Bureau of Indian Education Schools:

Improving Interior's Assistance Would Help Some Tribal Groups Implement Academic Accountability Systems

GAO-08-679: Published: Jun 27, 2008. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2008.

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The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) requires states and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to define and determine whether schools are making adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward meeting the goal of 100 percent academic proficiency. To address tribes' needs for cultural preservation, NCLBA allows tribal groups to waive all or part of BIE's definition of AYP and propose an alternative, with technical assistance from BIE and the Department of Education, if requested. GAO is providing information on the extent of (1) BIE schools' adoption of BIE's definition of AYP; (2) tribal groups' pursuit of alternatives and their reasons as well as reasons other tribal groups have not done so; and (3) federal assistance to tribal groups developing alternatives. To obtain this information, GAO interviewed tribal groups, federal officials, and state education officials; conducted site visits to BIE schools; and reviewed laws, regulations, and other relevant documents.

Although almost all of the 174 BIE schools have officially adopted BIE's definition of AYP--the definition of AYP of the state where the school is located--BIE had not yet completed memoranda of understanding (MOU) to delineate BIE and state responsibilities concerning BIE schools' access to the states' assessment systems for 12 of the 23 states with BIE schools. Without MOUs, states could change their policies regarding BIE schools' access to assessments and scoring services. Officials from the Navajo Nation, the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, and the Miccosukee Tribe have begun to develop alternatives to state AYP definitions, in part to make standards and assessments reflect their culture, while officials of other tribal groups have cited various reasons for not developing alternatives. The three tribal groups developing alternatives, representing about 44 percent of the 48,000 BIE students, have requested technical assistance in developing their alternatives. Other tribal officials cited a desire to maintain compatibility with public schools and/or cited challenges, such as a lack of expertise, as reasons not to pursue alternatives. The three tribal groups pursuing alternatives reported a lack of federal guidance and communication, although they have recently received some initial technical assistance from BIE and Education officials. These tribal groups reported receiving little guidance from BIE and difficulties in communicating with BIE because the Bureau did not always have internal response timelines or meet the ones it had. Moreover, BIE education line officers--the primary points of contact for information on the alternative provision--generally indicated that they had received no guidance or training on the provision. During the course of this review, BIE and Education officials began offering technical assistance to the tribal groups working to developalternatives

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BIE developed information on the process for seeking and approving alternative definitions of AYP for tribal governments, school boards and education line officers, which it posted on its web site. In addition, BIE continues to provide guidance and training to tribal groups and school boards seeking to develop alternative AYP definitions.

    Recommendation: To improve support for tribal governments and school boards in their adoption of definitions of AYP, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BIE to provide guidelines and training on the process for seeking and approving alternatives to all tribal governments, tribal school boards, and education line offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) reported it had established a Scope of Work (SOW) that addressed the full range of technical assistance needed to assist tribal groups seeking a waiver. In July 2012, BIE stated it had documentation of the results of this contract and documentation of tribal consultations in which this issue may have been discussed. BIE uses two consulting firms to provide technical assistance to tribes. The firms provide information and training related to assessments and assessment options, continuous improvement, and the development of assessments of oral languages.

    Recommendation: To improve support for tribal governments and school boards in their adoption of definitions of AYP, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BIE to, in close coordination with Education, provide prompt assistance to tribal groups in defining assessment options, especially in instances in which tribal groups are not accessing state assessments. Such assistance could include delineating options--such as using an already established assessment, augmenting an assessment, or incorporating cultural components as an additional academic indicator--and their associated costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) reported in 2009 that it was continuing to work jointly with Education to facilitate agreements to ensure access to state assessments and establish MOUs with those states where none existed. In 2011 BIE supplied an update, but had not concluded MOUs with any additional states. In 2012, BIE officials stated that the agency was changing its assessment policy to reduce its reliance on access to particular state assessments. BIE has held formal tribal consultation sessions with tribes on a flexibility waiver that would involve adopting a unitary accountability strategy for BIE-funded schools, potentially eliminating their need to access to any particular state assessment.

    Recommendation: To improve support for tribal governments and school boards in their adoption of definitions of AYP, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BIE to coordinate with relevant tribal groups in pursuing negotiation of MOUs with states that lack them, seeking facilitation from Education when necessary and appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) stated it continues to be more proactive in its communication with tribal groups and the Department of Education to resolve issues related to waivers of the state's definition of adequate yearly progress (AYP), requests for technical assistance, and development of alternative definitions of AYP. BIE follows the Indian Affairs' policy on processing controlled correspondence found in its Indian Affairs Correspondence Handbook. This process is included as part of the guidance for technical assistance for the alternative definition of AYP. More recently, BIE has issued an internal memorandum establishing policies and timeframes for responding to inquiries related to technical assistance in compliance with ESEA.

    Recommendation: To improve support for tribal governments and school boards in their adoption of definitions of AYP, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BIE to establish internal response time frames and processes to ensure more timely responses to all correspondence with tribal groups as well as proactive communication with tribal groups and Education to resolve issues related to waivers, requests for technical assistance, and development of alternative definitions of AYP.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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