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IES Grant

Title: The Role of Native Language and Culture in Decreasing Discipline Problems and Increasing Academic Achievement for American Indian/Alaska Native Students
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Martinez, Charles Awardee: University of Oregon
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2014 – 6/30/2017) Award Amount: $1,222,706
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A140162

Co-Principal Investigators: Tobin, Tary; Vincent, Claudia; McClure, Heather; Underriner, Janne

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between school personnel's use of native language and culture (NLC) in discipline and instruction and the behavioral and academic outcomes of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. The findings of this exploration study can be used to guide intervention development to benefit the academic success of AI/AN students. These students represent about one percent of the total U.S. school population yet they experience some of the highest dropout rates and are consistently over-represented among students identified for special education services and students suspended or expelled from school. The AI/AN community has recommended that native language and culture (NLC) be infused into school environments to increase AI/AN students' sense of belonging, positive identity development, and increased self-awareness and cultural awareness. Data from the National Indian Education Study (NIES) along with school-wide information system (SWIS) data allow for the exploration of these recommended strategies and their relationship to education outcomes.

Project Activities: The research team merged student, teacher, and administrator data from the 2009 and 2011 NIES with discipline data collected via the SWIS from schools with a substantial AI/AN enrollment. Merging these data allowed the team to explore whether use of NLC is associated with changes in specific types of inappropriate behaviors students engage in, as well as changes in the types of consequences schools administer. In the final year of the project, the team administered a survey to schools with high AI/AN enrollment to gain more in-depth information about specific strategies teachers use to blend NLC with discipline and instruction, as well as the perceived barriers teachers face in creating discipline and instruction that is culturally meaningful to AI/AN students.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this exploratory study are as follows:

  • The use of NLC in the classroom is a multidimensional construct. Based on data provided by students, NLC had two dimensions: Live Exposure (i.e., direct contact with Native people) and Media Exposure (learning materials about Native Americans). Based on data provided by teachers, NLC had three dimensions: Instruction/Math (use of Native culture, history, and issues in math instruction), Instruction/ReadWrite (use of Native culture, history, and issues in reading and writing instruction), and Teacher Prep (teachers' consultation of Native materials and resources). Based on data provided by administrators, NLC had three dimensions: Involvement (involvement of local Native people in the school), Instruction/Culture (the school's ability to provide instruction in Native cultural issues), and Instruction/Language (the school's ability to provide instruction in Native language).
  • The use of NLC was positively associated with achievement among students whose families identified more strongly with their Native culture and who were in schools with larger percentages of AI/AN students. Specifically, the use of NLC benefitted students who were immersed in a Native-centric environment at home and at school, while it did not benefit or even tended to be detrimental to students who were immersed in a non-Native-centric environment.
  • NLC implementation varies by teacher and school characteristics. In general, teachers rarely integrate NLC into their instructional and discipline practices. However, AI/AN teachers who are Native language speakers and who teach in classrooms with high AI/AN enrollment located in schools employing AI/AN teachers and staff implement the recommended practices more often.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Extant data (NIES and SWIS) were collected in schools with high AI/AN enrollment of 4th and 8th grade students nationally. The survey during the final year of the study was administered to teachers in schools with high AI/AN enrollment.

Sample: The National Indian Education Study (NIES) provides data on a nationally representative sample of American Indian and Alaska Native 4th and 8th grade students in public, private, Department of Defense, and Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools. This study used the 2009 NIES data (22,700 students, 8,400 teachers, and 4,200 administrators) and the 2011 NIES data (20,500 students, 7,600 teachers, and 3,900 administrators). School-wide information system (SWIS) data from the 2008-2009 school year comes from 185 schools with 37,491 disciplinary incidents and 88 schools from the 2010-2011 school year with 22,430 disciplinary incidents. The research team collected survey data in the final year of the project from 292 teachers across 14 schools.

Malleable Factors: The research questions and hypotheses of this project were based on the Native community's strong recommendation to increase the use of NLC in schools serving AI/AN students, along with research that shows the relationship between behavioral problems and academic achievement. Recommendations from the Native community focus on emphasizing NLC to decrease students' inappropriate behavior through culturally supportive and culturally meaningful social environments and increase students' perceived relevance of the curriculum and their engagement with it.

Research Design and Methods: The first two years of this study involved analyses of extant data followed by the collection of new survey data in the final year. The two-part structure of the NIES data allows examination of student performance in reading and mathematics in relation to key school environment factors such as school climate and discipline. Data from SWIS users who agree to share their data for research purposes become part of a research database located at the University of Oregon. In Year 1, the researchers tested a two-level moderated mediation model using the 2009 and 2011 NIES data to determine the extent to which behavioral context mediates the effect of NLC on academic outcomes, and whether this mediating effect of behavioral context is moderated by schools' AI/AN enrollment density and student grade level and gender. In Year 2, the researchers merged the NIES data with the SWIS data via NCES school identification numbers to determine if behavioral violations and disciplinary consequences vary with use of NLC and if those variations differ by student grade level, gender or race. In Years 3 and 4, the researchers developed and administered a survey querying teachers' experiences with integrating NLC practices into their instructional and discipline practices and any perceived barriers that they encounter. The researchers also added a student survey and focus groups to inform the teacher survey.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: The NIES School Background Questionnaire, the Teacher Background Questionnaire, and the Student Background Questionnaire (available here: were used to assess the extent to which NLC is integrated into instructional practices, as well as measure the behavioral contexts of schools serving AI/AN students. These questionnaires were developed for 4th and 8th grade students, their reading/language arts and mathematics teachers, and their school administrators based on recommendations from The Office of Indian Education. The questionnaires ask about: 1) the extent to which NLC is part of the curriculum; 2) the availability of school resources for improving AI/AN student achievement; 3) how assessment data is used by schools with AI/AN populations; 4) involvement of AI/AN tribes, groups, or villages with the schools; and 5) how AI/AN students, teachers, and schools feel about education. NAEP scores in reading and math for 4th and 8th graders were used to measure academic achievement. Types of behavioral violations and types of consequences are represented in the SWIS data along with student racial/ethnic background, gender, grade level, and overall enrollment by race/ethnicity. The survey used in Year 3 measured how teachers integrate NLC into discipline and instructional strategies and the barriers they perceive in doing so.

Data Analytic Strategy: In phase 1, the research team conducted exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to test the construct validity of Native Language and Culture and Behavioral Context (derived from the three NIES questionnaires). The researchers then tested a 2-level moderated mediation model to determine if Behavioral Context mediates the relationship between NLC and academic outcomes, and if this relationship is moderated by school-level AI/AN enrollment density, student gender and grade level. In phase 2, the team tested a 2-level hierarchical model to determine if types of behavioral violations and consequences vary with use of NLC, and if variations differ by student grade level, gender, and race. In phase 3, the researchers tested a 2-level hierarchical model to determine if teacher survey responses differ by school and teacher demographics.

Products and Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Van Ryzin, M.J., and Vincent, C.G. (2017). Use of Native Language and Culture (NLC) in Elementary and Middle School Instruction as a Predictor of Mathematics Achievement. Journal of American Indian Education, 56(2): 3-33.

Van Ryzin, M.J., Vincent, C.G., and Hoover, J. (2016). Initial Exploration of a Construct Representing Native Language and Culture (NLC) in Elementary and Middle School Instruction. Journal of American Indian Education, 55(1): 74101.

Vincent, C., Tobin, T., and Van Ryzin, M. (2017). Implementing Instructional Practices to Improve American Indian and Alaska Native Students' Reading Outcomes: An Exploration of Patterns Across Teacher, Classroom, and School Characteristics. Journal of Teacher Education, 68(5), 435–450.