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Assessment in a tribal college context : a case study of Northwest Indian College Karlberg, Anne Marie

Abstract

Approximately 32 tribal colleges are located on reservations in the United States. Their aim is to provide Native American students with a culturally relevant and meaningful post-secondary education. Assessment uses methods of applied research to improve student learning. The aim of this study is to advance theoretical and applied knowledge in the field of assessment within tribal colleges. This undertaking is noteworthy given that tribal colleges are vital to the development and future of Native American communities. I use a case study methodology to examine a specific assessment program that is being developed at Northwest Indian College (NWIC), a tribal college in Washington state. In this study, I provide responses to three research questions: (1) What criteria are best used to evaluate an assessment program in a tribal college context? (2) Which elements of the NWIC assessment program are most and least successful according to the evaluative criteria established in Research Question 1? and (3) What preconditions and other contextual factors contribute to the relative success or failure of different elements of the NWIC assessment program? I review the history of Native Americans in higher education, provide an overview and critique of the emerging assessment movement, and discuss the state of assessment within the tribal college system. This study demonstrates that assessment can be done in a tribal college context in a culturally respectful and meaningful way and provides insights into how this can be approached. My findings suggest that effective tribal college assessment programs use three types of information to assess student learning--direct indicators, indirect indicators, and institutional and community data--and assess each of these at the tribal community, college, program, and course levels. It is equally important to pay attention to the inputs into the assessment program (i.e., plans and resources) and how the assessment program is carried out. Furthermore, the intention of the assessment program is to impact the college's context. Articulating and revisiting the tribal college's mission--with its focus on the self-determination of Native peoples--is a critical initial step in the development of assessment programs that should be emphasized in this framework.

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