In 2011, just 18 percent of Native fourth graders were proficient or advanced in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), while 42 percent of white fourth graders had reached those levels. Meanwhile, fourth grade reading performance for all other major ethnic groups rose between 2005 and 2011, but results for Native children stayed flat. They even had a lead over African American and Latino students in 2005 that has since disappeared.
Results are similar for eight grade math. Just 17 percent of Native students were proficient or advanced on those tests and nearly half were below the basic level. Yet 43 percent of white students were proficient or advanced and just 17 percent were below basic. Native children barely saw improvement in their scores between 2005 and 2011 while other groups made advancements.
The gap follows Native students beyond middle school. Less than 70 percent graduate high school in four years, compared to 83 percent of white students. They are also less likely to graduate at a college ready level, as only a quarter scored at that level on the ACT math section and one third scored there on reading. Half of white students, on the other hand, were college ready in math and two thirds in reading.
After graduation, fewer Native students enroll in college: just 52 percent in 2004 versus three quarters of white students. And for those who do enroll in a four-year college, just 39 completed their degrees in four years, compared to 62 percent of white students.
These findings can’t be chalked up to students attending different schools. Over 90 percent attend regular public schools. And while it’s clear that many schools fail Native children, some prove that this isn’t inevitable. The report points to Calcedeaver Elementary in Alabama, whose population is more than 80 percent American Indian. Last year, 61 percent of the school’s sixth graders scored at the advanced level in math, compared to 35 percent statewide. And some states do better than others: The percentage of students at the proficient or advanced levels on the NAEP is at least three times higher in Oregon and Oklahoma than in Alaska and Arizona.
The numbers aren’t likely to improve. Sequestration has meant disastrous cuts and reductions in services at schools on or near Native American reservations. Because these schools rely on Impact Aid to supplement the tax base, the withdrawal of those funds was felt immediately, resulting in staff lay offs, reduced course offerings, and some schools that got rid of extra-curricular activities altogether.