This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner Home Page About ANKN Publications Academic Programs Curriculum Resources Calendar of Events Announcements Site Index This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

The Indian Child Goes To School




It is natural and inevitable, we suppose, that people generally should be interested in comparing school children of different races with each other. Certainly any teacher who has worked very long with Indian children is accustomed to being asked by interested or merely curious laymen to make such comparisons. Most often the teacher is asked whether the Indian pupil is as intelligent as his white classmate. This is indeed a difficult question to answer, for the inquirer usually has no intention of sitting patiently while the teacher explains that anthropologists and ethnologists are pretty well agreed that race alone is not a determining factor in intelligence and that no one race has a monopoly on all the brains in the world. The questioner becomes increasingly restless as the teacher goes on to say that we have no really suitable tests for measuring the intelligence of Indian pupils since the ones available are based largely on English verbalism and are loaded with questions pertaining to the dominant culture of the country. The chances are good that all the questioner really wanted to know was whether Indian children do "as well" in school as non-Indian children. Many laymen tend to equate school success with intelligence; that is, they assume that intelligence is the sole factor which influences learning. This is far from true. Some of tile other factors which are believed to influence learning will be discussed in Chapter VI. .

In any case no intelligence test data were obtained in the present study. The tests used were achievement tests. Achievement tests seek to measure how much or how well a child has learned. Intelligence tests attempt to discover his mental capacity for learning.

Why Intelligence Tests Were Not Given

Some readers may feel that, inasmuch as intelligence is admittedly an important factor in the learning process, not attempting to measure it was a serious omission. The plain fact is that, in the opinion of the investigators, a valid measurement of the intelligence of pupils was not possible in the present study. First of all, it would have been necessary to use a group test which could have been scored by machine. Furthermore it would have hall to be usable for children from arc nine years to adulthood. Nearly all group intelligence tests are highly verbal. Those which claim to be non-verbal in content must rely on verbalism in the giving of directions. Nearly all intelligence tests, individual as well as those of the group type, contain items drawn from the major culture of the country. This, it was felt, would operate against the underacculturated groups in the study, both Indian anti white. No instrument was found which satisfied all of the requirements and contained none of the disadvantages mentioned above.

Differences in the Measuring of Intelligence and Achievement

We accept the concept of innate mental capacity, which differs qualitatively and quantitatively from individual to individual, as a valid one. It would he very helpful in educational situations if we could measure it as such. In truth, however, we have never been able to do this. From the moment of birth environmental influences begin to act upon the individual. These do not change his innate capacity but they prevent the accurate measurement of it. The same language handicaps or other cultural disadvantages which adversely affect the educational achievement of a child would tend to influence his intelligence test scores. Achievement tests on the other hand are designed to cover material which presumably has been “taught” in school. By use of them we simply seek to discover how much the child has learned. They are not invalidated merely because the learner faces learning disadvantages, so long as the content is consistent with the courses of study and the learning goals of the school which the child attends. No such validity can be claimed for a verbalized, culture laden, group test which purports to measure the innate mental capacity of an under-acculturated child.


As was described in Chapter 11, the population of Indian children in the present study was composed of pupils in three different types of schools: Federal, public, and mission. Through the generous and excellent help of many public and mission school administrators and teachers, rather large numbers of Indian pupils were tested in both public and mission schools, as well as a large number of white children in public schools. Table 4-a shows the composition of the entire population tested by areas, grades, and race-school groups.

Does Type of School Administration Affect Achievement?

Again it is inevitable that there should be interest in the relative levels of achievement of Indian pupils in the three types of schools. There is a rather popular supposition that these school types differ from each other quite radically in point of curriculum, qualifications of teachers, teaching methods and materials, and educational goals, simply because they operate under separate administrative authorities. These differences are more often imaginary than real as anyone who takes the trouble to investigate will discover. This is particularly true for the elementary grades and for the basic skills which were measured in this study. It would be more logical and accurate to assume, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, that all three types of schools draw upon the common pool of educational “know how” which has been developed in American schools.

()f course, it is necessary for the school, of whichever administrative type it may be, to modify its instructional program to meet the needs of those pupils who enter school unable to speak any English or who speak it poorly. Federal schools in the Phoenix, Albuquerque, Billings, and Muskogee Area have a high percentage of such beginning pupils as do mission schools in the Phoenix and Albuquerque Areas. Public schools have faced this problem less frequently than have the Federal and mission schools. It is mandatory that instructional procedures, techniques, and materials be adapted to the needs of the non-English-speaking beginner.


Nevertheless, and in spite of what has been pointed out in the section lust preceding. the four race-school groups do arrange themselves .into a fairly definite hierarchy or order of achievement as follows:

1. White children in public schools

2. Indian children in public schools

3. Indian children in Federal schools

4. Indian children in mission schools

Method of Establishing the Hierarchy

Table 4-b shows the hierarchy for each of the areas separately. These were determined by exactly the same method employed in Chapter III in determining the hierarchy of achievement for the six areas. Here a comparison was made of the mean raw scores of the race-school groups for each of the six skills, and total score, for each of the nine grades in each area. One minor exception to this occurred in the Billings Area where there were no Federal school pupils in grades eleven and twelve, and so they could he compared with the other race-school groups only through grade ten. Normalized standard scores were assigned to the ranks of the means for race-school groups in each grade. These scores were then averaged for each group. Except where noted in Table 4-b, differences between the means of standardized scores assigned to race-school groups were statistically significant.1

Table 4-a

Table 4-a

Two Exceptions to the General Hierarchy

An inspection of Table 4-b will reveal that the Phoenix and Billings Areas conform exactly to the general hierarchy outlined above. So do the Anadarko and Muskogee Areas, except that there were no mission school pupils tested in those areas.

In the Aberdeen and Albuquerque Areas, however, exceptions to the general hierarchy of achievement do occur. In the Aberdeen Area the over-all achievement of Indian pupils in mission schools did not differ significantly from that of Indian pupils in public schools. Both groups were significantly lower than white pupils in public schools and significantly-higher than Indian pupils in Federal schools. In the Albuquerque Area, again there was no significant difference in the over-all achievement of the Indian groups in mission and public schools, but the Indian pupils in Federal schools were significantly higher than both. They, in turn, were significantly lower than the white pupils in public schools. Data shown and-discussed later in Chapter VI will suggest partial explanations for these departures from the general hierarchy.

Tables of raw score means and tables of differences in means among the race-school groups are shown in Appendix C. These are shown by areas, by grades, and by skills. A careful examination of these tables by the reader will disclose that they support the hierarchies as shown in Table 4-b. Raw score mean differences which are statistically significant are so indicated.


It must be remembered that the hierarchy of achievement referred to above rests upon comparisons of the race-school groups on seven different skills in nine different grades; sixty-three in all for each area. The hierarchy of achievement, then, is a general one and simply reflects the rank ordering of race-school groups which was most typical of these comparisons. In many of the sixty-three comparisons in each area, the order of achievement was different from the general hierarchy.

Average, and Below and Above Average Pupils, Shown by Percentages

The writers hope that in Figures IV-1 through IV-42 a more meaningful method of depicting differences in achievement among the several race-school groups has been found than would result from an examination of the bare tables of raw-score means. In these figures much the same scheme is employed as was used in Figures III-4 through III-12 in the preceding chapter. The principal difference is that here the various race-school groups are compared, within each area, with the norm group of that area. Such norm groups are composed of all the children tested in a-given grade in that area. In Figures III-4 through III-12, it will be recalled, a composite norm group made up of all the children in a grade in this study was used for purposes of comparing achievement in the several areas.

Let us use Figure IV-1 as an example. We will consider the middle 68 percent of the scores of all the fourth-grade students who were tested on reading vocabulary in the Phoenix Area to be average, the lowest 16 percent to be below average, and the highest 16 percent to be above average. By comparison, then, we reach the following conclusion about the white pupils who attended the fourth grade in public schools: 53.3 percent were average, 18.7 percent were below average, and 28 percent were above average.



1. White pupils in public schools
2. Indian pupils in public schools
3. Indian pupils in Federal schools
4. Indian pupils in mission schools

1. White pupils in public schools
2. Indian pupils in public schools
3. Indian pupils in Federal schools
4. Indian pupils in mission schools

1. White pupils in public schools
2-3 Indian pupils in mission schools) No significant Indian pupils in public schools ) difference
4. Indian pupils in Federal schools

1. White pupils in public schools
2. Indian pupils in Federal schools
3-4 Indian pupils in public schools ) No significant Indian pupils in mission schools) difference

1. White pupils in public schools
2. Indian pupils in public schools
3. Indian pupils in Federal schools

1. White pupils in public schools
2. Indian pupils in public schools
3. Indian pupils in Federal schools


Variations in Rank and Percentages; Overlapping Achievement of Pupils

An examination of these figures will reveal that the relative positions of the several race-school groups differ from the general hierarchy on certain skills and in certain grades. It will further disclose that the percentages of pupils who are average, or above or below average, differ for each race-school group from skill to skill and from grade to grade. And, finally, the reader will observe the overlap in level of achievement among pupils of the different groups, with some pupils in each group achieving; higher or lower than some pupils in each of the other groups.


What are some of the implications of the general hierarchy of achievement of the race-school groups? An obvious one is that generally the basic skills of Indian pupils are not yet as well developed as arc those of White children. This is not a new finding for the studies by Peterson2 and by Anderson,3 et al, revealed the same thing.

In general, also, Indian children attending public schools achieved hither in the laic skills than did those attending Federal or mission schools, although notable exceptions to this pattern have been observed in the Albuquerque and Aberdeen Areas. What account for the general superiority in achievement of public school Indian pupils over the other two groups? Is it because the public schools arc “better” schools? Are public school Indian pupils “better taught?” There are always persons who are quick to leap to such a conclusion even though no reputable accrediting agency evaluates the quality of a school on the basis of the scores its pupils make on a standardized achievement test. Accrediting agencies recognize that in different schools the pupils themselves may vary widely in point of cultural background. Accrediting agencies, rather, establish certain evaluative criteria,4 concerning such things as professional training of teachers, curricula, and teaching materials, which they believe to be the hallmarks of a good school. To the extent that a school measures up to these criteria, or falls short of them, it is considered a good school or a poor one.

The Quality of the School

Of course, some schools are of much better quality than others. These differences are very wide and they occur over the entire United States ill all types of schools. Usually the duality of the school is of the sort that the people of the local community demand and can or will pay for. To assume, however, that a school of a given administrative type possesses or lacks qualities of excellence, per se, is to stray far wide of the mark.

Difference in Cultural Background

Some differences in cultural background of the three Indian groups in this study will be discussed in detail in Chapter VI. These differences, in the opinion of the writers, have more to do with level of achievement than does mere attendance in a school of a certain administrative type.

Inter-Area Comparisons

The comparison of achievement of the several race-school groups need not stop at area boundary lines. It is very enlightening to make inter-area comparisons. For example, the average achievement of Indian pupils in Federal schools in the Muskogee and Aberdeen Areas coincides almost exactly at every grade level. On the other hand the average achievement of white pupils in public schools in the Aberdeen Area was significantly higher at every grade level than that of white pupils in the public schools of the Muskogee Area. This means, of course, that the white and the Indian pupils are much more like each other with respect to the basic skills in the Muskogee Area that they are in the Aberdeen Area.

Figure IV-1

Figure IV-2

Figure IV-3

Figure IV-4

Figure IV-5

Figure IV-6

Figure IV-7

Figure IV-8

Figure IV-9

Figure IV-10

Figure IV-11

Figure IV-12

Figure IV-13

Figure IV-14

Figure IV-15

Figure IV-16

Figure IV-17

Figure IV-18

Figure IV-19

Figure IV-20

Figure IV-21

Figure IV-22

Figure IV-23

Figure IV-24

Figure IV-25

Figure IV-26

Figure IV-27

Figure IV-28

Figure IV-29

Figure IV-30

Figure IV-31

Figure IV-32

Figure IV-33

Figure IV-34

Figure IV-35

Figure IV-36

Figure IV-37

Figure IV-38

Figure IV-39

Figure IV-40

Figure IV-41

Figure IV-42

It is also of interest to note that Indian pupils in Federal schools in the Anadarko Area achieve on the average at about the same level as white pupils in public schools in the Albuquerque Area in grades four through nine. Furthermore, the average achievement of Indian pupils in Federal schools in the Anadarko Area is at least its high as it is for Indian pupils in public schools in the Billings Area in grades four through nine. In turn, Indian pupils who attend mission schools in the Aberdeen Area achieve on the average at least as high as public school Indian pupils in the Billings Area at every grade level. An examination of the tables of mean raw scores in Appendix C will verify the accuracy of the above statements.

The comparisons made in the two paragraphs preceding are by no means exhaustive but surely they support the contention that type of school, alone, is not a controlling factor in determining level of achievement of pupils.

Some Conclusions

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has committed itself to a policy of' arranging for the transfer of Indian children from Federal to public schools as rapidly as is feasible. This transfer has been going on for many years and is at present being accelerated. One reason for this is that public education in America has historically and traditionally been a state, and local function. As Indian people become integrated with the non-Indian community around them, their children will attend the schools provided by that community. Furthermore, it seems logical to suppose that as Indian children associate daily with non-Indian children they will learn from them. This undoubtedly happens in most cases.

The logic expressed above is trot necessarily irrefutable ill all cases, however. The social climate of the school to which the Indian child transfers needs to be hospitable and sympathetic. Teaching materials and methods need to be adapted to the needs of the Indian child if his needs are different from those of his non-Indian classmates. Otherwise he may he repelled by his school experience rather than helped by it. In any case the unique contribution which the public school can make to the Indian child, and which the Federal school is unable to make, is the opportunity to associate with and learn from the non-Indian pupils.

It would seem wise for the Bureau to evaluate as carefully as it can the relative levels of educational achievement and acculturation of the pupils of both the Federal and the public school before Indian pupils are transferred from one to the other. By so doing it might avoid educational and cultural gaps which tend to operate against the success of Indian pupils and may contribute to their dropping out of school.

1 At the .01 level of confidence.
2 Shailer Peterson. 1948. How Well Are Indian Children Educated: Haskell Institute Press.
3 Kenneth E. Anderson, E. Gordon Collister and Carl E. Ladd. 1953. The Educational Achievement of Indian Children.
Haskell Institute Press.
4 For example, the Evaluative Criteria established by the Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards and used by
such accrediting agencies as the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 17, 2006