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Report finds low graduation rate for Natives
Thursday, February 26, 2004

Native American students at public high schools only have a 50-50 chance of graduating, according to a study released on Wednesday that contradicts how states measure drop-out rates.

By looking at student enrollment per year, the non-partisan Urban Institute has come up its own way of determining the graduation rates of the nation's students. In many cases, they differ wildly from the numbers reported by the states.

But regardless of the method used, American Indians and Alaska Natives finish school at rates far below their White and Asian counterparts. According to the study, only 51.1 percent of Native students graduated in 2001, compared to 74.9 percent for Whites and 76.8 percent for Asians. The national average was 68.0 percent.

"Although this finding is consistent with well-known performance disparities in tested achievement, a graduation gap of this magnitude is certainly large by any standard of comparison and should be cause for concern among educational systems committed to achieving equity across student subgroups," wrote Christopher B. Swanson, the author of "Who Graduates? Who Doesn't?"

To calculate graduation rates, Swanson created the cumulative promotion index, or CPI. The CPI is based on the number of students enrolled each year and the number who receive diplomas after four years. In contrast, most states only look at the figures for grade 12.

According to the report, the CPI for American Indian and Alaska Native students varies by region. The lowest was in the Midwest, where only 40.1 percent of Native students graduated. The highest was in the South, where 58.1 percent finished.

State figures varied widely due to incomplete data. Native American students were the only group to have incomplete data for all regions of the country and many states.

Alaska, which has the largest percentage of Natives, saw a 46.5 percent Native graduation rate in the report. California, which has the largest number of Natives, saw a 42.9 percent rate.

One state where Native students outperformed the nation was Oklahoma, which has the second highest percentage of Natives. According to the report, their graduation rate was 63.9 percent. This figure is consistent with other reports and data on SAT and ACT college preparation exams for Oklahoma's Indian students.

Graduation rates for other states with significant Native populations were reported as follows: New Mexico - 60.0 percent; Montana - 45.8 percent; Nebraska - 32.3 percent North Dakota - 52.6 percent; Oregon - 42.4 percent; South Dakota - 32.1 percent; and Wyoming - 34.4 percent. Data for Arizona and Washington was not complete.

Graduation rates are becoming more important in light of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which ties federal funding to student performance. In the report, Swanson said the CPI method satisfies the definitions of the law.

According to the Department of Education, about 500,000 Indian students of all grades attend public schools. Of that number, about 50,000 are in the Bureau of Indian Affairs system.

Get the Report:
Who Graduates? Who Doesn't? (February 25, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA -
Indian School Report Cards, BIA -
National Indian Education Association -

Related Stories:
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Report: Native students falling out of pipeline (09/17)
Native students show gains on college test (08/27)
Nation's report card shows progress for Native students (07/11)
Report card shows Native students falling behind (06/23)
Paige advancing Indian issues at Ed. Dept. (6/16)
Tribal-federal effort targets Indian education (11/15)
Native students show gains on college test (08/28)

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