Invisible Barriers to Higher Education in Indian Country: Standardized Testing

This dissertation explores the accessibility of SAT and ACT standardized tests and related preparatory resources in relation to Native communities. The ultimate goal of this research is twofold. First, to help identify some of the barriers to educational access experienced by Native students, and second, to use this information to increase awareness of and make recommendation for addressing the varying levels of access Native students, both on and off reservations, have to the SAT and ACT tests and related preparatory resources. Utilizing a theoretical framework based in Tribal Critical Race Theory, this research employs a mixedmethods approach to data collection and analysis in recognition of the distinct roles both narratives and numbers can have in illuminating upon a particular issue. Personal narratives from thirteen Native college students and five school administrators exclusively within Arizona provided the qualitative data for this study. Additionally, publically-available annual reports and databases generated by the College Board and ACT, Inc. provided quantitative data on the location of testing centers in the state of Arizona, as well as national and Arizona-specific trends in American Indian student participation on the SAT and ACT as compared to their peers. This research identifies three key barriers to standardized testing – and access to higher education – experienced by students and school administrators within Native American communities: 1) lack of geographic accessibility of testing centers, 2) lack of accessibility of college and test preparation resources, and 3) lack of financial accessibility of taking the tests. Collectively, this research provides deeper insight into the role of standardized testing in Native students’ educational experiences, how this differs between on-reservation schools and off-reservation schools, and ways in which schools and organizations can cooperate to increase the accessibility of higher education for all Native students


Kestrel Smith


Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox




College of Social and Behavioral Sciences