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Study raises concerns about tribal students

Statewide data reveals lower graduation rates and test scores, higher absenteeism

Chart shows how students enrolled in seven of Oregon’s federally-recognized tribes are graduating at rates lower than their classroom peers.

Graphic by Kathy Huggins

Chart shows how students enrolled in seven of Oregon’s federally-recognized tribes are graduating at rates lower than their classroom peers.

February 04, 2014

GRAND RONDE — The results of a first-of-its-kind study looking into the performance of students enrolled in seven of Oregon's federally-recognized tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, reveal troubling trends.

Among the findings: 75 percent of tribal-enrolled students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, indicating their family income is below 185 percent of the federal poverty level; tribal enrolled students are more likely to be chronically absent (annually missing 10 percent or more days of school); and tribal students lag 13 to 20 percentage points below the state average on math and reading assessments.

The Chalkboard Project, an independent education organization that collaborated on the analysis, released preliminary study data in late January.

Kathleen George, director for the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which paid for the study, said the trends — including absenteeism and that a substantial percentage of tribal students attend underperforming schools — require a swift response.

"The results of the study show that the children of Oregon's tribes are largely being failed by our education system," George said. "Tribal member students are being left substantially behind their peers in math and reading, the critical building blocks for a successful education."

Participating tribes in addition to CTGR were Burns Paiute Tribe, Cow Creek Tribe of Umpqua Band of Indians, Klamath Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Portland consulting firm ECONorthwest performed the study, cross referencing student data from the Department of Education with tribal membership rolls.

Among the more alarming statistic is that only 55 percent of Oregon tribal students in the Class of 2011 graduated on time, compared to 68 percent of non-American Indian students. Of those who didn't graduate, 14 percent remained in school another year, with only 4 percent earning a diploma at the end of that year.

In reading, tribal students score lower on assessments starting the first testing year, third grade, and never completely close the gap. In math, in addition to starting out behind their peers, tribal students tend to lose ground as they progress through school.

However, the study also showed that 2010 high school graduates enrolled in college at roughly the same rates as other students.

A full analysis of the data, including recommendations to improve education outcomes, is due in the spring.

"This analysis is a step forward in understanding the challenges facing the student members of seven of Oregon's tribes," said Sue Hildick, Chalkboard Project president. "We fully expect this report to open up important conversations and lead toward community-driven solutions."

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