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

This report examines both the current conditions and recent trends in the education of American Indian and Alaska Natives using statistical measures. It presents a selection of indicators that illustrate the educational achievement and attainment of American Indian and Alaska Natives. Over the past 20 years, American Indians/Alaska Natives have made gains in key education areas, such as increased educational attainment. However, gaps in academic performance between American Indian/Alaska Native and White students remain.

In the past, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has produced synthesis reports on minority and other groups. NCES has also produced a series of reports based on the 1990–91, 1993–94, and 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Surveys (SASS) that focus on characteristics of American Indians/Alaska Natives in elementary and secondary education, and also a report on American Indians/Alaska Natives in postsecondary education (Gruber et al. 2002; Pavel and Curtin 1997; Whitener 1995; Whitener et al. 1997). Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives is part of a series of reports that also includes Status and Trends in the Education of Blacks (Hoffman and Llagas 2003) and Status and Trends in the Education of Hispanics (Llagas 2003).

This report is organized into the following four sections: Demographic Overview; Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education; Postsecondary Education; and Outcomes of Education. The data in this reports draws on many different surveys, including from the National Center for Education Statistics –

Universe Surveys:

  • Common Core of Data, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey
  • Higher Education General Information Survey
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Fall Enrollment Survey, Spring Survey, and Completions
Sample Surveys:
  • Early Childhood Longitudinal Study
  • High School and Beyond Longitudinal Study of 1980 Sophomores
  • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
  • National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 and Education Longitudinal Study of 2002
  • National Postsecondary Study Aid
  • Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS)
  • Schools and Staffing Survey
In addition to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, this report draws from federal agencies and other organizations, including:
  • American College Testing Program (ACT): ACT – universe survey
  • College Board: Advanced Placement Program and SAT – universe surveys
  • Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics: report based on data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Live Births and Infant Deaths – universe survey
  • U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau: Census 2000– universe survey; American Community Survey and Current Population Surveys (CPS) – sample surveys
  • U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights, Elementary and Secondary School Survey and Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) – universe surveys
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): National Vital Statistics – universe survey; National Immunization Program and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Youth Risk Behavior Survey – sample surveys
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Office of Applied Studies, National Survey on Drug Use and Health – sample survey
  • U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): Office of Indian Education Programs (OIEP) – universe survey
Most of the data presented in this report were collected in surveys that allowed respondents to self-identify their race and ethnicity. This report uses the term American Indian/Alaska Native in accordance with the definition used by the agency that gathered the data. The definitions used by different agencies are described below:
  • Department of Commerce, Census Bureau: Prior to 2000—anyone having origins in any of the original peoples of North America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment;
    Decennial Census of 2000 and thereafter—includes the above definition and anyone having origins in any of the original peoples of South America.
  • Department of Education:
    For programs—anyone having origins in any of the original peoples of North America (including Central America) and maintaining cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition, including federally and state recognized tribes.
    For survey data collection—anyone having origins in any of the original peoples of North America (including Central America). The definition includes American Indians from South America in recent collection years of sample survey data.
  • Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA):
    Anyone who is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe. Through the BIA’s acknowledgment process, tribal groups may be given federal recognition as Indian tribes, making their members eligible to receive services provided to Indians (U.S. Department of the Interior 1999). Members of federally recognized tribes, therefore, do not include all persons who may self-identify themselves as an American Indian or Alaska Native.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for the standards that govern the categories used to collect and present federal data on race and ethnicity. The OMB revised the guidelines on racial/ethnic categories used by the federal government in October 1997 with a January 2003 deadline for implementation (Office of Management and Budget 1997). The revised standards require a minimum of these five categories for data on race: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. In addition, the category “more than one race” (respondents could select one or more race categories) was introduced in the 2000 Census and was used in the Current Population Surveys (CPS) (beginning in 2003) collected by the Census Bureau (U.S. Department of Commerce 2001).

This report presents several indicators using data in which the category “more than one race” was available. In these indicators, the term “alone” (e.g., American Indian/Alaska Native alone) represents data for respondents who selected a single race category, and the term “in combination with one or more other races” represents data for respondents who selected more than one race category. For indicators where the “more than one race” option was not available, the race category represents respondents who selected one race category.

It should be noted that White, Black, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaska Native are considered races, while Hispanic origin is considered an ethnicity. Therefore, persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Race categories presented in this report exclude those persons of Hispanic origin (who are presented as a separate category), unless otherwise noted. Indicators with race categories that include Hispanic origin are noted explicitly. These tables and figures include one of the following notes:

“Includes American Indians/Alaska Natives of Hispanic origin” or “Race groups include persons of Hispanic origin.”

The relatively small size of the American Indian and Alaska Native population poses many measurement difficulties when using statistical data. Even in larger surveys, the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives included in a sample population is often small. Researchers studying data on American Indians and Alaska Natives often face small sample sizes that reduce the reliability of results. Survey data for American Indians and Alaska Natives often have somewhat higher standard errors than data for other racial/ethnic groups (Cahalan et al. 1998). Due to large standard errors, differences which may seem substantial are often not statistically significant and, therefore, not cited in the text.

Data on American Indians and Alaska Natives are often subject to inaccuracies that can result when respondents self-identify their race/ethnicity. Indeed, research on the collection of race/ethnicity data suggests that the categorization of American Indian and Alaska Native is the least stable self-identification (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] 1995). The racial/ethnic categories presented to a respondent, and the way in which the question is asked, can influence the response, especially for individuals who consider themselves of mixed descent. These data limitations should be kept in mind when reading this report.

Technical Note

This report includes data from both universe and sample surveys, as is indicated in the list of surveys earlier in this report. In the case of the universe data all relevant units are included in the data collection. Thus, there is no sampling error and observed differences are reported as true. In the case of sample surveys, a nationally representative set of respondents is selected and asked to participate in the data collection. Since each sample represents just one of many possible samples that could be selected, there is error associated with any sample. To avoid reaching false conclusions about differences between groups or differences over time measured by sample survey data, sampling error is taken into account in statistical tests that are conducted to support statements about differences. Thus, all statements about differences in this report are supported by the data, either directly in the case of universe surveys or with statistical significance testing in the case of sample survey data. In addition, there are occasional references to apparent differences that are not significant. All significance tests of differences are tested at the .05 level of significance. Several test procedures were used, depending on the type of data interpreted and the nature of the statement tested. The most commonly used test procedures were: t tests, equivalency tests, and linear trend tests. The t tests were not adjusted to compensate for multiple comparisons being made simultaneously. Trend tests were conducted by evaluating the significance of the slope of a simple regression of the annual data points, and a t test comparing the end points. Equivalence tests at the 0.15 level were used to determine whether two statistics were substantively equivalent or different by using a hypothesis test to determine whether the confidence interval of the difference between sample estimates was significantly greater or less than a preset substantively important difference (Tryon 2001). In most cases involving percentages, a difference of 3.0 percentage points was used to determine substantive equivalence or difference. In some indicators involving only very small percentages, a lower value was used. A difference of 1.5 percentage points was used to determine equivalence of the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native dropouts between years (Indicator 3.3), of the percentages of students who reported watching 6 or more hours of television or videotapes each day (Indicator 6.4), and of unemployment rates (Indicator 8.2). For other indicators involving only relatively large values, a larger value was used; a difference of $1,000 was used in the case of the amount of financial aid (Indicator 7.3) and median annual income (Indicator 8.3).

A "! Interpret data with caution" symbol in tables and figures represents data cells with a high ratio of standard error to estimate (0.20 or greater); therefore, the estimate may be unstable.

Standard error tables for this report are available on the list of tables.

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