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Closing the educational gap

SUQUAMISH — Washington State Tribal leaders continue efforts to close the student achievement gap between Native American students and their non-native peers.

According to assessment research on this year’s 11th-graders completed by the Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 28.5 percent of 11th grade Native American students haven’t passed both WASL tests required for graduation. This is the second highest percentage, with 29.2 percent of Hispanic students not passing the required reading and writing portions.

While 70 percent of all high school students graduate on time, only 55 percent or less of Native American students graduate with a regular diploma, according to the National Indian Education Association.

Whether the statewide achievement gap comes in the fashion of Native American students not passing the WASL or meeting other graduation requirements, tribal leaders are working together to form strategies to enrich the lives of tribal students and prepare them for life after high school.

One way is through the Tribal Leaders Congress on Education, which unifies the voices of tribal representatives to speak as one to lobby for governmental action.

The Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes were represented in the congress, which met April 18 in Suquamish Tribe’s Council Chambers, by Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal council members Jeromy Sullivan and Kelly Blaze.

The congress addressed the latest methods of closing the gap, including the implementation and resolutions for House Bill 1495, adopted in 2005, which would require local tribal history to be a .5 credit graduation requirement in common schools.

The requires “educating the citizens of our state, particularly the youth who are our future leaders, about tribal history, culture, treaty rights, contemporary tribal and state government institutions and relations and the contribution of Indian nations to the state of Washington.”

The bill recognizes Native American students might not find the current state history curriculum relevant to their lives or experiences.

“Legislature further finds that the lack of accurate and complete curricula may contribute to the persistent achievement gap between Indian and other students,” the bill states.

December 2007 resolutions to HB 1495 state that the Tribal Leader Congress on Education will collaborate with the state to create local Tribal history/culture/government curriculum by 2012.

Karen Condon, education and employment committee chair representing the Colville Tribe also encouraged tribal leaders to submit testimonies to reauthorize the federally enacted No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.

Title VII of NCLB recognizes Native American children have unique educational needs due to cultures and backgrounds.

NCLB forces individual states to identify graduation rates by students’ ethnicity making it possible to study the student achievement gaps based on racial background.

The act doesn’t provide individual states with funding to do complete achievement gap studies, said Martharose Laffey, executive director of Washington State School Directors’ Association.

Washington state legislature recently allocated $150,000 to complete a study and come up with a strategy to tackle the Native American achievement gap in accordance with HB 1495 ($150,000 allocations were also granted for studies of other Washington state ethnic achievement gaps).

“This is a good thing because when 1495 was passed (in 2005) there was no funding,” said While an interim report will be made available in September, the final report should be submitted this December, said Suzi Wright, government affairs policy analyst for the Tulalip Tribe, who was also in attendance.

From there the extent and nature of the gap can be highlighted and strategies to implement a curriculum will take place every two years with the school directors’ association and legislature’s education committees starting this December through December 2012, she said.

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