What works? Explorations in improving outcomes for Indigenous students

In December 1997, Australia launched a series of Strategic Results Projects (SRPs) designed to explore methods for improving outcomes of aboriginal students. This major report summarizes results from more than 80 funded projects focusing on one or more of the following priorities: educational delivery practices; Commonwealth priorities in literacy, numeracy, and vocational education and training; key transition points; and a broad number of issues ranging from increased participation and attendance to more accurate assessment. The overarching finding was that learning outcomes for Indigenous students can be accelerated when educators combine commitment with high expectations and with what is generally regarded as good teaching and learning practice.

Content Comments 

The purposes of this lengthy report are well stated and achieved, examining a remarkable experiment to improve outcomes for Australian aboriginal students. Since Australian native students have geographic and demographic challenges similar to those faced by American Indian students, there is high probability of relevancy for U.S. educators and administrators. The researchers used reasonable methodology and design in more than 80 experimental conditions, covering pre-K to post-high school education. Below are just a handful of research findings: 

  • From one program that provides aboriginal class support workers—"His involvement has been fantastic. He has been involved with all practical activities, has provided resources and helped with excursions. The students have really benefited from his knowledge." (Non-Indigenous teacher, discussing the role of an aboriginal support worker)
  • Another program—In terms of literacy and numeracy, the project exceeded its targets, which were to increase ‘the number of Indigenous Year 9 students meeting the literacy and numeracy expectations of providers.' From a baseline level which in the larger of the two schools was only 50%, the project achieved 100% of students meeting expectations.  
  • Another program—One performance target related to the proportion of Indigenous students regularly attending the alternate campus. Average attendance was recorded at 80%, from a baseline at which many students were not attending school at all. 

Despite its length, the resource is excellent in both design and writing. The broad number of experiments suggests that utility should be very high for anyone involved or interested in methods for improving American Indian outcomes. The solid quality of the report suggests a positive impact on learning. Readers should understand that much of the report is based on comments from program leaders and not by an external evaluator. Nevertheless, the authors take care to provide appropriate caveats regarding their methodology, findings, and inferences.