BIA Adopts Learning Record

K-12 Testing

"I think we have to be vigilant about what we want Indian children to learn. If we're not careful, assessment can promote cultural bias or emphasize learning that is not important to Indian people. For instance, reading assessment is in large part the assessment of one's knowledge of the topics being read as well as the assessment of one's English vocabulary, a product of special experience. One of the chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy long ago addressed the topic of privileged knowledge, which in this case refers to the language on standardized tests. He said he would send young men to the schools of the white settlers as long as they sent some of their young men to live with and learn from his tribe."


This warning, delivered in the midst of nationwide turmoil over testing, comes from Dr. Sandra Fox, a school reform team leader in the Office of Indian Education Programs at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). In "Student Assessment in Indian Education, or What Is a Roach?" she explains why the BIA adopted the Learning Record Assessment System (LR; see sidebar) in its plan for school reform and Department of Education funding. Dr. Fox says she likes the way the Record "helps teachers observe and document what students can do in regard to achievement of academic standards. Also, the professional development is sustained, and it ties what teachers know about student progress to what parents and others in the community need to know about students and the schools." The LR also was selected because it encourages students to build on their uses of native languages (which may be first or second language) as they become fluent English speakers, readers, and writers.


As for challenges in implementing the LR, Dr. Fox says, "Unless teachers get into it, they say it's too much work. This is a signal to me of how hard it is to break out of the old paradigm of teacher lectures and assignments with students reciting and taking tests. Some simply trust in the established wisdom of the use of standardized testing."


The BIA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a state education agency. To introduce the Learning Record in BIA schools, a core group of 48 teachers from 32 Indian schools have participated over the past two years in a series of BIA-sponsored seminars conducted by teacher leaders from the Center for Language in Learning (CLL), the nonprofit organization which administers the LR system.


"Most of the BIA teachers will become certified LR coaches for faculties at schools registered with the Center by June, 1999," says CLL director Dr. Mary Barr. "Next year, the BIA core group will develop materials and activities which help students meet the BIA standards. They will also participate in site and intersite moderations of student Records from BIA schools and learn to use student achievement data so they can assist school faculties in designing effective site plans for professional development."


-- Dr. Fox was named National Indian Educator of the Year in 1998 by the National Indian Education Association. Her article is in Next Steps: Research and Practice to Advance Indian Education (1999), Karen Gayton Swisher & John W. Tippeconnic, III, eds. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.


-- For more information about the LR, contact Mary Barr, CLL, 10610 Quail Canyon Road, El Cajon, CA 92021; tel: 619-443-6320; email:; website: