The 20th Arizona Indian Town Hall recommended that implementation of the state's new academic standards tests by delayed until 2013, after the current crop of kindergarten students has learned what they need to pass the test. They also want the tribes and state to conduct research to determine whether standardized testing acceptably measures Indian academic achievement.
The Indian Town Hall, held in Phoenix on June 20-21, is hosted by the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs. The forum brings together Indian and non-Indian leaders, practitioners, and interested community members to discuss and make recommendations about issues vital to Arizona's 21 tribes and urban Indians. This year's topics were language instruction, and the impact of the Arizona's Instruments to Measure Standards (AIMS) test on Indian students.
Discussions turned heated Wednesday morning as the 100 participants, representing 17 tribes, state education officials, school board members, parents and one high school students, worked to form a consensus on the controversial test.
"Nobody's ready for AIMS," including non-Indian students, declared University of Arizona's American Graduate Center Director Glenn Johnson. "This test was sprung on schools without the chance for them to prepare." Like many of the participants, Johnson, a Cherokee, said he is in favor of standards; however, he thinks the graduation requirement needs more study before implementation.
Only three percent of Indian high school students who took the test in 1999 passed, while 12 percent of students passed statewide. High school students must pass the AIMS test to obtain a diploma.
Dr. Robert Roessel, Director of Rough Rock Demonstration School on the Navajo Nation, likened the AIMS test to a 2-mile race, in which non-Indian students started 100 yards from the finish line, while Indian students have to start at the beginning.
"If [the state] has to force people to take the test, they have to provide the means to meet the standards," stressed Roessel.
Arizona ranks near the bottom in per-student funding and in test scores according to a recent Education Week study. Futther, many participants noted that Indian students receive less funding and score lower than the dismal statewide rankings. Arizona Indian Education Consortium member Theresa Price said that Johnson O'Malley (JOM) program funds were frozen in 1995; however, many Phoenix-area schools now have twice as many Indian students who need the education services provided by JOM.
Keynote speakers Melody McCoy, Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, commented on the current state of Indian education in the United States. McCoy noted that local tribal control of schools is contributing to the development of tribal education policy regarding language and culture. She recommended that Arizona tribes look at what other tribes have done to develop their own policy. McCoy pointed to Wisconsin's requirement that sovereignty be taught in public schools, the only such curriculum in the nation.
Other recommendations of the panelists:
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) should study relevant Native American language/cultural legislation in other states for development of similar policy in Arizona.
ADE should incorporate Indian history, sovereignty and treaty instruction into the social studies curriculum in all Arizona schools.
The state should grant credential waivers to tribal elders and community members to teach local tribal culture and language for academic credit.
Proposed "English-only" initiatives should be strongly opposed.
ADE should revisit and ensure compliance with Federal laws governing Indian education rights.
The present curriculum of 'math, English, sports' neglects the vital factors, language and culture instruction, that keep tribal cultures alive and vibrant.
Indian students should receive more Federal funding, especially Title I monies set aside for socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
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