When we really define the academic achievement gap locally, one glaring gap that continues to need attention is the disproportionate graduation rates for American Indian students in Del Norte County, including Yurok students, within the county. The three-year cohort graduation rate in Del Norte for all students is 77.3 percent. For American Indians in Del Norte the three-year cohort graduation rate is 66.3 percent. This is an 11-point difference (or a 15 percent gap in achievement) over the previous three-year cohort graduation rates, according to the DataQuest system at the California Department of Education. Surely the graduation rates for the American Indian student group can be one of the measurements considered in the current Local Control Funding Formula debate occurring this spring in Del Norte's County's school district, especially since graduation is one of the primary goals for the Kandndash;12 school system.
The cohort graduation rate is the number of students entering ninth grade and the number graduating four years later from the same group. The county cohort graduation rate is a more accurate method to look at graduation rates compared to simply looking at the single school graduation rate, according to the state. We must be careful not to overstate the graduation rate of Del Norte County High School since the students who are at risk of not graduating are transferred out to alternative schools before they drop out, thus leaving Del Norte High School with an inflated graduation rate because the at-risk students have transferred out. The county cohort graduation rate looks at the entire group of incoming ninth graders and how many graduate four years later from the same group. This is more accurate.
The achievement gap is compounded by other factors, such as a disproportionate rate of poverty and out-of-home placements for some students. This is especially true considering the disproportionately high rates of low-income tribal children who qualify for the school district's free or reduced lunch program from our local tribes and the large percent of American Indian children placed in the foster care system locally. The school district has identified 40 percent of all students in foster placements are American Indian children in Del Norte schools. If you include tribal court placements, informal placements and kinship placements in the American Indian community, the percent is even more alarming. The low-income students and students in foster homes require additional programs and intervention services and data tracking under the new Local Control Funding Formula state law.
Over the years the number of American Indian students needing to transfer out of Del Norte High School due to being at risk of dropping out has been alarming and disproportionate.American Indian students have been departing DNHS in large numbers, and they need to in order to actually graduate. They end up in the alternative programs and alternative schools that have been put in place to prevent a student from dropping out. These include Sunset Continuation High School, the successful Ta-Ah-Dun magnet program, Castle Rock and other county alternative schools. The menu of options as well the dropout prevention strategies need to be examined within Del Norte High in order to better serve American Indian students to try and keep them at the school, as well as assist them in graduating from Del Norte High.Perhaps more specific curriculum or courses of interest that reach American Indian students and enrich all students with the history and culture of the Yurok and Tolowa cultures would help keep our American Indian students at DNHS and reduce this glaring gap in achievement.
Tribes also want to see their own members become teachers and role models at local schools and see the community configuration reflected in the district staff. Currently only 3 percent (or 11) of the more than 250 teachers within the Del Norte County self-report to be of American Indian descent, yet the student population is about 15 percent.
Local tribes are making great strides in building their governments and businesses to become more self-sufficient, and the local tribes are attempting to attract their own tribal members into successful, meaningful jobs and careers. They are very willing and able to manage their own sustainable resources and affairs. Local tribes are very interested in their tribal member student performance. The tribes are tracking the academic performance of their member students through the ACLU Settlement agreement (extension) and with the annual American Indian Report Card. Local tribes are also celebrating the success of their students' achievements when they graduate from high school and/or college. Last year the Yurok Tribe, California's largest tribe, had over 50 high school graduates in the region, although this number is much lower than what it should be, and 25 Yurok members completed a college degree; the tribe held three different community celebrations to ensure families had the opportunity to celebrate these important graduation achievements.
Jim McQuillen, MFT, PPS is education director of the Yurok Tribe.