attainment in a content area, as a diagnostic instrument to
identify the strengths and weaknesses of an individual in a
content area, as a readiness indicator to determine if an
individual has attained enough prerequisite material to continue
study in a given content area, and a performance test to
estimate the degree of learning of a body of content defined by
LIMITATIONS TO USE
Generally, when standardized tests are used with American Indian
students (on the reservation or in settings with low levels of
acculturation) and produce invalid results, the tests usually
produce lower or less desirable scores for the Indian
test-taker. These score variations are not really explained by
program related factors nor correlates of test performance which
are frequently found in other situations.
In program-related decisions the underestimation of Indian
performance on ability tests may result in the development of an
inefficient program design. Underestimation on achievement tests
may result in the demise or modification of what in reality is an
In test-based decisions concerning the American Indian student
underestimation can do grave harm to the individual. In both
selection and placement the Indian student can be denied
opportunity, can be relegated to low-paying work or unemployment
or can be placed in a program that is too easy or boring. As
feedback, the test results can do harm to the self esteem and
confidence of the Indian student, sometimes resulting in the
student giving up or dropping out. With regard to the
interpretation of achievement test results, false conclusions
concerning the Indian student may result leading to teacher
allegations of laziness, disinterest, or stupidity.
Underestimation may result in the student not being promoted to
advanced levels of instruction, being placed in low-achieving
groups, or having to do remedial work.
SOURCES OF TEST UNDERESTIMATION
It should be recognized that American Indian tribes embrace a
wide range of differences with regard to culture. To treat
American Indians as a collective group, regardless of tribe, is
to make the same error of consideration as is made in testing
Indian students with standardized tests that have less than
three percent Indian students in the norming sample. Uniform
research results across tribes is simply nonexistent.
Nevertheless, bias found in the study of one tribe likely exists
for several other tribes. A source of underestimation
documented for one tribe should in fact be considered as a
potential source of underestimation for other tribes until
research indicates the contrary for a given tribe.
Underestimation may occur in the standardized testing of American
Indian students in several different ways. These include
students not exhibiting behaviors required in successful
test-taking; students not reading the questions accurately;
students not having the assumed experience or cognitive
structure to respond to certain items; and students lacking the
opportunity to practice key behaviors required by the test.
Each of these differences in the behavior of Indian
students in the testing situation reflects cultural differences.
The factors that influence Indian test scores, usually considered
as forms of bias, are well-documented in the literature (Neely
and Shaughnessy, 1984). If only one of the unsuccessful
test-taking behaviors of the students is present in certain
situations or if these behaviors could be tracked
systematically, then a methodology could be developed to correct
the problem of underestimation. However, these behaviors are
confounded in that they sometimes occur jointly and at different
times in the test-taking process. Additional confounding takes
place because many Indian students possess the other individual
characteristics which normally present testing problems:
poverty, low parental education, broken homes, and nonstandard
English backgrounds. McDiarmid (1972) discusses the role that
poverty, health and nutrition, social conflict, language, and
test motivation play in the interpretation of test data on Indian
children. The major factors were found to be language and test
motivation. Some suggestions to facilitate test fairness have
been reported in aptitude and ability assessment, such as in the
General Aptitude Test Battery (Hunter, 1983). Measurement
professionals have addressed the problem of cultural influence
on test performance, but to this date an optional functional
treatment of the problem still does not exist.
Many American Indian students fail to exhibit successful
test-taking behaviors due to a multiplicity of underlying
causes. Cultural beliefs in some tribes may bar competitive
behaviors in an academic setting. The student may underestimate
the seriousness of the test or fail to adopt a successful
response strategy which may involve selective scanning for known
items, techniques of using partial information to guess correct
answers, or efficient time use. Students possess a
dichotomy with regard to their perceptions of the purposes and
significance of tests (Deyhle, 1986). Acculturation has been
found as an influence on both achievement and ability tests
(Hoffman, et al, 1985; Guilmet, 1983). Both authors suggest
that acculturation and test motivation are associated.
The second most influential factor reported in the literature is
language; that is, inability of many Indian students to read the
questions accurately or to be able to give appropriate verbal
responses. Tests which avoid language use are not subject to
underestimation as much as those that depend on verbal
instructions and reading. To illustrate this the
Hiskey-Nebraska test of Learning Aptitude, a non-verbal test
designed for use with deaf children produced estimates of higher
potential for Indian children than the Wechsler Test (Shutt,
1962). The influence of English being learned as a second
language is further reinforced by the fact that many Indian
first languages are unwritten.
The deficiency of the student to have the assumed experience or
cognitive structure to respond to certain items is due both to
the culture and to the setting in which many children are
reared. The isolated, rural environment of many reservation
settings, the restricted poverty of many families, and the
cultural ties that promote continued identification with the
tribe deny students important knowledge of the outside world.
Fortune (1985) found that a majority of the Indian students in
an economically deprived reservation setting lacked experience
to understand the examples that teachers use in instruction and,
consequently, the experience to perform on achievement tests.
Studies of intelligence and aptitude test results of one tribe
suggest nonstandard Indian performances (Mishra, 1981). These
results are further substantiated by unique patterns of measured
Indian aptitude. On the WISC-R test Indian children show a
pattern of greater strength than the norm population in
relational, holistic, and right hemisphere information
processing (Browne, 1984). The Indian children in two
reservation settings demonstrated a performance pattern on the
Wechsler different from normal and learning disabled Anglo
children. Spatial abilities were more well- developed than
sequencing skills (McShane & Plas, 1982; Diessner & Walker,
Although Boloz and Varrati (1983) found that test scores for
Indian students were higher for those who had the best
attendance records and stayed in the same district, many Indian
students live in discouraging situations where there is little
congruence between their life experiences and the skills needed
for testing. These students often do not speak English outside
of school. In addition, there are few books available for them
to read. Personal and community poverty, aggravated by lack of
industrial development and employed role models, does little to
stimulate student awareness of mathematics and its applications.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR TEST USE
Applications of the principles of test theory to the sources of
underestimation can lead to several useful maxims in using
standardized tests with many American Indian students. Prior to
the administration of standardized tests to American Indian
students or to the interpretation of American Indian test data
the test user can do several things that may contribute to
better test taker performance. For ability, aptitude, and
intelligence testing one should assure that the students have
had exposure to the experiences assumed in the design of the
test, the opportunity to develop the requisite skills, and the
circumstances necessary to value a successful test performance.
For achievement tests, one should make certain that the students
have been instructionally exposed to the content of the test and
have had opportunity to apply this content; the students have
had experience in the taking of the test, are test wise and able
to understand test instructions and time requirements; and the
test is to be or was administered at a time similar to when it
was normed and the test has Indian norms. A few of the national
testing corporations such as the developers of the California
Achievement Test are developing Indian norms for their tests.
Several papers offer additional reading and help in the area of
testing Indian students. They include guidelines for testing
bicultural children (Bernardoni, 1967) and for second language
testing (Upshur and Fata, 1968), as well as annotations of tests
found appropriate for use with American Indians (Educational
Testing Service, 1977 and 1982).
Recommendations for future research appear fraught with problems.
The natural recommendation for most tribes to become involved in
the process of developing their own tests has to be considered in
the light of the high costs and resource requirements needed to
develop a quality test. Tribal differences and dispersion of
many Indian students would suggest that tribally developed tests
may lack enough general applications across tribes for merit.
Further research may be better invested in documenting the
similarity and differences of test reactions and in the
development of intervention programs to teach test
administrators to use tests in an appropriate manner with
American Indian students.
Aiken, Lewis R. PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING AND ASSESSMENT. Boston:
Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1976.
Bernardoni, Louis C. "The Testing of Bicultural Children",
SHARING IDEAS 4, 2 (1967): 1-5. ED 077 977.
Boloz, Sigmund A., & Varrati, Richard. "Apologize or Analyze:
Measuring Academic Achievement in the Reservation School,"
JOURNAL OF AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION, 23, 1 (1983): 23-8.
Brown, Frederick G. PRINCIPLES OF EDUCATIONAL AND
PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Browne, Dauna Bell. 'WISC-R Scoring Patterns among Native
Americans of the Northern Plains," WHITE CLOUD JOURNAL
3, 2 (1984): 3-16.
Deyhle, Donna. "Success and Failure: A Micro-ethnographic
of Navajo and Anglo Students' Perceptions of Testing,"
CURRICULUM INQUIRY, 16, 4 (1986): 365-89.
Diessner, Rhett, & Walder, Jackqueline L. "A Cognitive Pattern
Yakima Indian Students," JOURNAL OF AMERICAN INDIAN
EDUCATION 25, 2 (1986) 39-43.
Educational Testing Service (ETS). TESTS FOR AMERICAN INDIANS.
Princeton: ETS, 1977. ED 213 546.
Educational Testing Service (ETS). TESTS FOR AMERICAN INDIANS.
Princeton: ETS, 1982. ED 227 995.
Fortune, Jim C. CHOCTAW COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL STUDY.
Philadelphia, MS: Choctaw Heritage Press, 1985.
Guilmet, George M. THE INAPPROPRIATENESS OF STANDARDIZED
TESTING IN A CULTURALLY HETEROGENEOUS MILIEU: A NAVAJO
EXAMPLE. Los Angeles: University of California, 1983. ED 261
Hoffman, Tom, et al. "Measured Acculturation and MMPI-168
Performance of Adults," JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL
PSYCHOLOGY 16,2 (1985): 243-56.
Hunter, John E. FAIRNESS OF THE GENERAL APTITUDE TEST BATTERY:
ABILITY DIFFERENCES AND THEIR IMPACT ON MINORITY HIRING
RATES. Uses Test Research Report No. 46. Sacramento:
State Department of Employment Development, 1983. ED 237 534.
McDiarmid, G. L. THE HAZARDS OF TESTING INDIAN CHILDREN. Las
Cruces: ERIC/CRESS, 1972. ED 055 692.
McShane, Damian Anthony, & Plas, Jeanne M. "Wechsler Scale
Performance Patterns of American Indian Children."
PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS 19,1 (1982): 8-17.
Mishra, Shitala P. "Relationships of WISC-R Factor Scores to
Achievement and Classroom Behaviors of Native American
MEASUREMENT AND EVALUATION IN GUIDANCE 14, 1 (1981): 26-30.
Neely, Renee, & Shaughnessy, Michael F. ASSESSMENTS AND THE
NATIVE AMERICAN. Portales: Eastern New Mexico University
Psychology Department, 1984. ED 273 889.
Shutt, Darold L. FAMILY PARTICIPATION IN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL
EVALUATION OF MINORITY CHILDREN. Paper presented to
Southwestern Orthopsychological Assocation Meeting, Galveston,
TX, November 1972. ED 071 830.
Upshur, John A., & Fata, Julia, (Eds). PROBLEMS IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGE TESTING: PROCEEDINGS OF A CONFERENCE HELD AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, SEPTEMBER, 1967. Ann Arbor,
MI: University of Michigan Research Club in Language Learning,
1968. ED 022 162.
Brescia, W., & Fortune, J.C. (1988). STANDARDIZED TESTING OF
AMERICAN INDIAN STUDENTS. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC CRESS.
Date: Sep 92
Author: Hodgkinson, Harold
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools,
Despite all of the trauma inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of
North America during the past several hundred years, they have
survived. Today, Native Americans make up a vigorously growing part
of the U.S. population. This Digest begins with a remembrance of
Native Americans' past, followed by a brief description of their
ancient and current diversity. The Digest continues with current
information about where they live; the growth of their numbers; and
the status of their health, employment, and education. The Digest
closes with an assessment of recent progress made by Native
Americans and challenges they still face.
IN THE BEGINNING...
It was clear, as we Americans began preparations for the
celebration of the "discovery" of America by Columbus some 500
years ago, that the ground had shifted under our feet. First, we
learned that Columbus was the fourth "discoverer" of America and
that he never set foot on the land that makes up the United States.
Then we learned that at least 3 million people already lived on the
North American continent in 1492. We have also begun to appreciate
that what Columbus took back--maize, potatoes, tobacco, and
wilderness survival skills, for example--was far more important
than what he left behind--mainly horses, guns, and disease. We now
know, too, that the first real discoverers of the hemisphere
probably migrated across the Bering Strait to the western part of
the North American continent. From there, they migrated to South
America, then back north through the eastern part of what is now
the U.S. All of this took place thousands of years before 1492.
In fact, calling the Native peoples of North America "Indians"
perpetuates Columbus' error in thinking he was in the East Indies.
Indeed, given what we know today about the treatment of indigenous
peoples during the westward expansion, the notion of venerating
Columbus as a hero is unsettling. We know, for instance, how a
major food source--the buffalo--came close to total ruin, along
with Native families and tribal identities.
NATIVE AMERICANS IN 1992
Any description of Native Americans must begin with a reminder of
a historical condition that continues to shape Native American
societies even today. Native Americans, originally, were the entire
American population. As such, they developed an amazing variety of
linguistic and cultural traditions. Even today, when they make up
less than one percent of the U.S. total, they represent half of the
nation's languages and cultures. This diversity within a small
population must be kept in mind, always.
Although many tribal traditions are at risk of dying out, Indians
as a group are a growing population in 1992. Some 1,959,000 people
claimed American Indian status on the 1990 Census form. There is
extraordinary diversity in this population, representing about 500
tribes in the U.S.; of these tribes, 308 are recognized by the
EXPANSION OF THE NATIVE POPULATION
Along with the 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Natives, over
5 million Americans indicated on their Census forms that they were
of Indian descent. If even a quarter of these 5 million people
decide to reclaim their Indian heritage in the next Census (in the
year 2000), there could be an astonishing growth in population
figures for Native Americans--with no increase in birth rates.
Recent movies and novels have featured Natives mostly in a
favorable light. This improved media portrayal could increase the
numbers who make the switch in which ethnic identity they claim.
The Census taker used to decide a person's ethnic identity; today
the respondent does, which is a step in the right direction.
We know from the 1990 Census where Native Americans live. Of the
1.9 million, about 637,000 are living on reservations or Trust
Lands. However, 46,000 live in the New York/Long Island/New
Jersey/Connecticut Combined Metro Area (CMA); 87,000 in the Los
Angeles CMA; 15,000 in the Chicago CMA; and 40,000 in the San
Francisco CMA; just to name the largest. A minimum of 252,000
Native Americans lived in cities in 1990.
More than half of the Native American population in 1990 lived in
the following six states: Oklahoma (252,000), California (242,000),
Arizona (204,000), New Mexico (134,000), Alaska (86,000), and
Washington state (81,000). In growth from 1980-1990, Oklahoma led
with an 83,000 person increase. Arizona's population was up 51,000
and California's was up 41,000. One reservation dominates all
others in population--the Navajo reservation that occupies parts of
Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah has 143,000 residents. The next
largest reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) people, is
Pine Ridge located in South Dakota, with 11,000. Of the 500 tribes
and bands in the nation, 10 made up half of the Indian population
in 1980. This fact means there is a large number of very small
tribes; many of these small tribes have few young people, which
makes their futures uncertain. (The word "endangered" comes to
FERTILITY AND HEALTH CHARACTERISTICS
American Indians have a fertility rate about twice that of other
Americans, partly because they are, on average, about 7 years
younger than the U.S. average. Actually, the birth rate is not
increasing. Rather, infant deaths are decreasing, resulting in a
large increase of young Natives. Indeed, the Census reports that
from 1980 to 1990, Natives increased their numbers by 54 percent.
The Indian Health Service has played a role in reducing infant
mortality, from 60 deaths per 1,000 births from 1955 to 10 in 1985.
Unfortunately, despite some reduction in alcoholism rates, the
death rate from alcohol-related causes is still three times higher
among Indians than the rate in the general population. This rate
includes deaths due to fetal alcohol syndrome and drug- and
alcohol-related accidents, suicides, and criminal offenses. Of all
treatment services provided by the Indian Health Service in 1988,
70 percent were alcohol-related. With some real progress in the
areas of safe births and child health, the rest of Native health is
a mixed bag.
Thus, while Natives have made major advances in reducing infant
deaths and improving public health facilities, several major
problems remain. The most prominent of the remaining needs include
creating jobs on reservations and reducing alcohol-related
accidents, crime, suicide, and poverty.
A Native American who wants a middle class job will likely have to
leave the reservation. This circumstance may account, in part, for
the movement of Indians to metro areas. One way to increase the
availability of jobs in rural areas and on reservations is to start
new businesses. Many Natives are engaged in this strategy. In 1987,
Indians owned 17,000 businesses with cash receipts of $800 million;
Eskimos owned 2,300; and Aleuts owned 1,100. Most of these
businesses employ small numbers of workers, and not all are located
on reservations. A larger proportion of the 4,000 Native-owned
businesses in Alaska are located in Native villages compared to the
proportion of Native-owned businesses in California (numbering
3,200) that are located on reservations.
Major changes in Native education have occurred in the past two
decades. The notorious boarding schools, which took Indian children
from their families and tribes and attempted to make Anglos out of
them, are now mainly gone. More Indian youth are enrolled in
schools and colleges that are either run by tribal leadership or in
which tribal views are important to decisionmaking.
There has been a major increase in college attendance, indicated by
the increase in the numbers of Natives taking the SAT--from 2,662
in 1976 to 18,000 in 1989. Of the 103,000 Natives who were in
college in 1990, about half were in two-year colleges and half in
four-year. The states with highest enrollments are California with
21,000 native students; Oklahoma with 9,600; Arizona with 8,800;
and New Mexico with 4,500. The 24 Tribal Colleges, most of which
offer two-year programs, have rapidly increasing enrollments. In
addition, several associations currently encourage Indian youth to
aspire to higher education. The American Indian Science and
Engineering Society and the National Action Council for Minorities
in Engineering are just two of a growing number or such
Less is known about the 391,000 Indians in elementary and secondary
education. Many public schools on or near reservations are becoming
increasingly responsive to the special needs of Indian youth. In
some cases, the local tribal language and culture are taught at
school, which is a major reversal of the previous attempts (such as
in the boarding schools) to eliminate Indian language and culture.
Indian parents are becoming increasingly involved in school
activities, including holding offices as school board members.
Many expect these improvements will help young Indians take pride
in their language and cultural traditions, which should be
important in increasing the number of youth who attend college.
More needs to be done to provide information about college to youth
in elementary and junior high school. Many Native students do not
take the courses required for college admission, particularly in
math and science.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a period of great possibilities for Native Americans. After
centuries of misinformation, the average American has now gained a
limited knowledge about the historical mistreatment of Natives, the
importance of treaty rights, and the differences in world views
between Americans of European descent and Native Americans.
Examples of Native beliefs that are different from European-based
beliefs include the following:
* that land is sacred and cannot be owned;
* that one is wise to wait for a speaker to finish and think
deeply about what was said before formulating a response;
* that to foul the land is to insult your ancestors;
* that all things have their own identities, such as plants,
which are "the rooted ones."
These are all ideas that many Americans find appealing. It may well
be that many Native views of the world will become "mainstream" in
the next decade.
Many of the problems faced by Native Americans can be traced back
to the conflicts between their desire to perpetuate their cultural
heritage and the pressure to assimilate into the larger society.
All ethnic groups wrestle with this conflict to some extent. A
complicating factor for Native Americans is that there is an
incredible diversity of cultures that falls into the category of
Native American. Rather than preserving one language and way of
life, they must preserve hundreds of relatively complete cultures.
The current generation of American Indian and Alaska Native youth
have a genuine choice between being proud to be an American and
being proud to be a Native. As stated, those choices appear
mutually exclusive. If they wish, they can live a
tradition-oriented Native lifestyle, or they can move completely
into the mainstream American middle class. Or (and this is the more
complex choice) they can lead lives that include productive
elements of both. Given the pluralistic American tradition, many
share the hope that Indian youth will find ways to do the latter,
both for the sake of their fulfillment as individuals and for the
enrichment of American society.
Evangelauf, Jean. (1992). Minority-group enrollment at colleges
rose 10% from 1988 to 1990, reaching record levels. Chronicle of
Higher Education, 38 (20), A33, 37.
Hodgkinson, H.L., Outtz, J.H., & Obarakpor, A.M. (1990). The
demographics of American Indians. Washington, DC: Institute for
Educational Leadership. (ED 330 509).
Indian Health Service. (1990). Trends in Indian health, 1990.
Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services.
Snipp, C.M. (1989). American Indians: The first of this land. New
York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Thornton, R. (1987). American Indian holocaust and survival: A
population history since 1492. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma
U.S. Census Bureau. (1990). Characteristics of American Indians by
tribe and selected areas. Washington, DC: Census Bureau.
U.S. Census Bureau. (1990). We, the first Americans. Washington,
DC: Census Bureau.
U.S. Department of Education. (1991). Indian Nations At Risk: An
Educational Strategy for Action. Washington, DC: Author. (ED 339
Harold Hodgkinson, noted author and lecturer, directs the Center
for Demographic Policy at the Institute for Educational Leadership,
Inc. in Washington, DC.
This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department
of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, under
contract no. RI88062016. The opinions expressed herein do not
necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the Office of
Educational Research and Improvement or the Department of
G. Cantoni (Ed.) (1996), Stabilizing Indigenous Languages
Flagstaff: Center for Excellence in Education, Northern Arizona University
G. Cantoni (Ed.) (1996), Stabilizing Indigenous Languages
Flagstaff: Center for Excellence in Education, Northern Arizona University
PUBLIC LAW 101-477 - October. 30, 1990
TITLE I -- NATIVE AMERICAN LANGUAGES ACT
SEC. 101. This title may be cited as the "Native American Languages Act".
SEC. 102. The Congress finds that--
(1) the status of the cultures and languages of native Americans is unique
and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native
Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages;
(2) special status is accorded Native Americans in the United States, a
status that recognizes distinct cultural and political rights, including the
right to continue separate identities;
(3) the traditional languages of native Americans are an integral part of
their cultures and identities and form the basic medium for the
transmission, and thus survival, of Native American cultures, literatures,
histories, religions, political institutions, and values;
(4) there is a widespread practice of treating Native Americans languages as
if they were anachronisms;
(5) there is a lack of clear, comprehensive, and consistent Federal policy
on treatment of Native American languages which has often resulted in acts
of suppression and extermination of Native American languages and cultures;
(6) there is convincing evidence that student achievement and performance,
community and school pride, and educational opportunity is clearly and
directly tied to respect for, and support of, the first language of the
child or student;
(7) it is clearly in the interests of the United States, individual States,
and territories to encourage the full academic and human potential
achievements of all students and citizens and to take steps to realize these
(8) acts of suppression and extermination directed against Native American
languages and cultures are in conflict with the United States policy of
self-determination for Native Americans;
(9) languages are the means of communication for the full range of human
experiences and are critical to the survival of cultural and political
integrity of any people; and
(10) language provides a direct and powerful means of promoting
international communication by people who share languages.
SEC. 103. For purposes of this title--
(1) The term "Native American" means an Indian, Native Hawaiian, or Native
American Pacific Islander.
(2) The term "Indian" has the meaning given to such term under section
5351(4) of the Indian Education Act of 1988 (25 U.S.C. 2651(4)).
(3) The term "Native Hawaiian" has the meaning given to such term by section
4009 of Public Law 100-297 (20 U.S.C. 4909).
(4) The term "Native American Pacific Islander" means any descendent of the
aboriginal people of any island in the Pacific Ocean that is a territory or
possession of the United States.
(5) The terms "Indian tribe" and "tribal organization" have the respective
meaning given to each of such terms under section 4 of the Indian
Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b).
(6) The term "Native American language" means the historical, traditional
languages spoken by Native Americans.
(7) The term "traditional leaders" includes Native Americans who have
special expertise in Native American culture and Native American languages.
(8) The term "Indian reservation" has the same meaning given to the term
"reservation" under section 3 of the Indian Financing Act of 1974 (25 U.S.C.
DECLARATION OF POLICY
SEC. 104. It is the policy of the United States to--
(1) preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native
Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages;
(2) allow exceptions to teacher certification requirements for Federal
programs, and programs funded in whole or in part by the Federal Government,
for instruction in Native American languages when such teacher certification
requirements hinder the employment of qualified teachers who teach in Native
American languages, and to encourage State and territorial governments to
make similar exceptions;
(3) encourage and support the use of Native American languages as a medium
of instruction in order to encourage and support--
(A) Native American language survival,
(B) educational opportunity,
(C) increased student success and performance,
(D) increased student awareness and knowledge of their culture and history,
(E) increased student and community pride;
(4) encourage State and local education programs to work with Native
American parents, educator, Indian tribes, and other Native American
governing bodies in the implementation of programs to put this policy into
(5) recognize the right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing
bodies to use the Native American languages as a medium of instruction in
all schools funded by the Secretary of the Interior;
(6) fully recognize the inherent right of Indian tribes and other Native
American governing bodies, States, territories, and possessions of the
United States to take action on, and give official status to, their Native
American languages for the purpose of conducting their own business;
(7) support the granting of comparable proficiency achieved through course
work in a Native American language the same academic credit as comparable
proficiency achieved through course work in a foreign language, with
recognition of such Native American language proficiency by institutions of
higher education as fulfilling foreign language entrance or degree
(8) encourage all institutions of elementary, secondary and higher
education, where appropriate, to include Native American languages in the
curriculum in the same manner as foreign languages and to grant proficiency
in Native American languages the same full academic credit as proficiency in
SEC. 105. The right of Native Americans to express themselves through the
use of Native American languages shall not be restricted in any public
proceeding, including publicly supported education programs.
Sec. 106. (a) The President shall direct the heads of the various Federal
departments, agencies, and instrumentalities to--
(1) Evaluate their policies and procedures in consultation with Indian
tribes and other Native American governing bodies as well as traditional
leaders and educators in order to determine and implement changes needed to
bring the policies and procedures into compliance with the provisions of
(2) give the greatest effect possible in making such evaluations, absent a
clear specific Federal statutory requirement to the contrary, to the
policies and procedures which will give the broadest effect to the
provisions of this title; and
(3) evaluate the laws which they administer and make recom-mendations to the
President on amendments needed to bring such laws into compliance with the
provisions of this title.
(b) By no later than the date that is 1 year after the date of enactment of
this title, the President shall submit to the Congress a report containing
recommendations for amendments to Federal laws that are needed to bring such
laws into compliance with the provisions of this title.
USE OF ENGLISH
Sec. 107. Nothing in this title shall be construed as precluding the use of
Federal funds to teach English to Native Americans.
Approved October 30, 1990.
Return to Table of Contents
Previous Section: Seven Hypotheses on Language Loss: Causes and Cures
Next Section: Policy Documents: National Goals: Indian Nations at Risk Task