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North Dakota Native American Needs Assessment Enhancements Bring New Voices to Data

By Joseph Boven | March 22, 2018


Joseph Boven
Joseph Boven – REL Central staff

A new group of voices were heard after the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) included teachers and paraprofessionals in its annual Native American Needs Assessment for the first time. Designed to gather the needs of educators serving Native American (NA) students in North Dakota, results of the survey released earlier this year indicated that more needs to be done to include NA culture in classroom curricula.

NDDPI developed the Native American Needs Assessment to collect input from principals and superintendents on the needs of schools serving large NA student populations. NDDPI analyzes the data to generate a Needs Assessment Action plan that provides a set of strategies aligned to the most pressing needs identified through the survey. That plan is then used to allocate resources through those strategies.

In 2017, in order to gather a more robust understanding of NA school needs, NDDPI decided to expand the range of educators responding to the survey and to ensure the cultural and occupational relevancy of the assessment questions. NDDPI made those enhancements by partnering with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Central, as part of the Native American Education Research Alliance, to facilitate discussion, analyze assessment data, develop its action plan, and finally assess feedback from stakeholders to further refine the assessment and plan.

In augmenting the assessment, NDDPI also drew on the substantial feedback from representatives of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes); Spirit Lake Nation Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians; and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation. Those tribal representatives spoke to the importance of including teachers in the assessment, encouraging cultural understanding of Native traditions, and ensuring culturally relevant material is taught in their schools' classrooms.

One of the tribal representatives, Leander "Russ" McDonald, president of the United Tribes Technical College, commented on the need to provide students with cultural training as a tool to improve student retention rates and academic success.

"If you look at the research that is out there, it is those students who are more knowledgeable in their culture that are more likely to succeed academically," said McDonald.

NDDPI incorporated the concerns of McDonald and other Native representatives into the assessment and developed a separate version of the assessment survey for teaching professionals. In September 2017, the final assessment was administered to teaching professionals and administrators in the state's 29 schools with large populations of NA students and in its four largest school districts. The changes led to over 400 teachers and paraprofessionals taking part in the assessment with more than 150 of those participants from schools with large NA populations.

The responses of both administrators and teaching professionals were tabulated in December 2017. The data showed that both groups, more often than not, were of the same mind regarding the needs of their schools and reflected the concerns of Native stakeholders. For example, teachers and administrators of schools with large NA student populations felt that more resources were needed to better prepare them to discuss NA culture and integrate culturally relevant material into the classroom. The results indicated that more than 40 percent of teachers and 57 percent of administrators wanted professional development in understanding students' Native communities and culturally responsive instruction. Additionally, both groups reported relatively low levels of integration of the North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings (NDNAEU) in their curriculum. The NDNAEU is a collection of lesson plans, developed by NDDPI, Native elders, and other stakeholders, that allow students to learn academic studies through the lens of Native cultural heritage—another area that both groups indicated a desire to learn more about.

Using the information provided by respondents, NDDPI, supported by REL Central, is working to develop an action plan to address the needs laid out by the assessment. Once that work is completed, tribal representatives will once again have an opportunity to comment and make suggestions to further refine the assessment and plan.

Lucy Fredericks, NDDPI's director for the Office of Indian/Multicultural Education, spoke to the importance of the changes being made to the assessment and an inclusive process.

"Regularly enhancing the tools we use to understand the needs of our educators is essential," said Fredericks. "Through the support of REL Central, and by incorporating continued feedback from tribal representatives, the results of this year's assessment provides a more robust and clear picture from which we can develop an action plan to provide schools the additional resources and support needed to assist students in making academic gains."