International Review of Education

, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 47–65 | Cite as

Raising the standard for testing research-based interventions in Indigenous learning communities

  • Sharon Nelson-BarberEmail author
  • Zanette Johnson
Original Paper


Preserving the unique contours of cultural communities is integral to the rich weave of our collective human heritage. However, the postcolonial United States (US) educational paradigm, reflected in curricula and standards based on white middle-class norms, has a flattening effect on the vibrancy of diverse languages and community traditions. Based on their own research, the authors demonstrate that, for distinctive populations like Indigenous groups, research-based educational interventions can actively inhibit learner achievement and suppress cultural vitality. This article presents examples of how Diné (Navajo) public schools are affected at system, teacher and individual levels, illustrating how, in a specific cultural milieu, some research-based “best practices” are not in fact for the best. Each example highlights some of the ways in which “understanding context” is an essential ingredient paving the way for student success. The authors argue that in order to optimise the potency of educational innovations developed for Indigenous learners, interventions must adhere to a higher standard of assessment practice. They suggest employing local testing and incorporating stakeholder opinions as part of the strategic design of measuring students’ learning progress, as a way of responding to the particular needs and dispositions of a community’s unique learners.


Indigenous learning communities Research-based educational interventions Self-determination Comprehensive school reform Assessment strategies 


Rehausser les normes de contrôle des interventions fondées sur la recherche dans les communautés apprenantes autochtones – La préservation des spécificités uniques des communautés culturelles est essentielle au tissu précieux de notre patrimoine humain collectif. Néanmoins, le modèle éducatif postcolonial des États-Unis d’Amérique, reflété dans les normes et les programmes scolaires élaborés à partir des critères d’une classe moyenne blanche, a un effet destructeur sur la vitalité des diverses langues et traditions communautaires. À partir de leur propre étude, les auteures démontrent que pour des populations distinctes telles que les groupes autochtones, les interventions éducatives fondées sur la recherche peuvent inhiber activement les performances des apprenants et supprimer le dynamisme culturel. L’article présente des exemples de cette influence sur les écoles publiques Diné (navajo) au niveau de l’individu, des enseignants et du système, et illustrent que dans un milieu culturel spécifique certaines « meilleures pratiques » fondées sur la recherche ne sont en réalité pas les meilleures. Chaque exemple éclaire certaines situations où la « compréhension du contexte » est un ingrédient essentiel qui ouvre la voie à la réussite de l’apprentissage. Les auteures avancent que, pour optimiser l’effet des innovations éducatives conçues pour les apprenants autochtones, les interventions doivent être ajustées à des normes supérieures pour la pratique de l’évaluation. Elles proposent d’utiliser l’évaluation autochtone et d’intégrer les opinions des parties prenantes dans la conception stratégique de la mesure des progrès d’apprentissage, répondant ainsi aux aptitudes et besoins particuliers des apprenants uniques d’une communauté.



Preparation of this article was supported in part by a grant from the US Department of Education (S283B120006) to WestEd. The findings and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agency. It recounts and elaborates on the earlier article: Nelson-Barber, S. and Johnson. Z. (2016). Acknowledging the perils of “best practices” in an Indigenous community, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Special Issue on Indigenous Issues in Education and Research: Looking forward, 47, 44–50. All references to individuals are anonymous and any similarities reminiscent of known individuals are coincidental.


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Copyright information

© UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Culture & Language in EducationWestEdRedwood CityUSA
  2. 2.Intrinsic Impact ConsultingStanfordUSA

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