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Study shows Oregon tribal students doing poorly

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A study shows many tribal children do poorly in Oregon public schools, in part because they're frequently absent and their schools often show up at the bottom of state rankings.

The study was paid for by the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

The study was done by the research and consulting company ECONorthwest and overseen by the Chalkboard Project, an education reform organization. The Oregon Department of Education gave the research firm access to otherwise confidential student records to compile a database.

Among the findings reported by the Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1mLaoa6):

— Only about 40 percent of Oregon students who are official members of a federally recognized tribe can do math at grade level, and only about half read at grade level in elementary and middle school.

— Just 59 percent of tribal students in the class of 2011 earned a diploma within five years of starting high school, compared with 72 percent of all Oregon students.

— During 2011-12, a third of the tribal students were "chronically absent," missing 10 percent of school days or more. Other studies show that students who miss that much school are unlikely to read or do math at grade level or to earn diplomas.

— About 30 percent of tribal students are enrolled in schools near the bottom of state rankings based on test scores and graduation rates. Statewide, 7 percent of students are in such low-ranked schools.

The study found that about half of the tribal students live in rural areas and another third live in small towns, with the remainder in cities or suburbs.

Seven of Oregon's nine federally recognized tribes and tribal confederations took part in the study: the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua, the Burns Paiute, the Klamath, the Grand Ronde, the Siletz, the Umatilla and the Warm Springs.

Two of Oregon's smaller tribes did not participate: the Coquille and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw.

"It is disturbing to see that so many tribal member kids all across our state are not getting an effective education," said Kathleen George, director of the Spirit Mountain fund. "It feels like they are out of sight and out of mind."

The study authors urged tribes and state policymakers to consider working with foundations or nonprofits to find a strategy to cut tribal children's chronic absenteeism rate in half. That would likely require changes in both schools and tribal households, the study said.

"We need to help foster a change in culture to help our children understand that showing up in school every day is the path to success in school and later in life," George said. She said they will work "to help children see school as a place that is important, that is a path to success and where they feel valued and see the value for them."

The study showed that only a small number of the students who identify themselves for school records as Native American are enrolled tribal members.

The tribes in the study have about 3,200 students in Oregon public schools, while school records show 67,000 students statewide are solely or partly Native American.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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