School Psychologists Working with Native American Youth: Training, Competence, and Needs

Article excerpt

Despite growing emphases on multicultural competence, Native American youth remain tremendously underserved by schools: low achievement, high dropout rates, and over-identification for special education persist. The authors analyzed responses of 403 school psychologists to a national survey regarding their competence gained in training, in current practice, and that needed for effective work with Native Americans. Respondents reported significant underpreparation in training and inadequate preparation for competent practice. Both ethnicity and length of experience with the population yielded significant differences in perceived levels of competence.

KEYWORDS: Native American, American Indian, school psychology, multicultural, cultural competence.

Persistent problems in learner outcomes for Native American (NA) youth should compel us as school psychologists to examine our capacity to make a difference. NA achievement is significantly below that of "mainstream" children, dropout rates are unacceptably high, and over-identification for special education is actually on the rise (Faircloth & Tippeconnic, 2010; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2008). Historically, NA children, their families, and even their cultures were blamed for problematic academic outcomes. Increased attention to multicultural competence, including use of systemic approaches in service delivery, was expected to positively impact such achievement gaps, helping school psychologists to more competently assess individual youth, and more effectively facilitate relevant systems changes, from school-based attitudes and expectations to culturally appropriate interventions.

Growing bodies of literature have established relationships between cross-cultural competence and effective outcomes for youth (Rogers & Lopez, 2002; Tarver Behring & Ingraham, 1998). However, despite mandates and resources to support multicultural competence, outcomes for Native youth suggest these efforts are insufficient. Sue (2001) cautioned that using widely inclusive parameters around multicultural training might lead to watered-down approaches, inadequate to address the needs of specific groups. Concerned with similar issues following a meta-analytic review of multicultural education, Smith, Constantine, Dunn, Dinehart, and Montoya (2006) suggested the need for research regarding work with specific racial/ethnic groups. In light of this issue, this study proposed to examine school psychologists' preparedness to work competently with Native American youth.

THE STATUS OF NATIVE AMERICAN YOUTH

With a 20.6% increase in those under age 18 in one decade (U.S. Census, 2000), Native American (NA) youth represent one of our fastest growing populations. Although NA students reside in virtually every state, unless they are part of a large reservation community, many remain "invisible" to educators. Their percentages in most schools are low, and many carry surnames from histories of colonization that lead to misidentification. For instance, although the largest actual number of NAs in the U.S. live in California, where many have Spanish surnames, most schools enroll low percentages. Thus, NA issues are not differentiated, but subsumed under efforts to serve other "minorities."

The UCLA Civil Rights Project's most recent research on education statistics for Native youth (Faircloth & Tippeconnic, 2010) reports that NA graduation rates now range from 30% to 64%, and that on average, fewer than 50% of NA students from the Pacific and Northwest U.S. graduate high school. Achievement levels fall well below those of other students. At both grades 4 and 8, NA students had lower average scores in reading and mathematics than the average for all other students nationally (NCES 2008; Rampey, Lutkus & Weiner, 2006). Further, Native American youth remain over-represented in special education. The U.S. Department of Education (2003) reported that nationally, 11. …