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Graduation rates nationally and locally are rising; plus, a new University of Idaho program will help Native Americans teach in their own communities

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THANKS, OBAMA?

A new report released by the White House confirms a national trend: More students are graduating now than ever.

The NATIONAL GRADUATION RATE nationally is a "record-setting" 83 percent, according to the report. Since every state in the country began using the same four-year adjusted measure for graduation rates, the graduation rate had risen steadily by about 4 percent.

In Spokane Public Schools, the increase in graduation rates over the same period has been even more dramatic. Last year, the rate was 84 percent, according to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That's more than 10 percent higher than it was during the 2010-11 school year.

Spokane Public Schools has credited an early warning system that tracks grades, attendance and other behaviors that alerts school officials when a student may be at risk of dropping out. That's been coupled with more training for teachers to support kids going through trauma.

In Washington state, the graduation rate has risen more slowly than the national percentage. Last year, 78 percent of students graduated, up just 2 percent from the 2010-11 school year.

But graduation rates aren't the only measure of student success. National media outlets, including National Public Radio, have noted that the number of high school students who passed a math and reading test called the "Nation's Report Card" has stayed about the same in recent years. SAT and ACT scores have also dipped mildly.

The most positive news from the report, however, is that the achievement gap that has seen white students graduating at a higher rate than black, Hispanic and Native American students is closing. While every group saw a bump in graduation rates, students of color, students with disabilities and students learning English had the most improvement. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

TEACHING NATIVE TEACHERS

By summer of 2017, a dozen NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENTS at the University of Idaho will begin a four-year program towards a bachelor's degree in teaching. When they're finished, they'll return back to their tribal communities and will be expected to implement a teaching model of "culturally responsive teaching."

The University of Idaho is offering the opportunity, along with a supplemental $8,700 per-year scholarship, thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Indian Education.

"Trends show that tribal students are not seeing their culture reflected in the classroom," says UI's College of Education assistant professor Vanessa Anthony-Stevens. "Not only will the students in this program be certified in teacher preparation, but they will have a specialization in culturally responsive schooling."

Grade schools in Native communities too often do not reflect the values and worldviews of the community, says Anthony-Stevens. That, she says, has hindered students' ability to learn. The college's program, called the Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program (IKEEP), will train teachers who will then spend at least two years in a tribal community implementing models that could better serve Native students.

Applicants to the program must belong to one of the 10 tribes UI collaborates with, including the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Anthony-Stevens says the need for this program has existed for a long time. Native people, she says, perceive things differently than what's taught in traditional Western schooling. For example, research has shown that "place-based" education has been more effective in teaching Native students, meaning they have more of a connection to physical places that inform their understanding of language and cultural practices. Curricula should reflect that in Native communities, she says.

"If I believe that things in the environment are related to place, and all things are connected," she says, "then I shouldn't be spending six hours a day within four walls." (WILSON CRISCIONE)

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