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American Indian Education Research Alliance

About the Alliance

Research has repeatedly shown that schools serving American Indian (AI) students face myriad challenges and have lower educational outcomes than schools serving non-Native student populations. Issues such as low postsecondary readiness, low achievement, and high rates of absenteeism are pervasive in many AI schools. The REL Central region is home to many AI tribes, and SEAs are focusing on closing these persistent gaps in outcomes. The American Indian Education Research Alliance (RA) focuses on projects supporting South Dakota and North Dakota in better understanding the issues facing schools as they implement solutions. The alliance has two areas of focus: Needs Assessment; and Culturally Responsive Instructional Strategies. These areas of focus work together to support the long-term goal of connecting AI students and communities to schools in order to reduce disparities in outcomes.

Focus Areas

Data Use Icon

Needs Assessment: focuses on developing a needs assessment process to support NDDPI’s strategic goal of reducing the disparity in achievement for AI students.

Preparation and Support Iconn

Culturally Responsive Instructional Strategies: focuses on evaluating culturally responsive instruction projects to ensure progress toward the long-term goal of improving AI student outcomes.

Summary of Related Projects


 Infographic: Integrating an American Indian Student Needs Assessment Survey Into Your Current or New Initiatives
You may be thinking about how to better support American Indian students and engage the community, but where do you start? This infographic shares key steps for developing or adapting a needs assessment survey to better understand the strengths, challenges, and needs of schools serving American Indian students.

American Indian Needs Assessment
Closed Project
The landscape of education for American Indian students is both rich in its assets and complex in its needs. Native communities bring a deep sense of connection, relationships, and knowledge to their children’s education. However, research has repeatedly shown that American Indian students, for myriad reasons, lag behind their peers in postsecondary readiness, academic achievement, and school attendance. The American Indian Needs Assessment Survey provides a technically sound and culturally appropriate needs assessment tool to help educators better understand the unique strengths and needs of schools serving American Indian students. State and local education agencies can use this tool to identify and monitor the needs and successes of those schools. For example, they may leverage survey information to identify target areas of need for which additional resources, such as professional development activities, curricular materials, instructional strategies, and research articles that can be provided to schools.
Research Tools: Guide to Conducting a Needs Assessment for American Indian Students (2020)

Technical Support

Developing a Needs Assessment for American Indian Students in South Dakota
Open Project
The South Dakota Office of Indian Education is committed to understanding the strengths of and challenges faced by schools serving American Indian students. REL Central will support the office in developing a culturally responsive needs assessment process. This process will include collaborating with community members to create teacher and administrator surveys that are grounded in technical quality and cultural appropriateness. REL Central will also assist the partners in interpreting survey data and using the data to identify evidence-based strategies to support schools. After completing the project, the partners will be better positioned to collect, interpret, and use data to support schools serving American Indian students.

Taking the North Dakota Needs Assessment and Action Plan into Practice
Open Project
Improving outcomes for American Indian students, such as school attendance, academic achievement, and postsecondary readiness, is a high priority for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI). To address this priority, and to better understand the needs of American Indian students in North Dakota, NDDPI worked with REL Central to develop the North Dakota Native American Needs Assessment Surveys (administrator, teacher, and student versions). REL Central and NDDPI also collaborated to develop an action plan that includes evidence-based strategies and resources districts can use to understand and address the identified needs. NDDPI now seeks to expand awareness and use of the surveys and action plan among teachers, Title VI coordinators, and administrators. For this project, REL Central will support NDDPI by providing practitioner trainings to help teachers understand how to use the action plan, focusing on the strategies and resources related to the top two identified needs: culturally relevant curriculum and instruction, and social-emotional learning. REL Central will also provide trainings to help Title VI coordinators and school and district administrators understand how to use the needs assessment surveys and action plan as part of their school improvement processes. Coordinators and administrators will also learn how to better support teachers’ use of the action plan. As a result of this project, NDDPI will have a cadre of teachers, Title VI coordinators, and administrators who can demonstrate and promote the use of the needs assessment surveys and action plan among their colleagues within and outside of their districts.

Identification and Support for the Education Needs of American Indian Students in North Dakota
Closed Project
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) needs to strengthen its Native American Needs Assessment Survey in order to understand the most prominent issues in American Indian schools and identify strategies to remediate those concerns. REL Central is partnering with NDDPI to review the survey and identify additional respondents or items that may help to provide critical evidence of American Indian needs. It will also aid the partners in locating evidence-based research that can help schools address the identified needs.

Technical Support

Data Collection and Analysis Plan for American Indian Education Programs in South Dakota
Closed Project
This project addresses the South Dakota Department of Education (SD DOE) need to understand the relationship between the implementation and the intended short- and long-term goals of the Native American Achievement Schools program. REL Central is partnering with SD DOE to create an evaluation plan to guide its staff in measuring, collecting, and analyzing data related to the programs, both of which can potentially inform initiatives in states and schools with American Indian students.

Evaluation of the North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings (NDNAEU)
Open Project
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) advocates for lessons aligned to the North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings (NDNAEU) in schools across the state. NDDPI anticipates that NDNAEU-aligned lessons will decrease achievement gaps between American Indian students and non-Native students. REL Central is guiding NDDPI partners in developing a comprehensive evaluation plan to examine the implementation of the NDNAEU-aligned lessons. The project will build NDDPI’s capacity to use the evaluation findings to inform program improvement and monitor progress toward its long-term goal of enhancing education outcomes for American Indian students.