Landmark legislation passed, agreements made, and guidance issued for American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Groups


An important theme in the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the inclusion of parents and community members in the development of state standards and accountability. As the government and states shift focus towards inclusivity and local control, September and October included important landmarks in education for Native American groups in the U.S.

Navajo Tribe gets initial approval to implement its own accountability system in Bureau of Indian Education schools

The U.S. Department of Education (USED), in partnership with the Department of the Interior, has approved the first phase of an alternative accountability system for an individual Native American Indian Tribe, the Navajo. The approval of an alternative accountability system will allow the Navajo to implement the same standards, assessments, and alternative measures of student success in all of its schools across multiple states. The agreement impacts 66 Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded Navajo schools spanning three states - Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

This is the first agreement of its kind and is a promising development for tribes that span multiple states. Where in the past, tribal schools were subject to the standards, assessments, and alternative measures of student success of the state where the school was located, now these Navajo tribal schools will have these in common, no matter which state they are located in.

U.S. Department of Education issues guidance on ESSA required consultation with American Indian and Alaska Native tribal groups

On September 26, 2016, the USED issued a Dear Colleague Letter with a short FAQ guidance document related to requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to consult with tribes and tribal organizations. The FAQs answer questions about districts responsibilities to consult with American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribal groups in the development of plans related to ESSA programs. Districts that are required to include AI/AN tribal groups in consultation are districts that have:

  • “50 percent or more of its student enrollment made up of AI/AN students”, or
  • Districts that “received an Indian education formula grant under Title VI of the ESEA, as amended by the ESSA.”

The guidance provides information about the requirements for consultation with AI/AN tribes and tribal organizations. The ESSA programs that must be included in this consultation are Title I, Parts A, C, and D; Title II, Part A; Title III, Part A; Title IV, Parts A and B; Title V, Part B, subpart 2; and Title VI, Part A, subpart 1. The requirement for this consultation is new under ESSA and is found in Section 8538.

The Bureau of Indian Education to phase in testing and standards from WIDA across all 23 states

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), an arm of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, services approximately 41,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children on 64 reservations in 23 states. The BIE has become a member of the WIDA Consortium, a group of 39 State Education Agencies, including the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (which uses WIDA’s Spanish Language Development Standards).

According to its website, the WIDA consortium is a non-profit cooperative group whose purpose is to develop standards and assessments that meet and exceed the goals of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in promoting educational equity for English language learners. Member State Education Agencies generally adopt WIDA’s English Language Development Standards and administer the ACCESS for ELLs English language proficiency assessment to meet related requirements under ESEA.

Joining the WIDA consortium gives the BIE access to a single source for testing, standards and professional development. Although some schools are already familiar with ACCESS and WIDA’s EL standards, test-taking in non-WIDA states will be phased in over a number of years.

Lenape and Nanticoke Tribes of win official recognition under Delaware House Bill 345

In August, Governor Jack Markell of the State of Delaware signed House Bill 345, a bill passed by the Delaware State legislature. By signing this bill into law, Delaware has give the Lenape Tribe and the Nanticoke Tribe official State recognition. These tribes are now eligible for the special programs and services that are provided to Native American Tribes in the United States.

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Dr. David Holbrook

About The Author

Dr. David Holbrook is a nationally recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring with expertise in Title I, Title III, Native American Education, and Federal Programs. Dr. Holbrook has also worked as a consultant with Title III of the US Department of Education and now serves as Executive Director, Federal Compliance and State Relationships with TransAct.