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Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008

NCES 2008-084
September 2008

Language and Ceremonies


About 20 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children ages 5–17 spoke a language other than English at home and 3 percent spoke English with difficulty in 2006. In 2007, about one-third of 8th-grade children reported participating in American Indian/Alaska Native ceremonies or gatherings several times a year.

Figure 5.4a. Percentage of children ages 5–17 who spoke a language other than English at home and who spoke English with difficulty, by race/ethnicity: 2006
Percentage of children ages 5–17 who spoke a language other than English at home and
who spoke English with difficulty, by race/ethnicity: 2006
NOTE: These percentages represent the percent of the total population for that particular subgroup. For example, 20 percent of all American Indians/Alaska Natives spoke a language other than English at home and 3 percent of all American Indians/ Alaska Natives spoke a language other than English at home, and spoke English with difficulty. To determine whether respondents spoke English with difficulty they were asked if each child in the household spoke a language other than English at home. If they answered "yes," they were asked how well each child could speak English. Categories used for reporting were "very well," "well," "not well," and "not at all." All those who were reported as speaking English less than "very well" were considered to have difficulty speaking English. This presentation of the data is consistent with analyses conducted by the Census Bureau and other agencies, as well as those of the National Center for Education Statistics (see, for example, Shin and Bruno 2003; Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics 2008; and U.S. Department of Education 2008). Analysis conducted in support of the presentation found substantial differences between those who responded they spoke English "very well" and those who spoke English less than "very well" (Clark, Raines, and Jackson 2003). Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The Condition of Education 2008 (NCES 2008-031), based on U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2006.

Figure 5.4b. Percentage distribution of 4th- and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students reporting use of traditional languages within families, by grade: 2007
Percentage distribution of 4th- and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students
reporting use of traditional languages within families, by grade: 2007
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The Educational Experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native Students in Grades 4 and 8 (NCES 2008-458). National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), National Indian Education Study (NIES), 2007.

Figure 5.4c. Percentage distribution of 4th- and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students reporting attendance at American Indian/Alaska Native ceremonies and gatherings: 2007
Percentage distribution of 4th- and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students
reporting attendance at American Indian/Alaska Native ceremonies and gatherings: 2007
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The Educational Experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native Students in Grades 4 and 8 (NCES 2008-458). National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), National Indian Education Study (NIES), 2007.

In 2006, 20 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children ages 5–17 spoke a language other than English at home. A smaller percentage of American Indians/Alaska Natives than Hispanics or Asians/Pacific Islanders reported that people in their homes spoke a language other than English (20 percent vs. 69 and 63 percent, respectively). The percentage of American Indians/Alaska Natives reporting another language spoken at home was larger, however, than that of Whites (6 percent) and Blacks (5 percent).

In 2006, some 3 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children spoke English with difficulty, compared with 18 percent of Hispanics and 17 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. The percentage of children who spoke English with difficulty1 for both the White and Black groups was 1 percent.

In 2006, the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students who qualified for limited-English-proficient (LEP) services (9 percent) was smaller than the percentage for Hispanic (36 percent) and Asian/ Pacific Islander students (22 percent), but higher than the percentage for White (1 percent) and Black (2 percent) students.

American Indian/Alaska Native students who speak a language other than English may speak a tribal language. There are now about 200 American Indian/ Alaska Native tribal languages, many of which are disappearing as speaking communities (Krauss 2007). Twenty-seven percent of American Indian/ Alaska Native children in the 4th grade and 29 percent in the 8th grade reported use of a traditional language at home at least half of the time in 2007. Use of a traditional language at home at least half the time was more common for students in schools with a high density of American Indian/Alaska Native children enrolled, compared to those with a low density. 2 For example, higher percentages of 4th- and 8th-graders in high-density schools (36 and 45 percent, respectively) reported using a traditional language at home at least half of the time than did 4th- and 8th-graders in low-density schools (19 percent and 15 percent, respectively). In addition, smaller percentages of 4th- and 8th-graders in high-density schools (34 and 29 percent, respectively) than those in low-density schools (54 and 60 percent, respectively) reported they never used a traditional language at home.

In 2007, some 33 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children in the 4th grade reported that they attended American Indian/Alaska Native ceremonies or gatherings several times a year. The reported frequency of attendance by 4th-grade students at these ceremonies did not differ significantly between students attending schools with high and low densities of American Indian/Alaska Native students. Thirty-five percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children in the 8th grade reported that they attended American Indian/Alaska Native ceremonies or gatherings several times a year. In grade 8, a higher percentage of students in high-density schools (44 percent) than in low-density schools (27 percent) reported attendance at such ceremonies several times a year.

View Table View Table 5.5a View Table View Table 5.5b

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1 Respondents were asked if each child in the household spoke a language other than English at home. If they answered "yes," they were asked how well each child could speak English. Categories used for reporting were "very well," "well," "not well," and "not at all." All those who were reported as speaking English less than "very well" were considered to have difficulty speaking English. This presentation of the data is consistent with analyses conducted by the Census Bureau and other agencies, as well as those of the National Center for Education Statistics (see, for example, Shin and Bruno 2003; Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics 2008; and U.S. Department of Education 2008). Analysis conducted in support of the presentation found substantial differences between those who responded they spoke English "very well" and those who spoke English less than "very well" (Clark, Raines, and Jackson 2003).
2 School density indicates the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students enrolled. High-density schools are schools where American Indians/Alaska Natives account for 25 percent or more of the total enrollment. Low-density schools are schools where American Indians/ Alaska Natives account for less than 25 percent of the total enrollment.

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