Learning among Traditional Native Americans (TNA)...

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Before you begin to work with a student, it is helpful to know what that student needs. What are the gaps? Where are the strengths? Assessment must have a clear purpose - to determine best instructional and learning practices. Any other purpose is secondary, and likely, irrelevant.

There are many assessment instruments available, but for most Native Americans raised on a Reservation, initial and final assessments are more reliable if they are based on relevant performance. In other words, have the student do something that shows evidence of a needed skill, and use a context that is familiar to that student's environment.

To adequately assess students, "find their strengths, see them in their own environment, visit the home, search out the resources they have at home and in their environment.  Get to know the students and the family as people." Dr. Robert Rhodes, 2001

Principle - Assessment must be relevant to function. (Assessment for American Indian and Alaska Native Learners. ERIC Digest ED385424 (Publication Date: 1995-09-00)

[NOTE: Click on "96/02/26 - List of 91new ERIC Digests" to locate the link to ED385424.]

"...Before the European conquest of the Americas, nearly all Native peoples used performance-based assessment...to determine how each individual could best contribute to the survival of the tribe, clan, or village. As children grew up, adults observed them to determine their knowledge and skill development. Children exhibited different levels of knowledge and skill in tasks such as hunting, running, consensus building, healing, and spiritual leadership. Children who demonstrated superior performance were the ones who later led hunting parties, provided spiritual guidance, served as orators for the people, and performed other necessary tasks for the group."

"...The development of performance-based assessment tools forces schools to relate school curriculum to present and future real-life situations. For AI/AN students, these real-life situations include use of Native languages in various settings, understanding of value systems specifically related to their culture, and mastery of traditional ceremonies."

"...One caution, however, for those involved in developing alternative assessment measures: The effort to improve cultural relevance of curriculum and assessment must be guided by all stakeholders, including parents and other tribal community members." 


  1. How does "performance-based" assessment differ from traditional school assessment?

  2. Have you ever been assessed on your performance? Give examples.


  • Select a major objective for a module or topic in your course. Develop three performance-based activities for that section that would assess your students' progress in your course.

  • Take a personality test on or off-line and consider how accurate the results are in terms of what you know about yourself. Ask others who know you what they think of the results. To find a test on-line that appeals to you, simple do a search on "personality tests," or "learning styles inventory," or, if you really want get into self-discovery, try working with the Enneagram. This system has revealed oodles to me.

Note to Colorado Adult Educators

Colorado and other states have developed performance assessments for adult students. Not all performance lessons are relevant to Native American students, but they can be adapted by instructors who are sensitive to their students and their environment. In Colorado, adult educators use the Colorado Certificates of Accomplishment (CCA). Initial assessment and diagnosis is determined by CASAS, a performance-based standardized assessment instrument.

For more information on the Colorado Certificates of Accomplishment program and materials, contact one of the State Literacy Resource Centers in Colorado

Mary Willoughby, coordinator for the Certificates of Accomplishment process for the state of Colorado, is happy to have you call or write her for more information. Because CCA represents student mastery to employers and other interested agencies in Colorado, it is important for instructors to understand the process thoroughly and comply with the requirements for certification. You may e-mail Mary at willoughby_m@cde.state.co.us, or call her at 303-866-6611. The Longmont Literacy Resource Center also provides training in the CA process.

The MPDLP has funded adult educators in Colorado to develop curriculum and lesson plans aligned with the CCA. To access that material, visit http://stars-cwc.cwc.cc.wy.us/Colorado/ , or contact RECO, and we will make sure you get the materials.

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  Characteristics of TNA Students
Learning Concepts | Instructional Strategies | Sample Lesson Plan