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Ask a REL Response

Supporting Academic Performance of Native American Students — February 2021


Could you provide research on the factors that support academic performance or achievement in Native American, American Indian, Native Alaskan, or other indigenous populations in the United States?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on factors that support academic performance and/or achievement of Native American, American Indian, Native Alaskan, or other indigenous populations in the United States. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Apthorp, H. S., D’Amato, E. D., & Richardson, A. (2002). Effective standards-based practices for Native American students: A review of research literature. Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). Full text available from

From the abstract: “This report reviews education programs and practices that have improved Native American student achievement in English language arts and mathematics. In Navajo tribal schools, teaching Indigenous language and literacy first, followed by teaching English and promoting bilingualism, helped students perform well on tests of vocabulary, comprehension, and writing. In Hawaii, a culturally congruent English language arts program significantly improved Native Hawaiian children’s achievement in reading. Emphasis on comprehension over mechanics and phonics allowed children to learn in ways that were congruent with their everyday experiences outside of school. The use of ethnomathematics, based on the same principles of cultural congruence, led to improved student achievement for Native Hawaiian children and Alaskan rural middle school students. All these programs required extensive collaboration and time. Although limited in scope, the evidence suggests that congruency between the school environment and the culture of the community is critical to educational success. Collaborative research and development efforts, carried out at the local level, are needed. Seven action steps are recommended in this regard.”

Center on Standards and Assessments Implementation (CSAI). (2016a). Improving educational outcomes of American Indian/Alaska Native students. WestEd. Full text available from

From the abstract: “In light of national efforts to increase the number of students who graduate with college and career ready skill sets in the United States, attention has been focused on improving the outcomes of all students. While this focus has brought additional attention to improvements in pedagogy and learning environments, it has also highlighted the achievement gaps that continue to persist across racial and ethnic groups. In particular, the educational outcomes of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) students continues to draw attention. These continuing achievement disparities highlight inadequacies in previous efforts to ameliorate gaps in educational outcomes deficiencies, as well as efforts to improve the college and career readiness of all students. As part of efforts to improve outcomes for all students, broad improvement plans that adequately understand and address the needs of AI/AN students are necessary. In its non-regulatory guidance on selecting and implementing evidence-based strategies, the U.S. Department of Education (2016) emphasizes the importance of using evidence as a basis for choosing strategies tied to improved student learning. This guidance document highlights evidence-based strategies that address achievement by means of school environment—examining how elements of the environment can be changed to better support AI/AN students. The guidance provided includes an overview of evidence-based strategies for incorporating pedagogy and policies that encourage improvement in AI/AN student outcomes. A comprehensive approach for supporting AI/AN students encompasses the classroom, school, and community environments.”

Center on Standards and Assessments Implementation (CSAI). (2016b). The state of American Indian education today. WestEd. Full text available from

From the abstract: “In 2014, President Obama and the American Indian Education Study Group called for major changes to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), which has been under increasing criticism for the continued low performance of AI students within its jurisdiction (American Indian Education Study Group, 2014). Among these changes are shifts in BIE governance of schools, expanded partnerships with the private sector, and federal payment for BIE teachers to become certified through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (Maxwell, 2014). This report reviews recent research and publications on AI student outcomes, as part of CSAI’s efforts to support diverse learners, including AI students. It discusses AI demographics, academic achievement, types of schools attended, high school graduation rates, college and career readiness, absenteeism, suspension, expulsion, coursework, diverse needs, school climate, international similarities, and student beliefs. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its possible implications for AI education.”

Chelberg, K. L., & Bosman, L. B. (2019). The role of faculty mentoring in improving retention and completion rates for historically underrepresented STEM students. International Journal of Higher Education, 8(2), 39–48. Full text available from

From the abstract: “There is a growing recognition of the need for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers who provide diverse perspectives enabling companies to keep up with the demands of the 21st-century workforce. Creating a diverse workforce requires improving access to STEM education for historically underrepresented students, including low-income students and first-generation students. However, significant challenges and barriers exist. The purpose of this paper is to showcase an innovative approach to mentoring historically underrepresented STEM students which integrates photovoice and photo-elicitation. This new approach in mentoring takes student ‘participation’ one step further by asking students to document and share their lived experiences through photographs (e.g., photovoice). Then, photo-elicitation is used to further engage students in discussing what led to their subsequent empowerment in leveraging successes or overcoming barriers. The study was conducted with 19 participants who were primarily American Indian students attending a small college in Wisconsin, USA. The findings suggest students benefited from the mentoring program and perceived it as an enriching learning experience which aided in goal development, accountability, and an opportunity to learn more about strategies for student success. The implementation of this new approach and the results gathered from this study are important as they may inform educational leaders and postsecondary institutions serving historically underrepresented STEM students on supports and strategies that could be carried out on their campuses.”

Demmert, W. (2001). Improving academic performance among Native American students: A review of the research literature. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This literature review examines research-based information on educational approaches and programs associated with improving the academic performance of Native American students. A search reviewed ERIC’s over 8,000 documents on American Indian education, as well as master’s and doctoral dissertations and other sources of research on the education of Native Americans. Selected research reports and articles were organized into the following categories: early childhood environment and experiences; Native language and cultural programs; teachers, instruction, and curriculum; community and parental influences on academic performance; student characteristics; economic and social factors; and factors leading to success in college or college completion. The status of research and major research findings are reviewed for each of these categories; brief summaries of research findings with citations are included following the review of each category.”

Demmert, W., McCardle, P., & Mele-McCarthy, J. (2006). Preparing Native American children for academic success: A blueprint for research. Journal of American Indian Education, 45(3), 92–106. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Part of a special issue focusing on a National Colloquium on improving academic performance among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students. The writers review some evidence from background reports addressing Native American students’ academic performance and approaches to enhancing that performance and present a blueprint for future research in this area.”

Jesse, D., Northup, J., & Withington, A. (2015). Promising education interventions to improve the achievement of Native American students: An annotated bibliography. West Comprehensive Center at WestEd. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to identify interventions, and supporting research that may benefit educators in their efforts to close the American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) achievement gap. It examines promising programs, policies, practices, and processes related to improving academic and nonacademic outcomes for AI/AN students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Collectively, the articles relate to a broad range of indigenous peoples, including American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Studies touch on Indians living on reservations, students in Bureau of Indian Education schools, students in tribally controlled schools, and English language learners. The 32 articles are categorized as follows: (1) School Improvement; (2) Literacy, Mathematics, and Science; (3) Language and Culture; (4) Behavioral and Social-Emotional Interventions; and (5) Parent, Family, and Community Involvement.”

Keith, J. F., Stastny, S., Agnew, W., & Brunt, A. (2017). Effects of a culturally relevant educational intervention on retention among American Indian tribal college students. Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education, 29(1). Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “American Indian and Alaska Native students experience the lowest rates of college retention and graduation at four-year institutions in the United States. They often face a variety of barriers to completing their education that may be similar to other ethnic groups while also overcoming obstacles that are culturally specific. However, AI/AN students bring diverse personal and culturally rich skills and attributes that provide strength and motivation to persevere in the face of those challenges. The Life Skills at a Tribal College (LSTC) class, an educational intervention utilizing a culturally relevant curriculum aiming to improve participants’ general self-efficacy and college retention rates, had a positive impact on AI/AN tribal college student retention on a semester-to-semester basis. Participants in the LSTC class, despite enrollment in a targeted educational intervention, did not improve general self-efficacy or within-semester retention rates. Although short-term retention improvements were lacking, long-term retention improvements were shown as semester-to-semester retention rates were significantly higher for those who completed the course compared to overall rates at the tribal college, and compared to those who did not complete the Life Skills at a Tribal College (LSTC) class. Strategies to assist AI/AN students with identifying personal strengths and achieving successful academic experiences should be the focus of current program planning and future research in institutions of higher education.”

Keith, J. F., Stastny, S. N., & Brunt, A. (2016). Barriers and strategies for success for American Indian college students: A review. Journal of College Student Development, 57(6), 698–714. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “American Indian and Alaska Native students have a significantly lower college graduation rate than that of other ethnic groups in the United States. These students often face a variety of barriers to the completion of their education. Overcoming barriers for the achievement of an advanced education takes commitment, hard work, and dedication on behalf of the educational institution as well as the student. Identified and tested strategies that address barriers and assist American Indian and Alaska Native students with positive academic experiences can contribute to academic success.”

Kisker, E., Lipka, J., Adams, B. L., Rickard, A., Andrew-Ihrke, D., Yanez, E. E., & Millard, A. (2012). The potential of a culturally based supplemental mathematics curriculum to improve the mathematics performance of Alaska Native and other students. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 43(1), 75–113. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “A randomized controlled trial conducted in Alaska examined the efficacy of 2 second-grade modules of the reform-oriented and culturally based Math in a Cultural Context (MCC) teacher training and curriculum. The results show that the ‘Picking Berries’ (representing and measuring) and ‘Going to Egg Island’ (grouping and place value) modules significantly improved students’ mathematics performance. The analysis also revealed that the impacts were broad based and significant for most of the subgroups of schools and students examined.”

Lohse, C. D. (2008). Striving to achieve: Helping Native American students succeed. National Caucus of Native American State Legislators. Full text available from

From the preface: “In July 2007, the Education Committee of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (NCNASL), commissioned a study of the academic performance of American Indian, Alaska Native (AI/AN) and Native Hawaiian students. In addition to the study, the NCNASL Education Committee convened an Education Policy Summit in September 2007 to bring together key stakeholders to develop policy recommendations for state legislators, tribal leaders and education policymakers. This report is the result of the commissioned study and the policy recommendations developed during the policy summit. While the study was being written, the Education Committee of NCNASL met several times to discuss the preliminary results and the best ways to disseminate the findings. A consistent theme in these discussions was the importance of culture in learning. Members of the Caucus felt a strong need to protect Native cultures, especially in the school environment. Both case studies and qualitative studies have demonstrated the educational benefits of culturally based education. Although the Education Committee of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators felt that future studies are likely to demonstrate that a strong commitment by schools to culturally based education improves achievement, members also felt that existing studies were insufficient to solidly promise that end. The Caucus, therefore, encourages future studies to examine the link between culturally based education and achievement to determine how public schools can re-establish native language and culture and simultaneously leverage gains in achievement for Native students. The Caucus also feels strongly that the reasons to attend to culturally based education go beyond potential achievement benefits. Culturally based education is an important part of a general quality education.”

Mackety, D. M., & Linder-VanBerschot, J. A. (2008). Examining American Indian perspectives in the Central Region on parent involvement in children’s education (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2008–No. 059). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Parent involvement is recognized as an important factor in encouraging student achievement. However, a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that in public schools with 25 percent or more American Indian students, teachers identified lack of parent involvement as one of their schools’ three most serious problems. At an August 2007 meeting, state-level policymakers identified as a high priority the need for research-based assistance on American Indian education and ways to close the achievement gaps among ethnic groups. To begin to address the regional need to close the achievement gap for American Indian students and specifically to effectively engage American Indian parents in their children’s education, parent perceptions about involvement are needed. The purposes of this study were to examine how Central Region American Indian parents perceive parent involvement and to understand what encourages or discourages their involvement. Two Central Region communities were selected for data collection, based on expressed interest of the state education administrator and the support of the state Office of Indian Affairs. Additional criteria for selection included high populations of American Indian students and permission from school district administrators. Forty-seven self-selected American Indian parents, reflecting seven tribes from nine reservations, participated in five focus groups. An interview protocol guided focus group discussions around four main research questions: (1) What do American Indian parents perceive as parent involvement in their children’s education? (2) Why do American Indian parents get involved? (3) What do parents perceive as barriers to involvement? and (4) Which school strategies do parents perceive encourage involvement? Many aspects of American Indian parent involvement were largely consistent with the literature on parent involvement in the general population as well as in other minority cultures. This study found that parent involvement was additionally influenced by parent-school differences in values and communication styles, perceptions of cultural competency in the staff and curricula, and a history of American Indian education policy of coercive assimilation that continues to influence parents. The challenges of increasing American Indian parent involvement reside in the overlay, and sometimes clashing, of cultures in the public schools. The study provides an initial step toward understanding American Indian parent involvement: it is pointed out that findings reflect the perspectives of American Indian parents; not those of school personnel. The report is intended for researchers, educators, and parents of American Indian students, as a basis for further research and informed dialogue to increase American Indian parent involvement and student academic achievement.”

Martinez, J. P. (2017). New Mexico’s academic achievement gaps: A synthesis of status, causes, and solutions. A white paper. Online Submission. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The Center for Positive Practices (CPP) conducted an analysis and synthesis of K–12 educational achievement gaps in New Mexico. The white paper was requested by the New Mexico based Coalition for the Majority, which includes various institutions, organizations and individuals supporting the New Mexico English Learner Teacher Preparation Act. The purpose of this paper is to review and synthesize some current research preferably conducted in New Mexico regarding the achievement gap faced by two academically lower-achieving ethnic sub-groups: Hispanic/Latino and Native American students. These ethnic populations account for about 60 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of the state public education system. Based on NAEP results, New Mexico school children have for more than 20 years performed lower than the national average in what are often considered the fundamental subjects of mathematics, reading, writing, and science. With just a few exceptions, New Mexico frequently ranks near the bottom across grades and academic subjects when compared to all 50 U.S. states. When disaggregated both nationally and within-state, results show that the studied ethnic groups consistently perform at lower levels. Because of the multivariate nature of achievement gaps in education, the author finds that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that would solve the equity issues across the state’s many districts and schools. Current national and statewide strategies are not producing adequate solutions for reducing the gaps. CPP suggests that schools need to combine in-school action research with external guidance to find solutions at the school level. The state system should also increase relevant training and supports in action research strategies for the stream of future leaders and emerging experts we place into education. Doing so will improve their performance capabilities for their respective roles as active researchers, analysts, strategists and evaluators (i.e., experts) in their specific contexts, which includes the classroom level.”

Morgan, H. (2009). What every teacher needs to know to teach Native American students. Multicultural Education, 16(4), 10–12. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Many Native American students have problems in traditional American schools, and the dropout rate of Native American students indicates this (Lomawaima, 1995; Rhodes, 1988). Researchers often point out that one reason students may encounter difficulties in school has to do with a school district’s neglect for the learning style or culture of a given group. In this article the author discusses the culture and learning styles of Native American students and offers educational practices that will likely aid this group of students to work to their potential. The author argues that in order to teach Native Americans in a way that reflects their culture, teachers must realize that Native American students are often taught differently at home than are mainstream students, but that Native American children can also differ greatly from each other. In order for Native American students to reach their potential in school, it is recommended that teachers understand those students’ preferred ways of learning.”

Nelson-Barber, S., & Trumbull, E. (2015). The Common Core initiative, education outcomes, and American Indian/Alaska Native students: Observations and recommendations. Center on Standards and Assessments Implementation (CSAI) at WestEd. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This monograph explores the ways in which large-scale school reform efforts play out in American Indian/Alaska Native communities and schools, starting from a historical and cultural perspective, and focusing on the translation of research into concrete steps leading to American Indian/Alaska Native student academic success and personal well-being.”

Ninneman, A. M., Deaton, J., & Francis-Begay, K. (2017). National Indian education study 2015: American Indian and Alaska Native students at grades 4 and 8 (NCES 2017-161). National Center for Education Statistics. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The National Indian Education Study (NIES) is administered as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to allow more in-depth reporting on the achievement and experiences of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in grades 4 and 8. This report focuses primarily on two themes identified during the development of the NIES survey questionnaires: (1) To what extent are AI/AN culture and language part of the curricula?; and (2) To what extent are school resources available for improving AI/AN student achievement? The student survey questions selected for this report asked AI/AN students about the knowledge they had of their Native culture and language and their opportunities to learn more. Teacher survey questions asked teachers how they acquired and integrated culturally responsive materials, activities, and instruction into their lessons to enhance student learning. Questions from the school administrator survey asked school officials about how often members of the Native community participated in school events with students, parents, and teachers.”

Oakes, A., & Maday, T. (2009). Engaging Native American learners with rigor and cultural relevance. Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement at SEDL. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Currently, the federal government administers several programs that aim to address the ‘unique educational and culturally related academic needs’ (Title VII, Part A, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 2002) of Native American students. What does this mean for today’s teachers and learners? Unfortunately, the drive to significantly raise student achievement can overshadow or take attention away from efforts to make education more relevant and engaging for Native American students. Fortunately, growing evidence shows that academic rigor and culturally relevant practices are mutually compatible. This Issue Brief identifies strategies that foster Native American student engagement and improved academic achievement. The authors begin by examining the distribution of Native students and then we explore three areas that are identified in the literature as promising strategies for improving educational outcomes for Native students: (1) Instructional practices; (2) Curriculum content; and (3) School climate.”

Rampey, B. D., Faircloth, S. C., Whorton, R. P., & Deaton, J. (2019). National Indian Education Study 2015: A closer look (NCES 2019-048). National Center for Education Statistics. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The National Indian Education Study (NIES) is designed to describe the condition of education for fourth- and eighth-grade American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the United States. NIES is conducted under the direction of the National Center for Education Statistics on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education. This follow-up report focuses on two major concerns that have been raised throughout the first decade of NIES: (1) What contextual factors are associated with higher- and lower-performing AI/AN students on NAEP mathematics and reading assessments? and (2) How do AI/AN students see themselves in terms of their Native languages, culture, and aspirations for the future? First, the report examines various factors associated with AI/AN students who performed at or above the 75th percentile and below the 25th percentile (i.e., ‘higher-performing’ and ‘lower-performing’ AI/AN students). Second, the report explores results derived from the combination of multiple related survey questions (i.e., composite variables) centered around Native language exposure, knowledge and interest in Native cultures, and academic engagement and expectations. The results presented in this report are focused on the responses of fourth- and eighth-grade AI/AN students to selected survey questions. Approximately 8,500 fourth-graders and 8,200 eighth-graders participated in the NIES 2015 student survey. The survey results displayed are reported as percentages of AI/AN students attending schools that varied in the proportion of AI/AN students within their student population—low AI/AN density public schools (less than 25 percent of students were AI/AN), high AI/AN density public schools (25 percent or more of students were AI/AN), or Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools.”

Regional Educational Laboratory Central. (2018). REL Central Ask-A-REL response: What instructional strategies support academic achievement for American Indian students? U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Full text available from

Excerpt: “Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question (i.e., What instructional strategies support academic achievement for American Indian students?) The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines.”

Reyhner, J., & Carjuzaa, J. (2017). Affirming identity: The role of language and culture in American Indian education. Cogent Education, 4(1), 1–7. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “With the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, the United States spent millions upon millions of dollars in a largely unsuccessful effort to close the academic achievement gap between American-Indian and some other ethnic minorities and mainstream Americans. NCLB’s focus on teacher quality and evidence-based curriculum and instruction and subsequent reform efforts have largely ignored the negative effects of American popular culture and assimilationist, English-only educational efforts on Indigenous children, which can attack their identity and lead to cultural disintegration rather than assimilation into the dominant culture. This article examines recent American Indian and Hawaiian efforts at language and culture revitalization in schools and how those efforts have helped students to develop a strong sense of identity and show more academic success. These recent efforts focus on human rights and are in line with the United Nations 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”

SEDL. (2014). Support and strategies for enriching achievement of Native American students. Information request. Author. Full text available from

From the abstract: “One of the states served by the Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC) requested the center’s assistance in compiling information regarding educational support for Native American students. To obtain this information, SECC staff contacted 16 states that have state agency contacts for Indian Education and/or that indicate a population of more than 4,000 Native American (NA) students (U.S. Department of Education, 2008, 2014). The center requested the following from the 16 state departments of education (SDEs), with respect to Native American students: successful strategies and related policies that states, schools, and school districts have implemented to support and enrich academic performance, specifically to: (1) Improve graduation rates; (2) Reduce dropout rates; (3) Reduce student suspensions; (4) Increase enrollment in upper level high school courses; (5) Increase enrollment in extracurricular activities; and (6) Increase family engagement. This report begins with a discussion of the procedures for selecting materials for this report, general limitations of the resources, details regarding the states’ responses and summaries of the selected resources. Further discussion of state-based efforts to support Native American students and recommendations for enriching achievement of this student group occur in the references of this report. Resource summaries are also provided.”

Spier, E. S., Garibaldi, M., & Osher, D. (2012). Listening to the voices of engaged and disengaged Alaska Native and non-Native students. American Institutes for Research. Full text available from

From the abstract: “What makes a school a place where Alaskan students want to be and want to do well? Why do students stay in school or drop out? And what do Alaskan students believe that schools can do to help them succeed? Researchers at AIR present the answers, provided directly by students in 2010 and 2011, to these questions. Students were asked to describe what made a school a place where they would want to be and would want to do well. Students identified five areas of school life that were especially influential: Supportive adults; Physical and emotional safety; Student-centered teaching approaches; Opportunities to learn and engage; and Food quality. Students also identified aspects of school life that affected engagement in education: Personal problems; Family engagement; Relevance; Teacher expectations; and School-based problems.”

Stoker, G., Liu, F., & Arellano, B. (2017). Understanding the role of noncognitive skills and school environments in students’ transitions to high school (REL 2018-282). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The purpose of this study was to: examine differences in students’ perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments by race/ethnicity, and explore whether students’ perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments were related to three outcomes that have been identified in the research as mattering most for a success transition to high school—grade 9 GPA, grade 9 absences, and grade 9 course failures. The study used administrative and survey data from students in 14 high schools in New Mexico. Regression analyses were used to investigate differences in students’ responses on scales measuring their perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments. Structural equation modeling was used to assess relationships between students’ perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environments and their grade 9 outcomes. The results of this study revealed significant differences in students’ perceptions of their noncognitive skills and school environment by race/ethnicity. The results also suggest that students’ perceptions of their noncognitive factors and school environments are associated with the grade 9 outcomes. Although no casual relationships can be derived from this study, the results can help schools or districts to determine where they might want to focus some of their efforts with regard to helping students to make successful transitions to high school. Given that Hispanic and Native American students have lower graduation rates, improving the noncognitive skills or school environment factors that are strongly related to grade 9 performance for these groups may well provide a substantial return on investment in dropout prevention.”

Stowe, R. (2017). Culturally responsive teaching in an Oglala Lakota classroom. Social Studies, 108(6), 242–248. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “In response to the widening academic achievement gap between Native American students and other students in the United States, a culturally responsive approach was used in a Native American social studies class with positive results. Eighth-grade Oglala Lakota students in an American History classroom experienced a unit infused with lessons that highlighted Native American culture, history, and values. Students’ knowledge, skills, and culture were used as frames of reference for the teacher, enabling students to personally engage with the content and making learning more meaningful. By incorporating culturally responsive teaching practices into the social studies curriculum, teachers not only give students the opportunity to come face to face with multiple perspectives but students are able to come face to face with their own ancestors, bringing history home, and bringing it to life.”

Van Ryzin, M. J., Vincent, C. G., & 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), 74–101. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Students from American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) backgrounds have typically experienced poor academic and behavioral outcomes. In response, the educational community has recommended that teachers integrate Native Language and Culture (NLC) into instruction to create a welcoming and culturally relevant classroom environment. However, translating this recommendation into practice has been challenging. In this study, we take the first steps toward a formal exploration of the effects of NLC on AI/AN performance by attempting to define a scientifically defensible set of variables that can measure the degree to which teachers and schools make use of NLC in instruction. We used data collected by the National Indian Education Study (NIES) in 2009 and 2011, and conducted exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses with the Student, Teacher, and School (Administrator) Surveys. Contrary to expectations, we found that use of NLC in the classroom was a multidimensional construct: student perceptions differentiated between media-based and live contact; teacher perceptions included both preparation and teaching activities; and, administrator reports included both instructional practices and access to local resources. Implications for further research are discussed.”

Vincent, C. G., Tobin, T. J., & Van Ryzin, M. J. (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. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The Native Community strongly recommends integrating Native language and culture (NLC) into reading instruction to improve outcomes for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. However, little is known about the extent to which recommended practices are used and what might facilitate their implementation. The National Indian Education Study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education surveys teachers of AI/AN students on their instructional practices. This descriptive study builds on previous analysis of survey data, which identified measurable dimensions of NLC in instruction. We now examine (a) the extent to which teachers implement these dimensions and (b) what teacher, classroom, and schoolwide characteristics facilitate implementation. Outcomes suggest that the recommended practices are rarely implemented, and that AI/ANteachers speaking Native language(s) and teaching in classrooms with high AI/AN enrollment located in schools employing AI/AN teachers and staff implement the recommended practices more often. We discuss implications for teacher education and support.”

Warren, J. M., & Locklear, L. A. (2021). The role of parental involvement, including parenting beliefs and styles, in the academic success of American Indian students. Professional School Counseling, 25(1), 1–10. Full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “The present paper uses a rich dataset based on naturally-occurring lotteries for 68 new small non-selective high schools in New York City, which we refer to as small schools of choice (SSCs), to address two related questions: (1) What high school features are promising levers for increasing graduation rates for disadvantaged students? and (2) What high school features helped to produce SSCs’ positive impacts on graduation rates? Our findings provide suggestive evidence that school leadership quality, teacher empowerment, teacher mutual support, teacher evaluation and feedback, teacher professional development, data-driven instruction, teacher/parent communication, academic rigor, personalized learning, and teacher/student respect are promising levers for increasing graduation rates for disadvantaged students. Our findings also provide suggestive evidence that many of these school features explain part of the total average SSC effect on graduation rates, although most of this average effect remains unexplained. Lastly, our findings indicate that SSCs are clearly distinguishable from their counterfactual counterparts in terms of school features that were emphasized by SSC funders.”

Whitesell, N. R., Mitchell, C. M., & Spicer, P. (2009). A longitudinal study of self-esteem, cultural identity, and academic success among American Indian adolescents. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(1), 38–50. Full text available from

From the abstract: “A study investigated the influence of self-esteem and ethnic identity on the academic achievement of American Indian high school students. A latent growth curve model was designed to estimate developmental trajectories of self-esteem and cultural identity. Data were collected from 1,611 participants who were involved in the Voices of Indian Teens project, a three-year longitudinal study of adolescents from three different American Indian cultural groups in the western U.S. Findings revealed that trajectories of self-esteem were clearly associated with academic achievement. In contrast, cultural identity was found to be largely unrelated, with no direct influences and only minimal indirect effects. Findings indicated that personal resources and problem behaviors mediated the relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement.”

Woodworth, K., Chow, K., Chen, W. B., Anderson, L. M., Butler, A., Turnbull, B., Brayboy, B., & Hirshberg, D. (2019). Implementation of the Title VI Indian Education Formula Grants program. Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, U.S. Department of Education. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The Title VI Indian Education Formula Grants program represents the U.S. Department of Education’s largest investment in addressing the unique academic and cultural needs of American Indian and Alaska Native children. The program is aimed at supporting services that (1) are responsive to the unique cultural, language, and educational needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students and (2) help these students meet academic standards. School districts, tribes, Indian organizations, Indian community-based organizations, and Bureau of Indian Education schools receiving this grant are required to consult with parents and local tribes in the effort to shape grant-funded services that supplement and enrich regular school programs. This study examined the nationwide operations of the Title VI grants program to inform the field about the strategies grantees used in their implementation of the grant projects. Specifically, the study addressed the following questions: (1) What services do Title VI grants support?; (2) How do grantees work with stakeholders to identify program-eligible children and plan services to meet the needs of those children?; and (3) How do grantees measure progress toward their project objectives?”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAAPISI) –

From the website: “The AANAAPISI program, one of eight federally designated Minority Serving Institution (MSI) programs, was established by Congress in 2007 as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. It was expanded in 2008 under the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The AANAAPISI program provides grants and related assistance to AANAAPISIs to enable such institutions to improve and expand their capacity to serve Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islanders and low-income individuals.”

REL West note: The AANAAPISI has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Nguyen, M. H., Espinoza, K. J., Gogue, D. T., & Dinh, D. (2020). Looking to the next decade: Strengthening Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander serving institutions through policy and practice. Online Submission. Full text available from

National Indian Education Association (NIEA) –

From the website: “The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) was formed in 1970, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Native educators who were anxious to find solutions to improve the education system for Native children. The NIEA Convention was established to mark the beginning of a national forum for sharing and developing ideas, and influencing federal policy. NIEA adheres to the organization’s founding principles: 1) to bring Native educators together to explore ways to improve schools and the schooling of Native children; 2) to promote the maintenance and continued development of Native languages and cultures; and 3) to develop and implement strategies for influencing local, state, and federal policy and policymakers.”

REL West note: The NIEA has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Lara, J. (2011). Voices of native educators: Strategies that support success of native high school students. National Indian Education Association. Full text available from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“Native American” OR “American Indian” OR “Native Alaskan” OR “indigenous American”) AND (“academic performance” OR “academic achievement” OR “academic success”) AND (research OR practices OR strategies OR interventions OR factors)]

[(“Native American” OR “American Indian” OR “Native Alaskan” OR “indigenous American”) AND (“culturally responsive approach” OR “culturally relevant education” OR “educational support”) AND (research OR practices OR strategies OR interventions OR factors)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review. In addition, two studies that were published before that date (2001 and 2002) were included because of their relevance to the request.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.