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Navajo language under assessment

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By Carol A. Clark

In an effort to measure language capabilities of Navajo students, the New Mexico Public Education Department’s (NMPED) Indian Education Division and the Navajo Nation’s Office of Dine Culture, Language and Community Services (ODCLCS) are collaborating with seven public school districts to pilot a recently developed Navajo Language Assessment. This new process will help determine students’ Navajo language mastery levels.Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has been instrumental in passing a bill, along with Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who could not be reached for comment.In an interview this morning, Udall said, “Over the years, we have witnessed an alarming trend of disappearing Native American languages. The good news is that lawmakers and communities have begun to respond with collaborations like this to help mitigate the severity of the threat to these languages.” He continued, “During my time in Congress, I have had the great honor of visiting the pueblos in my district and learning their cultures. I have learned that all across New Mexico tribes are losing their languages, a beautiful inheritance that can never be replaced.”When a language is lost,  he said, “we lose a part of the beautiful cultural tapestry that makes America what it is. When we lose a Native American language, we lose a piece of history. By implementing programs like these, we are showing that we understand how important Native American languages are and we will do what it takes to protect them. It is our responsibility to help to preserve them for future generations.”Seven New Mexico public schools were selected to pilot the assessment to evaluate its effectiveness and reliability.Andie Kyser of Student Services at Los Alamos Public Schools said this morning that the district has 17 students enrolled in the school system who report their ethnicity as Native American. “But none of the students, that we know of, speak Navajo,” Kyser said.The pilot test sites are Lowell Elementary and La Mesa in the Albuquerque Public School district, Central Elementary (Bloomfield Schools), Milan Elementary (Grants Cibola Schools), Kirtland Elementary (Central Consolidated Schools), Bluff View Elementary (Farmington Schools) and Navajo Elementary (Gallup McKinley County Schools).Navajo language teachers from New Mexico, Arizona and Utah schools developed the assessment. The NMPED Indian Education Division provided the ODCLCS an appropriation to pilot test the Navajo Language assessment.The next step of the process is to field test the Navajo language assessment at schools with Navajo language classes. Students being tested are students receiving Navajo language instruction as part to the school’s bilingual program.“I strongly support this Memorandum of Understanding with the Navajo Nation Division of Dine Education and New Mexico Public Education Department,” said Secretary of Education Veronica C. García in a statement. “Students learn best in their native language. The findings of this assessment will help educators prepare appropriate programs for our Navajo children.”Delores J. Noble, senior education specialist from the ODCLCS, said in a news release, “Presently there are no assessments on the Navajo Nation to measure language capabilities of Navajo students. As a result, the Navajo Nation was determined to bring Navajo language teachers from New Mexico, Arizona and Utah public schools to compose a common oral language assessment.”She continued, “With this assessment, we anticipate influencing schools, communities, students, parents and its leaders that Navajo language instruction contributes to academic success and achievement; and in the process, improving instructional delivery, share best practices, methodology, and emphasize accountability for all language instruction.”Training for Navajo language teachers to implement the language assessment will be planned after the Navajo Nation Council Education Committee and Navajo Nation Board of Education have approved the Oral Navajo Language Assessment. Members of the language assessment will lead in training for Navajo language teachers, in speaking, in teaching and in assessing one of the most complex indigenous languages to learn.  The goal is to have an approved assessment that will be utilized by public schools systematically and begin the process of collecting data on Navajo Language proficiency among Navajo students.Navajo language teachers and administrators have held three meetings to discuss the assessment. At the last meeting held in January, Navajo language teachers Nancy Benally and Janice Montoya from Bloomfield Schools reported 29 third-graders from Central Elementary were tested for the pilot study.  Herb Frazier, Bilingual Director for Central Consolidated Schools, reported 16 third-graders were tested at Kirtland Elementary School. Navajo language teachers Catherine Begay and Teresa Howard reported 25 third-graders were tested at Navajo Elementary School, Gallup McKinley County Schools. Marie Tapaha from Mt. Taylor Elementary, Grants Cibola County Schools, reported testing third-graders.  Farmington and APS are still in the process of testing their students.