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More Than a Check Box: Supporting Native Students Through Accurate Identification and Holistic Supports

By Mandy Smoker Broaddus, Elijah Moreno, and Sarah Pierce | November 22, 2019


Mandy Smoker Broaddus
Mandy Smoker Broaddus is a practice expert in Indian education at Education Northwest. She has over 15 years of experience working toward social justice, equity, inclusivity, and cultural responsiveness, particularly in the realm of American Indian education.

American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students and families are eligible for various educational services and opportunities, many of which stem from the unique political relationship between tribal nations and the U.S. government.

To ensure AIAN students receive these resources and benefits—and other supports they need to succeed in school—the adults in their lives must have the information they need to advocate for them.

REL Northwest has created an infographic to support these efforts. Specifically, Native Youth Count seeks to simplify complex issues (such as identification), answer questions, and provide a quick guide for potential resources that may better serve AIAN students.

Native Youth Count was developed in partnership with the Northwest Tribal Educators Alliance (NW TEA), whose long-term goal is to use culturally relevant data and evidence to promote academic and community success for Native students.

The infographic is geared toward the families of AIAN students and can also benefit classroom teachers, district administrators, and other stakeholders. Along those lines, it can help schools reach out to families, as well as reduce barriers to access and equity on both sides.

Elijah Moreno
Elijah Moreno is an advisor at Education Northwest. He provides quantitative data analysis support to various REL Northwest research projects, including those that support Native education.

Having a Ripple Effect

Native Youth Count builds on a May 2017 research brief titled Obscured Identities: Improving the Accuracy of Identification of American Indian and Alaska Native Students.

The brief and accompanying video (both of which were also created in collaboration with NW TEA) underscore that accurate identification can result in significant changes on both an individual/student level and a systems level.

"The ways [AIAN] students are … identified vary-which has created many challenges, including dramatic fluctuations in [AIAN] student counts," the brief states. "Accurate student counts are necessary to ensure treaty obligations are fulfilled, programs designed to meet the needs of Native students are appropriately funded, and the performance of [AIAN] students can be reliably tracked."

Thinking More Systematically

Sarah Pierce
Sarah Pierce is a senior advisor in Indian education at Education Northwest. Her work focuses on ensuring all students have access to a quality education through systemwide school supports.

Simply stated, accurately identifying Native students is the foundation for serving Native students—and it is also important to not treat Native student identification like a check box. Accurate identification is an ongoing process, as is the development of culturally nourishing programming and supports that break down silos between programs to better serve Native students.

Another key point to emphasize is that resources for AIAN students do not always fall specifically under Indian Education.

For example, as Native Youth Count describes, AIAN students who have moved within the past three years across state or school district lines with (or to join) a parent or guardian who seeks to obtain qualifying temporary or seasonal employment in agriculture, fishing, or dairy are eligible for migrant education services.

In addition, AIAN students who are living in a household where heritage languages other than English are spoken and who face challenges meeting academic standards are eligible for bilingual education services.

This is especially critical, given that AIAN language learner students are often not fully supported, as English may be their first language, so they can be overlooked in typical home-language surveys.

Making Changes

Native Youth Count should spark conversations among two primary groups: families of Native students to know, understand, and advocate for resources for their children and schools regarding how they can better serve Native students.

The infographic can also be a jumping-off point for stakeholders across the region, as well as the country, for reviewing and potentially updating their work with all Native students.

However, the ultimate goal is to inform schools and communities about how to best organize and identify ways to ensure the success of AIAN students through the services, benefits, and resources to which they are entitled.