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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide


Thomas R. Hopkins, Ed.D.







of BIA

Bulletin 1973


Alaska Native


Culture: Background
for Learning


A Day in
a Day School

Warren Tiffany

A Brief History

Tom's Site

The four evaluation studies (Peterson, 1948; Anderson, et. al. 1953; Coombs et al, 1958 and Bass 1971) are classics in the field of evaluating American Indian and Alaska Native education. * They represent a continuum that started in 1944 and ended in 1971. The glue that created the continuum was L. Madison Coombs who took over the BIA testing program in the late 1940’s and was able to maintain control until Bass completed his report to BIA in 1971. A careful review of the four evaluations will cover almost all issues related to evaluating the culturally different American Indians and Alaska Natives. Basically, the Bass evaluation contains all that was learned in the previous evaluations by being longitudinal, tracking students and relating test scores to background characteristics. All four were concerned primarily with assessing school quality (public and BIA) and ethnicity (Indian-Native and White). Anyone attempting to evaluate American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2006 would do well to review these evaluation reports carefully and thoroughly.

Historically, the evaluation of American Indian and Alaska Native education has its roots in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It was during this time that scientific methodology was beginning to be applied to American Education (Cremin, 1961). Later on, from 1900 to 1945 the Progressive Education movement played a basic role in the evaluation of American Indian and Alaska Native education. In a sense, the Anderson and Eells research (1935) was perhaps the first effort to apply scientific education instruments to Alaska Native education. Anderson and Eells learned almost immediately that scientific education instruments developed at Stanford University for one culture cannot be successfully applied to another culture. This is a lesson which, in general, American education keeps ignoring. Even today with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), one culture (that of the test norming group) fits all is the conventional approach.

The Progressive Education influence, generally, parallels the creation of the Progressive Education Association, a professional organization based on the Progressive Education movement. Carson Ryan, who wrote the Education section for the famed Meriam Report (1928) was a professor at Swarthmore College before being selected to do the evaluation of the education of American Indians for Meriam (Szasz 1977). Ryan became the Director of BIA Education in 1930 and lasted to 1935. He was succeeded by Willard Beatty who was Director of BIA Education from 1936 – 1952. Beatty was president of the Progressive Education Association just before taking the BIA Directorship. Following Beatty, Ryan became President of the Progressive Education Association.

The influence of Progressive Education on the evaluation of American Indian and Alaska Native education goes something like this. The Progressives thought their program, which emphasized basing the curriculum on the experiences of the students and then learning by investigating this foundation was as good as or better than the traditional approach which was based on memorization and recall of book knowledge. Experience did not play a big role in traditional education. Ralph W. Tyler was selected to assess the difference between Progressive and Traditional education by comparing, pairing, Progressive and Traditional high school students as they progressed in college. This became known as the “Eight Year Study.” Tyler found the Progressive program equal to and in some cases, superior to Traditional education.

The story now moves to the BIA Education Program which was directed by Willard W. Beatty. Keep in mind that the BIA took over the Alaska Native education responsibility in 1931. Beatty had been, in his mind, implementing Progressive Education in BIA schools since 1936. He was interested in finding out if the Federal Government’s BIA schools were as good as public schools. For a number of years the BIA national office was located in Chicago, not Washington, D.C., where it is now located. In 1944, Ralph Tyler was Chairman, Department of Education, University of Chicago. There is no record of Beatty going over to the University and discussing with Tyler an evaluation of Indian schools. However, Even without the record, it is highly probable that this meeting occurred because the BIA contracted with the University of Chicago to conduct the first of the four evaluation projects which was carried out by Shailer Peterson (1948). Tyler has a section in the book titled, “The Significance of this Investigation to School Administrators, to Teachers and to Students of Education (pp. 113 – 117)”

Prior to the Peterson “Investigation” and except for the efforts of Anderson and Eells, the evaluation of Alaska Native Education was virtually nonexistent. Sheldon Jackson, the first General Agent for Education for Alaska, was basically a Christian missionary, not an educator. His almost passionate focus was on saving the souls of Natives and helping them step by step scale the ladder of civilization (Hopkins, 1959). Jackson was succeeded by Harlan Updegraff. Updegraff’s last two program items pertained to morality and teaching religion (Hopkins, p 14) We should keep in mind the fact that Carson Ryan came to the Meriam study directly from Swarthmore College, a celebrated Quaker institution of higher education. Based on the history of Alaska Native education, it is probable that Willard Beatty implemented for the first time a non sectarian approach to the education of Alaska Natives.

It is important to know that L. Madison Coombs was hired by the BIA about 1947 or 1948. His first job was as a “Counselor” at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. In that position he was assigned as the technical contact for subsequent evaluation studies. More importantly, Coombs had responsibility for the BIA standardized testing program until it was abandoned about 1955. Madison, in time, directed the basic BIA education evaluation and research of American Indians and Alaska Natives for the next twenty-five years. I worked with Madison for the first time in 1959 when he was Assistant Area Director for Education at the BIA Juneau Area Office. I introduced him to the Academic Department teachers at the Mt. Edgecumbe School probably in January of 1959. His book, The Indian Child Goes to School, had just arrived at the school and we are excited to have in our presence such a dignitary. Subsequently, I worked with and for Madison Coombs for the next 15 years. Madison had an eloquent style of writing and a clear, logical and reasoned method of thinking. It is also important to know that Madison was the BIA technical contact for the, “National Study of American Indian Education,” (Fuchs and Havighurst, 1972). He did all this without academic credentials in education evaluation and research.

Historically, Ralph Tyler and Willard Beatty designed the first evaluation of American Indian Education. Then, Madison Coombs, with modest changes, maintained the same basic design for the following three evaluation projects. Coombs maintained the general assessment of the qualitative differences between BIA schools and public schools. It is ironic that in these days of the No Child Left Behind Act with its emphasis on the school level of education evaluation no one has referenced or made use of these four classic evaluations. Mistake after mistake which more often than not reflect unfairness to Indian and Natives is being made by states with Indian and Native populations in trying to meet the mandates of NCLBA.

The four evaluation projects of American Indian and Alaska Native education reflect the times from 1944 – 1971. From an evaluation perspective they all have some things in common.

Evaluation Strategies.

Statistical Samples. All of the projects used statistical sampling which means that the theory of probability plays a vital and basic role in the evaluations. Over the years, one of my greatest challenges as been to satisfactorily explain probability and sampling to Indian lay people. Most Indian and Native cultures have been taught that reality is exacting one to one. When probability is introduced and its sampling procedure with a percentage of confidence and reliability, Indian and Native peoples start frowning and looking perplexed and confused. It is difficult for them to accept that a random sample of 30 can be used to make reliable findings for a population of 500. It is just simply unbelievable. None of the evaluations used data that were based on every child enrolled in the BIA system. None of the studies had a large enough sample to provide sub-sample findings for cultures. By this I mean that the sample was for the entire BIA system and insufficient in numbers to provide Eskimo, Aleut, Athbascan, Navajo, Sioux, etc. outcomes. The samples were not randomized and depended on administrative decisions about what tribes would be included.

  • The Peterson project included Alaska Natives, 2,085 total sample,
  • The Anderson, et. al project included 183 from a boarding school, 1,822 total sample,
  • The Coombs, et. al. project did not include any Alaska Natives, 23,608 total sample,
  • The Bass project included Alaska Natives, 2,584 total sample.

It should be noted that the large Coombs sample was possible because he had implemented and administered a BIA total testing program. With local BIA administrators involved data gathering was not always the best. Reminds one of the early problems of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and states concerns that it would rank order them according achievement test scores.

Statistical Procedures. There was a progression in the statistical procedures used in each evaluation. Peterson used the median, only, and provides an excellent justification based on the fact that the mean does not handle well extreme scores at the top and the bottom. Indian-Native scores were and are extreme in that 50 percent of the scores will be below the 35th percentile. However, the subsequent three evaluation with their increased sophisticated statistical procedures used the mean as the foundation of their statistical procedures.

Purposes of the Evaluations. Even with Tyler thinking the evaluation useful for students, basically, the purpose of all the evaluations was to compare the education quality for Indians between different types of schools: BIA, public and mission. Secondly, the evaluation compared achievement between Indians and Whites. Furthermore, only the Coombs report mentions local use of test data as important. On the whole, the evaluations, especially the statistical procedures used, were for administrative use. Coombs was the only one that had a section devoted to, “The Predictive Testing Program.” This testing program pertained to a test battery administered to Indian students wanting to attend college but more specifically the Haskell Commercial Program. The data was not sufficient to produce findings. This brings to mind the great need for predictive research on standardized tests at all levels regarding American Indians and Alaska Natives. Now that test data abounds perhaps some researcher should conduct a longitudinal investigation of the “Predictive Strength of standardized tests for Alaska Natives and American Indians regarding the next level of education or the next phase of the students life.”

Background Characteristics. All the evaluations gathered data on the backgrounds of the students tested. Relationships between the background characteristics and test scores were made.

Tracking Students. Only the Bass study tracked students.

Culture Fairness of Standardized Tests. All the professional evaluators understood that standardized test norms were not valid for Indian students. All used the “Raw Score” for most statistical purposes. The Peterson evaluation set the stage for the use of the raw score when it said:

The “National Norm Equivalents” have not been provided with the idea of suggesting any levels of attainment that are expected. National norms are commonly based upon either urban school children or, in some cases, a combination of urban and near-urban education. In view of this, it is obvious that national norms would not be the proper yardstick to use as a means of measuring or comparing achievement in this Indian education study (Peterson, p. 59).

Later on, Ralph Tyler (1974) revisited issues in testing. In the Introduction to the book, Tyler describes how early tests used in World War I were to identify individual differences, not learning. He describes the need for tests that assist learning. Contained in this same book is a chapter by Robert L. Thorndike (1974) titled, “Concepts of Culture-Fairness.” In the abstract to the article Thorndike said:

Fairness of a test relates to fair use. One definition of fair use states that a common qualifying score may be used with two groups if the regression line based on one group does not systematically over- or under-predict criterion performance in the other. However, it is shown that when the two groups differ appreciably in mean test score, the above procedure, which is “fair” to individual members of the group scoring lower on the test, is “unfair” to the lower group as a whole in the sense that the proportion qualified on the test will be smaller, relative to the higher-scoring group, than the proportion that will reach any specified level of criterion performance. An alternate definition would specify that the qualifying scores on a test should be set at levels that will qualify applicants in the two groups in proportion to the fraction of the two groups reaching a specified level of criterion performance. (p. 35)

Thorndike’s “Fair Use” rule seems a good one to be applied to any use of standardized tests with American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Thorndike did not consider the culture that produces standardized tests, namely the Eurocentric culture of the U.S. Regarding American Indians and Alaska Natives there is culture based time which is very different from linear time which is a basic variable on any standardized test. Edward T. Hall (1984) covers the differences between culture time by using several different cultures most of which were American Indian and Alaska Native. I have often thought that linear time is the one standardized test variable that presents the most trouble to American Indians and Alaska Natives. It would be interesting to use standardized tests in an un-timed experiment to determine the effects of linear time on test scores. Here, again, test norms would not be useful and the IndianNative “convention” of using raw scores would be the appropriate test score to use.

It is encouraging the such a concept as “Cultural Validity” is emerging (SolanoFlores 2002). Solano-Flores has clearly described how test scores can be influenced by the experiences (culture) of the student. Regarding American Indians and Alaska Natives this is not especially new knowledge. However, it perhaps may lead to a break through in fairness in testing which has never before been a national concern or even a concern when testing Indians and Natives.

The No Child Left Behind Act and its assessment and accountability requirements which states are supposed to conduct has given extraordinary importance to standardized tests. Before NCLBA professional educators could control the uses of standardized tests. But, before and after NCLBA made its appearance, control was shifted to state legislatures and state departments of education. Legislatures tend to apply that which is simple and in the case of standardized tests it has culminated in their gross miss use.

Based on my own experiences in testing Indians and Natives at the school level and considering the absence of clearly stated cultural fairness procedures, I recommend the use of teacher grades. Specifically, from the 1977-78 school year through the year 2,000 I have gathered estimated grade point averages on over 10,000 Indian and Native students (Hopkins 2005). Regardless of the ethnicity of the teacher, the results have consistently approached a normal distribution. It always appeared to me that teacher grades also had the singular advantage of communicating the assessment to parents and elders. None of the four evaluations or the contemporary state assessments are of much use to teachers or parents. However, it should be mentioned that the NCLBA does mandate parent education. Those providing parent education regarding the NCLBA immediately encounter statistics and probability which leaves the parents and school board members confused whereas the use of teacher grades would do much to improve the relationship between assessment and parent understanding.

References Cited

Anderson, Dewey H. & Eells, Walter C. (1935) Alaska Natives, a Survey of Their Sociological and Educational Status. Stanford University Press, 1935.

Anderson, Kenneth E., Collister, E. Gordon & Ladd, Carl E. (1953) The Educational Achievement of Indian Children. Lawrence, KS: Haskell Institute Print Shop, March, 1953.

Bass, Willard P. (1971) "An Analysis of Academic Achievement of Indian High School Students In Federal and Public Schools," Albuquerque: Southwestern Cooperative Educational Laboratory May, 1971, 142 pp.

Coombs, L. Madison, Ralph E. Kron, E. Gordon Collister and Kenneth E. Anderson. (1958) The Indian Child Goes to School: a Study of Interracial Differences. Lawrence, Kansas: Haskell Institute Print Shop. U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1958, 249 pp.

Cremin, Lawrence A. (1964). The Transformation of the School, Progressiveism in American Education, 1876 – 1957. New York: Random House, Part I, “The Progressive Impulse in Education, 1976 – 1917, pp. 3 – 178.

Fuchs, Estelle and Havighurst, Robert J. (1972) To Live On This Earth, American Indian Education. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1972.

Hall, Edward T. (1984) The Dance of Life, The Other Dimension of Time. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 250 pp.

Hopkins, Thomas R. (1959 reedited in 2006). “ A History of the Education of Alaska Natives, 1867 – 1959.” Unpublished Masters Thesis in Educational Administration, The University of Texas, Austin.

_________________ (2005). “The RMS Educational Assessment Program,” Albuquerque: Research and Management Specialists, Inc. 2005. 15 pp.

Meriam, Lewis. (1928) The Problem of Indian Administration. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1928, 872 pp. See Chapter IX, “Education,” pp. 346-429.

Peterson, Shailer. (1948) How Well Are Indian Children Educated? Lawrence, KS: Haskell Institute Print Shop, Sept. 1948.

Solano-Flores, Guillermo, (2002) “Cultural Validity: The Need for a Socio-Cultural Perspective in Educational Measurement,” WestEd/National Center for Improving Science Education. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA, April 1-5, 2002.

Szasz, Margaret. (1977) Education and the American Indian: The Road to Self-Determination, 1928-1973. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1977, 252 pp. See Chapters 3 and 4, respectively, for biographies of Ryan and Beatty.

Thorndike, Robert L. (1974) “Concepts of Culture-Fairness,” Found in Crucial Issues in Testing, Edited by Ralph W. Tyler and Richard M. Wolf, Berkeley, Calif.: McCutchan Publishing Corp. pp. 35-46.

Tyler, Ralph W.(1974), Crucial Issues in Testing, Berkeley, California: McCutchan Publishing Corp., 170 pp. Edited by Ralph W. Tyler and Richard M. Wolf.


Organization and Plausible Uses of the Evaluation Files

All the files of the evaluation books are in Adobe PDF format. There are four directories: (1) Peterson, (2) Anderson, (3) Coombs and (4) Bass and the Introduction of which this paragraph is the last one. The first three evaluations were printed in book form by the Haskell Print Shop, Haskell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas. The Bass report was never published in book form.

One may print all or part of the pages for each evaluations. The total pages per evaluation are as follows:





[included is Thomas Hopkins' Evaluating American Indian Education]

All books are in the public domain. The copy of the Bass report received by the BIA, which funded the evaluation, is the one used.

[PDF Instructions] Those users interested in copying parts of the books for professional use may do so by clicking on the Adobe Reader “Edit” button and then the option, “Copy File to Clipboard.” Once the file is on the Clipboard about any word processor can access the file and allow the user to copy the desired passages. The files in each director are based on the chapters of the books, except for the Bass report the text of which is one file plus individual files for Appendices.

* There is a section titled, “Organization and Plausible Uses of the Evaluation Files,” at the end of the Introduction, after the “References Cited.”



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Last modified January 23, 2013