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I believe that all children have the right to a quality education that will prepare them for a life of their choosing.

Across the nation and in South Dakota, while we’re making progress, we haven’t yet achieved that vision, particularly amongst Native students. Among students living on reservations, less than one in three reads on grade level.

Despite these alarming statistics, I am encouraged every day by the ability, talent and determination of our students. By updating and strengthening the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Congress has the opportunity to strengthen schools in South Dakota and across the country.

As a parent, it’s always nice to hear that my child is doing well or performing at the top of her class. But when I learned how far behind our kids are in the state, I began to ask the tougher questions — my child may be performing well in her third-grade class, but compared to whom? How is my child performing in relation to other students across South Dakota? Many Native families I talk to ask the same questions.

Statewide annual assessments help ensure that parents, educators and policymakers have the information they need to make good decisions about resources and opportunities for our students.

Testing data doesn’t always paint the complete picture of Native students, and we know that test scores don’t measure everything our tribal vision wants for our kids, but it can help us better understand how they are performing in the classroom and enable us to take action if they aren’t receiving the education they deserve.

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Having access to testing data that shows the performance of low-income, minority, special needs, English-language learners and other student subgroups can help us see where inequities and gaps exist in our communities and provide opportunities for improvement.

It is critical that our nation’s education policies work to ensure that parents are informed about how their children and schools are progressing, and that there is real accountability when they are not.

We hear complaints about low-parent involvement in schools. Understanding student data is a way to empower us as parents and as tribal nations to be involved. If my daughter is behind in reading or math, I deserve to know that.

Native students often encounter bias and inequity in many areas of life, including their education, but change is possible. Congress owes it to our Native students, families and communities to pass a reauthorization of ESEA that ensures all children, regardless of what they look like, where they come from or how they learn, have the opportunity to succeed.

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