Left Behind: American Indians/Alaska Natives and Education

It is a commonly accepted idea that the educational system is failing our kids. In the eyes of many, our test scores and high school graduation rates are unsatisfactory. This seems to be especially true with Alaska Native and American Indian youth. According to he National Indian Education Association, a non profit that tackles issues in education for American Indians, of all Alaska Natives and Hawaiian Natives youth:ansep

– 69% received a high school diploma within four years
– 19% of 9th grade females received special education services
– 40% attended a school that did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress
– 72% of 4th graders were eligible for free-or-reduced lunches
– In 2010, only 12% of young adults (25-34) had a bachelors degree

These are just a few of the statistics the website gives. Both the states Oregon and Alaska had some of the lowest high school graduation rates for AI/AN youth at 52% and 51% respectively. AI/AN students make up 20% of the student population in Alaska, and as someone who grew up in the state of Alaska, it is impossible to ignore such a large percentage of the population who is being so greatly left behind by the educational system.

An article from the Huffington Post lists many reasons for these disparities, including lack of materials that relate to the students’ cultures, the presence of culturally-insensitive images and stereotypes in schools, and over-representation of AI/AN students in high schools lacking education that may prepare them for careers and/or college after school.

There are some programs in place that are trying to combat these disparities. One is the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP). The name is pretty self explanatory- it helps students be prepare to receive degrees in that would allow them to go into STEM careers. The program lists several goals they wish to have every high school student accomplish such as “completing biology, chemistry, physics, trigonometry, and Calculus 1 before high school graduation” and “teaching another student how to build a computer” – pretty impressive goals for any high school student. After they enter college, they continue the University portion of the program.

Want to get Involved?
There are many ways to get involved to help AI/AN success. If you thought ANSEP seems like an awesome program you want to support, they takes donations on their web page. NIEA also takes donations, as well as lists job and internship opportunities. For further reading, check out:

Huffington Post article with more statistics
The Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success (CLASS) Act

Microaggressive Media: Why it Matters to You


Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, Vine, Pinterest; isn’t the list of social media exhausting? Yet, it is such a prominent part of our society today, that’s probably why they call it social media. We are bombarded with chances to check our sites on our phones, computers, and tablets at all times of the day seeing content from friends, pages, and websites. It is no wonder that race makes an appearance on this stage.

While scrolling through my News Feed on Facebook one day I came across a BuzzFeed article that caught my attention. The title? 21 Questions Asian People are Sick of Answering (Check it out here 

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At the time I read this article, I laughed, and as I was reading an article about microaggressions this week, well, let’s say it all fell into place. I’ve gotten the “Where are you really from?” question more times than I can count and as a 5th generation Japanese American, sometimes I just want to scream, “I AM FROM HERE! THE US! JUST LIKE YOU!” Then they often ask if I speak Japanese, and well, I hate this question because I really wish I did, but my family has been here for over a hundred years and we immigrated to Hawaii. So long story short, I know just as many Hawaiian words as I do Japanese. The point is, I’ve never went up to one of my friends that are not Asian and asked them these questions upon meeting them for the first time. It seems a little ridiculous. This BuzzFeed article is just the tip of the microaggression iceberg. It seems that these jabs that happen against people of all races and backgrounds are really a thing, and a serious one at that. Check out this article on microaggressions by Tori DeAngelis. The catch-22 aspect she is describing is something that is very real, often times these microaggressions are micro, people don’t know they are causing harm to another person, so even if confronted, nothing changes and no apology is made.

In a round about way I am relating this all back to social media and in a little bit I will bring it back to education, since this was the place that I first saw the BuzzFeed article, but perhaps the vast majority of you reading this post can remember times when you have seen people acting out these microaggressions of race on social media. Pictures, memes (those pictures with words on them that are everywhere), and sometimes the words people post can qualify as microaggresions.

In society, racial inequality is a struggle in our schools, in government, and in everyday life, but the struggle is also very present on social media and that is why it needs to be noticed. So many youth have social media and have been targeted through it or they may see these microaggressions and start to think of them as normal and acceptable. In this way, it can come back into our schools almost as a deadly virus. Check out this article on why some people are letting racial bullying slide on social media. I encourage you to read this article completely because it will open your eyes, but here is an excerpt to get you hooked.

“A recently deleted Twitter account, for example, was not trolling. We’ll call the tweeter “Becky.” After she dropped some truly classic white privilege nonsense onto Twitter bemoaning the restraints of her whiteness and how the reverse racism of Black Twitter kept her from being “included,” she deleted her Twitter account. But Becky was not a troll. Becky, however misguided and ridiculous, was just a young woman with a severe case of white privilege and a deep lack of education on racism and intersectionality. When she tweeted about how unfair it was that Black Twitter excluded her from their conversations, she wasn’t stirring the pot and waiting gleefully for outraged replies to fill her mentions. She was just tweeting the regular stuff that I’ve heard many white people who are uneducated about racism and privilege say: “I have something I want to say about the way I think racism works, but because I’m white, black people don’t listen to me! It’s not fair. That’s reverse racism.”

“I write a lot about white privilege, race, and racism, and I — like everyone else who writes about these issues — get a lot of hate mail, although certainly less than writers of color who write about the same topics. Daily I receive ignorant tweet after ignorant tweet, book-length emails telling me what an idiot I am, comments on my blog calling me a race traitor (yawn) and an ugly bitch (sigh), and messages to my fan page on Facebook calling me names that would make a pirate blush. It used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore. My block hand is strong (pow!) and my “Report As Spam” reflex is cat-like. But something else does bother me, and it’s that vast number of people who dismiss this online racist behavior with slightly exasperated statements such as “It’s the Internet,” or (the most common, given my favorite social platform), “It’s just Twitter.”

No, it’s not. This is the world.”

So the big questions. How do we fight this? And how can we bring this knowledge back to education? 

1. Learn about microaggressions for yourself and be on the lookout for them. They’ll pop up on your social media, without a doubt.

For real life examples, check out The Microaggressions Project  and their tumblr. Check out their facebook here.

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Here’s this cool buzzfeed article about it too.

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And one more article for good measure.

2. Speak up! Use that block button, don’t let these microaggressions pass you by. Share these articles with your friends, family, co-workers. I didn’t know that getting asked “Where am I really from?” is called a microaggression. Learn and then tell others what you have learned.

3. Get involved. This is where the school aspect comes in. Cyberbullying and bullying in general is still a huge issue in our schools today. Not only bullying, but just providing education about cultures, ethnicities, privilege, and inclusion need to be prominent aspects of what we teach in our education system.That exerpt from the article about letting racial comments slide on social media talked about a girl who simply wasn’t educated about privilege and didn’t know what it meant. If we teach these lessons in our schools we can avoid these situations.

Stop Bullying is the government’s website against bullying

PPS has a page on their policies and resources about bullying

Stand for Courage is a local bullying advocacy group here in the PDX area

Check out Stand for Children, an organization dedicated to having all children succeed, regardless of their background.

I firmly believe that the first step to change is knowledge and have that knowledge spread across our schools, neighborhoods, cities, counties, the nation, and the world. We can’t afford to be passive about it or think that someone else is going to do it. You need to do it.


Practicing What is Preached: Inclusion


Practicing What is Preached


There are so many readings and lessons regarding the acquisition of culturally sensitivity. How do we integrate these into our lives and into our classrooms? A large part of this is self-awareness: understanding and overcoming biases and assumptions in ourselves that transfer into the classroom and our work with children and youth. Biases that interfere with educational outcomes extend beyond ethnicity, such as gender, weight, age and disability biases. Check out the link below to take a short test to identify possible biases you may have.


A factor that enables us to learn cultural biases is social segregation.  This plays out educationally as we are segregated ethnically, socioeconomically, and developmentally.  Students receive “pull out,” services rather than inclusion in the classroom. Teachers work in a compartmentalized fashion, rather than collaboratively.

There is a movement toward inclusion in the classroom. A middle school in Beaverton, Oregon, which has a high percentage of ELL students, is moving toward a common core model, were the ELL teacher is collaborating with the core teachers to better serve the students. Check this article out for more information:


Special education is another area of segregated education. Children are either pulled out to receive specialized education or held in self-contained classrooms, with part-time opportunity for inclusion to general education classes. Separating populations denies all learners the benefits of diverse peer influences. It is also another cog in the segregation machine, propagating the lack of cultural understanding and diversity needed to overcome the culture of power influences, assumptions, and judgments plaguing our educational system and society as a whole. Check out this article to learn more about special education inclusion:


I encourage you to think broadly about cultural sensitivity and the root and permeation of cultural hierarchy. Perhaps, when our children experience inclusive education; interacting with a diverse population of learners, it will help to bring about thoughtful consideration and respect, qualities inherent in cultural understanding.

How School Works (or Doesn’t): Standardized Testing pt. 3

This is the third post from a 4-part series on Standardized Testing. The group includes Megan Coleman, Rebecca Hamilton, Rocielle Perez and Jen Watt.

Last week, we had some guests from Northwest Evaluation Association join us in class for a discussion around student assessments. We heard about the differences between adaptive assessments and standardized tests, ways in which assessments can be used to inform instruction and how bias and sensitivity can affect each test item and/or student who takes an assessment.

Adaptive assessment is a type of testing in which the questions presented to the test-taker are selected on the basis of the previous responses. Correct answers lead to harder questions; incorrect answers lead to easier questions. Adaptive assessments require special procedures for computing students’ scores because so many different combinations of questions are possible. Standardized assessments are tests in which the content and format of the test are controlled to make them the same for all students. Controls also include the conditions of the test such as timing, directions, use of calculators. Exceptions may be made for test takers with disabilities.

Assessments can be used to inform instruction by assessing a student’s skills before and during instruction. Testing a student’s skills prior to instruction (at the beginning of the school year, for example) allows the teacher to plan an effective strategy for each student or group of students. Testing during instruction (at the midpoint of the school year) allows the teacher to see if the instruction is effective and if they need to make any adjustments. Using assessments at various stages of instruction and then utilizing the results to plan a strategy is called formative assessment. There are other components of formative assessment that can be used in conjunction with tests to get a full picture of where a student is performing. Some examples are: observations, peer and self assessments, discussion, questioning and journaling. In contrast, summative assessment is typically used only after instruction to determine whether it has been effective. 

When thinking about test bias and sensitivity, it is absolutely necessary to avoid unfair barriers to success based on differences in knowledge unrelated to the purpose of the test. Some examples of this include:


Words and phenomena limited to a region or certain regions of the country and words that carry different meanings in different regions (e.g., “hero” for “sandwich,” “snow days” at school, “tonic” or “pop” for “soda,” “muffler” as an article of clothing, “bubbler” for “water fountain.”)


Test items requiring knowledge of any particular religion are unfair. For example, to say that something is “as colorful as an Easter egg” may be an unfamiliar comparison for some students.

Holidays and Birthdays

Not all students will be familiar with every religious or quasi-religious holiday (e.g., Halloween) and not all students celebrate birthdays. Mention of holidays and birthdays is acceptable as long as all of the information necessary to answer items is included in the test item but it is important to consider how this may impact student performance.

Before this class discussion, the issue of test bias and sensitivity had never really occurred to me and it is very interesting to consider how every aspect of a test item can influence the way a student answers – from language used within the test item to the topics that are covered throughout the entire test.

After exploring these topics through our class discussion and being able to read more about the different type of assessment, I wonder: if teachers are already overwhelmed with the content they are responsible for teaching, class size and the ever-changing demands of each student, how can they move toward utilizing formative assessments to benefit their students (and themselves)?





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Hold the Right People Accountable

No Child Left Behind has been so widely publicized for so many years, and yet I never really understood it. Reading Chapter 6 of Diane Ravitch’s The Death And Life Of The Great American School System; How Testing And Choices Are Undermining Education I was fascinated by the idea that NCLB was brought about with the intent of helping students and holding schools accountable for their success, and yet the policies seemed so ridiculous. All of our schools are charged with this Sisyphean task, and are punished for being unable to fulfill their roles, while also being given little support from the government. Our schools are supposed to have reached 100% proficiency in only a year, and the chances of this happening are slim.

So then, is it a failure of our schools, for not doing what they were supposed to? Or is it a failure of our government, for setting unreachable goals?