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

Stewart L. Udall, Secretary

John O. Crow, Acting Commissioner

Hildegard Thompson, Chief

Distribution Source
Haskell Institute
Lawrence, Kansas
Price: $1.20


The Indian Child Goes To School

A Study of
Interracial Differences


L. Madison Coombs
Educational Specialist, United States Bureau of Indian Affairs

Ralph E. Kron
Research Fellow, University of Kansas

E. Gorgon Collister
Director of the Guidance bureau, University of Kansas

Kenneth E. Anderson
Dean of the School of Education, University of Kansas



Literally hundreds of public, mission, and Federal school administrators and teachers helped conduct this study. It is not practicable to name them all and the authors have no desire to name some and leave out others. To each of them, however, the authors express their heartfelt thanks for their splendid help in a cooperative endeavor.

Thanks are extended, too, to the thousands of boys and girls who took the tests and supplied background information about themselves. Undoubtedly they felt that taking the tests was a part of their regular school work, which it was, but their efforts were indispensable to the study. It is hoped that they did not find the task too onerous. May each of them feel in future years that American schools have served them well.

Special and sincere gratitude is expressed to the following two persons: Omer J. Rupiper who as Research Fellow during the 1955-56 school year efficiently handled the statistical processing of the data and assisted with the interpretation of it, and Patricia J. Anderson who cheerfully typed hundreds of pages of manuscript and prepared the Tables, Figures, and Appendices for offset printing.


List of Tables

List of Figures

Foreword by Hildegard Thompson


Chapter 1

What the Study Disclosed--A Summary
Groups As Well As Individuals Differ
The Study Was a Cooperative Effort
Who Were the Pupils?
Where Did They Live or Go to School?
The Grouping of Pupils for the Study
Tribes and Schools From Which the Pupils Came
The Test Used and Why
A Comparison of Achievement by Administrative Areas
A Comparison of Achievement by Race-School Groups
A Comparison Based on the Several Skills
The Relationship Between Achievement and Degree of Indian Blood and Pre-School Language
Age of Pupils in Relation to Grade
Other Observations Related to Age-Grade
The Relationship Between Age in Grade and Achievement
The Holding Power of the School
The Relationship Between Achievement and Place of Residence
The Choice of Friends by Indian and White Pupils
The Relationship Between Choice of Friends and Achievement
The Relationship Between the Achievement of Indian Pupils and the Proportion of White Pupils in the School
The Relationship Between Achievement and Regularity of Attendance
The Relationship Between Achievement and the Educational Aspiration of Pupils
The Use of Achievement Tests for Instructional and Guidance Purposes
The Proper Use of Predictive Test Results
In Conclusion

Chapter II

Purposes and Procedures of the Study
Carrying Out the Program

Chapter III

A Comparison of the Achievement of Pupils by Administrative Areas
Diversity in the Populations Tested
The Hierarchy of Areas in Achievement
Comparison of Areas in Relation to a Composite Norm

Chapter IV

A Comparison of the Achievement of Pupils by Race-School Groups
What is Being Compared
The Composition of the Race-School Groups
The Order of Achievement of Race-School Groups
Showing Differences by Skills and by Grades
Implications of the General Hierarchy

Chapter V

A Comparison of the Achievement of Pupils in the Several Skills
Federal School Indian Pupils and Public School White Pupils Compared
Suggested Possible Causes of the Differences

Chapter VI

The Influence of Cultural and Environmental Factures on Achievement
Degree of Indian Blood and Pre-School Language
Age of Pupils in Relation to Grade
Residence On or Off a Reservation
Residence in a Town or in the Country
The Choice of Friends by Indian and White Pupils
The Proportion of White Pupils in the Schools Attended by Indian Pupils
Regularity of Attendance
Educational Aspiration

Chapter VII

The Use of Test Results for Pupil Guidance and the Improvement of Instructions
The Need for Area Norms
Interpreting the Test Results

Chapter VIII

The Predictive Testing Program
Purposes of the Program
Planning the Program
Interpreting the Test Results
Validation of the Predictive Battery

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E


3-a Population Tested by Areas and Race
3-b Summary of the Ranking of the Areas
3-c Numbers in the Composite Groups


Total Population of the Study Shown by Areas, Race, and Kind of School Attended
4-b Hierarchy of Educational Achievement by Race-School Groups in Six Administrative Areas of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
6-a Full-Blood Indian Pupils, Shown by Actual Numbers and by Percent of All Indians, by Areas, Grades, and School Types
6-b through 6-g Pre-School Language Percentages by Areas, Grades, and Race-School Types

6-h through 6-m

Age-Grade Distributions by Areas and types of School
6-n A Comparison of Achievement (Total Score) of “At-Age,” “Over-Age,” and “Under-Age” Pupils, by Areas, Grades, and Race-School Groups
6-o A Percentage Comparison of the Numbers of Pupils in Grade 12 of This Study with Grades 4 and 8.
Total Population--(Six Areas Combined)
6-p A Comparison of Achievement (Total Score) Between Indian Pupils Living on a Reservation and Those Living off a Reservation
6-q A Comparison of Achievement (Total Score) in Relation to Town or Country Residence
6-r Friends
6-s A Comparison of Achievement (Total Score) With Respect to “Mostly Indian” or “Mostly White” Friends
6-t A Comparison of Achievement (Total Score) as to Proportion of White Children in School
6-u A Comparison of Achievement (Total Score) in Relation to Regularity of Attendance
6-v Percentages of Expressed Educational Aspiration
6-w Differences in Mean Achievement (Total Score) in Relation to Expressed Educational Aspiration


Growth Between Grades 4 and 5. Mean Scores--23 Pupils
7-b Growth Between Grades 5 and 6. Mean Scores--20 Pupils
7-c Growth Between Grades 4, 5, and 6. Expressed as Grade Equivalent Values (Published Norms of the C.A.T.)
7-d Growth Between Grades 4 and 5 by Skills in Rank Order
7-e Levels of Achievement Fourth Grade--1952--39 Cases
7-f Levels of Achievement Fifth Grade--1952--30 Cases
7-g Levels of Achievement Sixth Grade--1953--29 Cases
B-1 Order of Areas at the Mean on the Several Skills


Comparison of Means of Normalized T-Scores Assigned to Ranks of Areas (with race-school groups, skills, and all grades combined)
B-3 Number, Mean, and Standard Deviation by Grade and Area
C-la Comparison of Race-School Groups Within Each Area on All Skills and Total Score, Using Ranks Converted to Normalized T-Scores
C-lb Comparison of Means of Normalized T-Scores Assigned to Ranks of Race-School Groups
C-2 Mean Raw Scores and Standard Devistions of Race-School Groups by Area
C-3 Differences Between Mean Scores of Race-School Groups According to Grade Level in Each Area
D-1 Five Percent and One Percent Levels of Significance of Differences in T-Scores - Anadarko Area: Elementary Level
D-2 Five Percent and One Percent Levels of Significance of Differences in t-Scores – Anadarko Area: Intermediate Level
D-3 Five Percent and One Percent Levels of Significance of Differences in T-Scores – Muskogee and Anadarko Areas: Advanced Level
D-4 Phoenix Area Norm Tables (Fall) California Achievement Tests
E-1 Intercorrelations of Scores on the Test Battery for Haskell Commercial Applicants, 1951-54
E-2 Test Battery for Haskell Commercial – Standard Errors of Measurement and Reliability Coefficients


Expectancy Tables for Pass and Fail Groups – Haskell Commercial Program, 1951-54



III-1 Area Mean Achievement Comparisons on Total Score in Grades 4, 5, and 6
III-2 Area Mean Achievement Comparisons on Total Score in Grades 7, 8, and 9
III-3 Area Mean Achievement Comparisons on Total Score in Grades 10, 11, and 12
III-4 through III-12 Percentages in Achievement Levels by Administrative Areas
III-13 Comparison of Achievement of the Composite Population With the National Norm
IV-1 through IV-42 Percentages in Achievement Levels by Race-School Groups
V-1 Favorable Comparisons of Indian Pupils in Federal Schools With White Pupils in Public Schools
VII-1 Student Profile, Sample Pupil, C.A.T. Battery, Elementary Level, Phoenix Area
VII-2 Student Profile, Sample Pupil, C.A.T. Battery, Elementary Level, Phoenix Area, With Grade Four Norm
VII-3 Student Profile, Sample Pupil, C.A.T. Battery, Elementary Level, Phoenix Area, With Grade Five Norm
Student Profile, Sample Pupil, C.A.T. Battery, Elementary Level, Phoenix Area, With grade Six Norm
VII-5 Student Profile, Mean Scores, C.A.T. Battery, Elementary Level, Phoenix Area
VIII-1 Report of Test Data, Sample Student, Federal Boarding School
VIII-2 Explanation of Report of Test Data
VIII-3 Student Profile, Haskell Institute, First-Year Commercial Students, 1951
VIII-4 Student Profile, Haskell Commercial Applicants (Ferguson)
VIII-5 Haskell Commercial Applicant Profile, 1951-1954


The Indian Child Goes To School is essentially a report of the school achievement of Indian children as compared with that of their white schoolmates or neighbors. It is not primarily a study of individual achievement, but is rather a comparison of the average achievement of groups of pupils as measured by a standardized test of the basic skills taught in schools.

This study, under the guidance of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the University of Kansas, was made possible by the joint efforts of many people. Tests were administered to 23,608 pupils attending Federal, public, and mission schools in eleven States. Of the children tested, 42 percent were white.

One of the aims of this study was to find what relationship exists between the academic achievement of Indian children and certain environmental factors, such as the language spoken in the home or the location of the home (whether on or off reservation). In general it shows that Indian pupils do not achieve as well in the basic skill subjects as do white pupils. When race-school groups were compared on the basis of achievement, the following order resulted:

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

A strikingly consistent coincidence resulted when the same groups were ranked on the bases of degree of Indian blood and pre-school language. With few exceptions, the higher ranking groups had less Indian blood and spoke more English before entering school. The lower ranking groups had more Indian blood and spoke less English before entering school.

The investigators have expressed the opinion that blood quantum and pre-school language are not in themselves controlling determiners of school achievement. They have referred to them as two of the best "indices of acculturation." If they are right, then the implication is clear that lack of "acculturation" is one of the main stumbling blocks to satisfactory school achievement by Indian pupils. The writers readily agree that the school itself is one of the "foremost acculturative agencies of society," but they point out that the school cannot do the job alone or at least not as rapidly as most persons would like to see it done.

Perhaps the time is long overdue when we need to cease generalizing about such broad, and sometimes vague, concepts as "acculturation" and begin to spell out with teachers and in turn with Indian parents and community members, the specific things which they need to do if Indian children are to stand oil an equal footing with their white neighbors in their school work.

Hildegard Thompson
Chief, Branch of Education


In 1928 the celebrated Meriam Report, entitled The Problem of Indian Administration, was published. It was the report of a survey conducted by The Institute of Government Research, sometimes called The Brookings Institute, at the request of the Honorable Hubert Work, then Secretary of the Interior. The survey staff was composed of ten persons and was headed by Lewis Meriam, the technical director. Over a period of seven months this staff scrutinized closely all of the activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs spending most of their time in the field and visiting many Indian reservations and installations of the Bureau. Another nine months were spent in the preparation of their report. In view of the fact that it was published twenty-eight years ago, as this is written, it is probable that relatively few persons now employed by the Bureau have ever read the report. One can judge that, at the time of its publication, it made a terrific impact upon the thinking of people concerned with Indian affairs, both in the Bureau and out. Educational workers or others concerned with the education of Indian children might read the section on education with great profit, even today. The freshness and present-day validity of the philosophy and theory of education expressed therein are remarkable. It was written by Dr. W. Carson Ryan, Jr., who was a member of the survey staff and who later served as Director of Education for the Bureau for five years.

The report was severely critical of both the educational philosophy of the Division of Education arid the program of education it was offering Indian children. It suited that the Bureau was starving for lack of funds, had incredibly low standards, and was afflicted with a stodgy concept of education, lagging far behind the best theory and practice of the times. There is no intent here to imply that the criticism was not merited--undoubtedly it was. The thing that is more than a little surprising to the writers is that apparently there has never been a comprehensive, well- documented accounting, point-by-point, of the reforms and improvements that have been brought about under the prodding of the Meriam Report. Any person at all well-informed about the course of Indian education during the past 28 years knows that these changes have been both extensive and profound.

It is true that Education Branch of the Bureau in recent years has not heen inarticulate about its program. Near the beginning of his fifteen-year tenure as Director of Education, Willard W. Beatty, to use his own words, "launched a fortnightly field letter addressed to every employee and designed to present clearcut statements of philosophy, policy, and preferred procedure: Indian Education." In 1944 selected articles from Indian Education for the years 1936-43, written by Beatty and his associates, were gathered together in a volume called Education for Action. A companion volume for the years 1944-51, called Education for Cultural Change, appeared in 1953.

In 1949, the late Homer W. Howard, Supervisor of In-Service Training, presented the volume, In Step with the States, a comparison of State and Indian Service educational objectives and methods. The title itself indicates the gist of the content.

During the years since 1928 there has been a flow of specially prepared teaching materials and Minimum Essential Goals of education, painstakingly and cooperatively hammered out by Bureau educators in summer sessions and workshops, to meet the particular needs of Indian boys and girls. These have been designed primarily as working tools for Bureau teachers, but other schools have always been free to borrow from them.

The Meriam survey team had a minimum of objective data available for its use; at least as far as the educational program was concerned. It simply observed the program of education as it was being carried out and compared it with what were accepted as the better prevailing educational practices of the time. There is no quarrel with their method. As is pointed out in this report, this approach to evaluating the quality of a school or a school system is a perfectly valid one.

By 1944, however, the Bureau wished to know the facts about the learning of Indian children. How did their educational achievement compare with that of white children? How did the achievement of Indian pupils in Bureau schools compare with that of Indian children in public and mission schools? How did Indian children in boarding schools compare with those in day schools? What were some of the factors which influenced the learning of Indian children? These and other questions were raised. Answers to them were offered in the monograph, How Well Are Indian Children Educated? by Dr. Shailer Peterson of the University of Chicago. This was a report of a three-year study conducted jointly by the Bureau and the University of Chicago and appeared in 1948.

In 1953 the monograph, The Educational Achievement of Indian Children, by Dr. Kenneth E. Anderson and his associates at the University of Kansas was published. This volume reported on a follow-up study conducted cooperatively by the Bureau and the University of Kansas in the spring of 1950. It investigated any changes which might have occurred in the educational achievement of Indian children since 1946, the last year of the Peterson survey. In general, Anderson's findings supported those of Peterson. In addition he contributed new techniques for the interpretation of test data.

The present study is along the lines of those of Peterson and Anderson. It has drawn from them and is indebted to them. Nevertheless, it can perhaps claim some distinctions of its own. The planning and execution of the testing programs in the several areas were painstaking and well supervised. In addition, many more pupils were included in the present study than in either of the earlier ones. From the outset much stress was placed upon making test results serve the needs of individual pupils, teachers, and schools as is reflected in Chapters VII and VIII. And, above all, the writers have been rather bold in expressing conclusions and points of view--not, it is hoped, without supporting data. If, in this transitional period when Indian children are transferring to the public schools in increasing numbers, some of the old misconceptions and "folklore" surrounding the learning problems of Indian children have been dispelled, some good has been accomplished.

The writers cannot resist a quotation from the Meriam Report. As of 1928 it said, “In the Indian schools not even the most elementary use has as yet been made of either intelligence testing or objective tests of achievement in the types of knowledge and skills that are usually referred to as the ‘regular school subjects’.” And again, “Almost the only use made of achievement tests with Indian children is found in public schools . . . . . . . . . . . . A practical way to improve this situation, apart from encouraging attendance upon summer sessions and visits to other schools, would be to develop close relations between Indian schools arid nearby universities . . . . . . . ." Finally, "A staff person at Washington familiar with measurement procedure could straighten out this testing business and direct considerable valuable work in the schools by teachers and other workers.” For the past ten years the Bureau of Indian Affairs has made a determined effort to act upon these recommendations.

L. Madison Coombs



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer, educational institution, and provider is a part of the University of Alaska system. Learn more about UA's notice of nondiscrimination.


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