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Native student engagement and achievement both increase when culturally appropriate curriculum and other supports are taught and provided. A new culturally responsive guide developed by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (ND DPI) and REL Central provides a step-by-step process for schools and districts to assess the needs of Native students and begin implementing those supports.

In 2015, Lucy Fredericks, ND DPI’s director of Indian/multicultural education, and her team developed the first Native American Needs Assessment for North Dakota. That assessment asked school and district administrators with high concentrations of Native American students to fill out a survey indicating the needs of their school and teachers in providing instruction and supports to students. From the information gathered in that survey, ND DPI staff created an action plan and schools were provided a list of resources to address Native student needs. However, Native community voices were not a formal part of the assessment development or resource vetting. That was something Fredericks and her team knew needed to be changed.

That’s why in 2017 ND DPI partnered with REL Central and numerous stakeholders across the state to ensure the assessment used culturally sensitive and responsive questions, as well as expanded its reach to those directly working with students. administrators being surveyed, a separate survey was developed for teachers and others, such as paraprofessionals. Once implemented, the information gathered from participants led to an action plan, vetted by stakeholders, that provided a collection of resources school administrators used to shape the programmatic and professional development needs of their schools and instructors. This includes everything from social-emotional welfare to a culturally inclusive curriculum.

“One of the reasons why we developed the action plan and administered the survey was to really reach out and support schools with high numbers of Native American students,” Fredericks said. “Our goal is to improve student outcomes and close the achievement gap with Native American students by providing teachers and administrators with the supports they need.”

While NDDPI is now working with REL Central on a third iteration of the assessment that includes student input into the surveys, it was the second iteration of the process to develop, garner Native input for, and launch the assessment and succeeding action plan that became the focus of this guide.

The Guide to Conducting a Needs Assessment for American Indian Students provides state agency, district, and school leaders step-by-step instructions on the methods to develop, conduct, and analyze a culturally sensitive and responsive needs assessment. This includes sample survey topics relevant to Native communities, an Excel tool and instructions that educators can use to build their surveys and analyze data, and a process for Native review of survey questions and results to determine their relevancy from a cultural perspective. Finally, the guide gives administrators advice on how to develop an action plan and disseminate and monitor that plan to better ensure the success of programs and students.

According to Fredericks, the years of working with Native communities to develop these assessment tools and other resources are showing benefits as they are implemented. Noting heavy demand for classes such as Native languages and history, she explains that infusing culturally relevant curriculum and resources supports community and student needs and has led to an education system that is better serving North Dakota students. And the numbers appear to bear out her assessment. ND DPI data show the education gap between Native and non-Native students is shrinking, with Native student scores and graduation rates improving.

“Tribal schools or schools with a high number of Native students have increased their graduation rate,” said Fredericks. “The National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for our Native American students have increased, and certain schools have increased in their North Dakota Assessment scores. Those are some of the positive things coming out of being able to provide these resources.”

Stakeholders roundly agree that other states with large populations of racial or ethnic groups, not just Native American, can benefit from the use of this guide to ensure the cultural relevance of assessment results and any potential supports provided by a school or district. Chadwick Kramer, Indian education program coordinator for Bismarck Public Schools and member of the Standing Rock tribe, has been integral in developing student feedback groups to support further iterations of the survey. He explained the importance of the guide for his district.

“I think [the guide] really provides us a tool to respond to some of the issues that may crop up in our district,” said Kramer. “We’ll hear those things, I think, through a tool like this. It’ll be captured and it’ll be written down, and then we can work on it as a district.”

Of course, the work is not done. As mentioned, ND DPI, supported by REL Central, is incorporating students into the review process for the assessment and action plan–a move it hopes will lead to more relevant supports.

“I think it is really, really important to hear from our students,” said Fredericks. “They are the ones who are in the schools. They are the ones who can tell us if they have someone to reach out to. They can tell our teachers and administrators if what is being taught in the schools is really meeting their needs and if it is being culturally responsive to their needs.”

Click here to download your own copy of the guide.