Relationship Between Native and Non-native American High School Students’ Drop-out Rates

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Descriptive Analyses

Two high schools situated on Montana reservations, Two Eagle River School of Pablo, MT and Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools of Busby, MT, are selected to participate in this study. After signed consent forms were collected, each student is asked to participate in a self-report survey to determine their race/ethnicity. The survey found 65% of participants are Native American, 29% are Caucasian/White, and 4% were Hispanic/Latino and 2% are mixed race or another race. All participants were American born. The participants’ ages range from 14-19 years old with 52% being female and 48% being male.






16.2 years









    Native American









    Mixed/ Other



Country of Origin



Table 1. Individual demographics characteristics of the sample

Analyses Conducted

A t test was conducted to understand which group, Native American and non-Native American is more connected to their teachers. This t test will illustrate the statistical difference between these two groups.  In addition, we will use a One-Way ANOVA to determine whether there are significant differences between the means of both groups. Finally, a Tukey’s post hoc test will be used to analyze the means from the ANOVA to determine the significant difference between Native American students and non-Native American students. Through these two statistical analyses we will find just how important or not important teacher connectedness is for students on Montana reservations.


Aim 1: Native American vs. non-Native American teacher connectedness

To determine if Native American high school students feel as connected to their teachers as other non- Native students we conducted a t test to understand the difference in teacher connectedness among Native American students and non-Native American students. The study found that more Native American students reported that they felt connected to at least one teacher. One the other hand, non-Native American students reported that they felt close to one teacher, but not at such a high rate. These findings match our hypothesis. We hypothesized that because our sample lives within a Native American reservation, that Native American students would feel connected to teachers than students who do not identify as Native American. We did not hypothesize that there would be such a variation between the two groups. A much lower number of Non- Native American students reported that they felt connected to a teacher, as seen in Figure 1.

Fig. 1. Teacher Connectedness for Native American and non-Native American students

Aim 2: Teacher Connectedness and student drop-out rates

To determine whether teacher connectedness is a contributing factor in drop-out rates we conducted a One-Way ANOVA to determine a significant difference between the means drop-out rate of Native American students the mean drop-out rate of non-Native American students. The study found that Native American students mean drop-out rate was higher than non-Native American students. To determine the significance of these findings, we ran a Tukey’s post hoc test. This test found that there was a significant difference between the groups. Native American students were found to be at a significantly higher rate of dropping out than their non-Native American peers. These findings did not match our hypothesis because we suggested that non-Native American students would have an increased likelihood of dropping out because they are attending high school in a predominately Native American area, as seen in figure 2. These findings did match our hypothesis in that we predicted that there would be a large number of Native American and non-Native American students who would drop-out despite their level of connectedness.

Fig. 2. Number of students who dropped out of high school


Aim of the Study

The present study aims to explore the relationship between Native American and non-Native American high school students’ drop-out rates and their connectedness with teachers. Two high schools on Native American reservations in Montana provides adequate data to investigate the relationship between teacher connectedness and drop-out rates particularly in Native American students and their non-Native American peers.

Aim1: to determine if Native American high school students feel as connected to their teachers as other non- Native students

 Consistent with previous findings, this study finds that high school students generally form a connection with a least one of their teachers (Lee & Burkam, 2003; Wilcox, 2015). However, previous research suggests that academic achievement in high school can depend on school size, as teachers have less time per student (Egalite & Kisida, 2016). For the sake of this study, two relatively small schools with a total of 340 students were chosen to limit the effects of large class sizes. This study found that most students felt connected to a teacher and indicated that connectedness to their teacher was important for a student to feel connected to the school. However, we had not predicted to find that a number of students, both Native American and non-Native American, did not feel connected to a teacher. One reason for this disconnect may be the difference in cultural perspectives from the teacher (Ware, 2018). Perhaps, if the teachers’ perception of cultural differences can create a disconnect between them and their students. Future research should further examine this variable to test whether students are more likely to connect to a teacher if they share similar cultural perceptions. Being that this study is conducted within a Native American reservation, Native American students tend to feel connected to their community, even if not to a teacher. Together these finding highlight the importance of connections for both Native American and non-Native American students. This study focuses on high school students and therefore emphasizes the importance of student-teacher connections in relation to educational success among Native American students.

Aim 2: to determine whether teacher connectedness is a contributing factor in drop-out rates

 Consistent with previous findings, students generally feel connected to at least one of their teachers with more Native American students than non-Native American students indicating that they feel connected to a teacher (Lee & Burkam, 2003; Wilcox, 2015).  Additionally, the study finds that the students who expressed they felt close to at least one teacher were less likely to drop-out. As predicted by the hypothesis, these findings suggest that Native American students have a need to connect to those in which they trust to guide them through their education. However, contrary to expectations, this study found that those who expressed that they did not feel connected to at least one teacher had a significant rate of continuing school as well as those who said they felt connected to a teacher. This suggests that there are extenuating variables that were not examined in this study that effect the likelihood of Native American high school students dropping out. Perhaps including: peer connectedness, family relationships, or connectedness to others within the community may help to explain this gap in the research. Urie Bronfrenbrenner’s Ecological Model can be used to suggest this gap within the research. Because a person grows up within many systems it is only natural that the effects of these differing systems could help to predict the drop-out status of a high school student (Bronfrenbrenner, 1992). Together these findings highlight the importance of teacher connectedness for Native American students. It suggests that teacher connectedness is not the only variable yet should continue to be emphasized within the school systems to increase graduation rates.


This study obtained its data from two school on Montana reservations, which might not generalizable to other Native American reservations or Native American students at public schools off reservations. It is also unclear, whether these finding can be generalized to other age groups. Even though a grade schooler or middle schooler might not drop-out in the same way that high schoolers do, they can have poor relationships with teachers and peers, which could result in poor grades and lesser friends. However, these findings are consistent with previous research, in that a low student to teacher ratio is a contributing factor in student academic success (Egalite & Kisida, 2016). Perhaps another limitation is that this study can only result in correlational data, not causal. Therefore, it is necessary that future research continue to look at other variables that relate to student success and/or drop-out rates, including levels of connectedness. Furthermore, research should be extended past graduation or drop-out to examine the effects of teacher connectedness on college, work, and family life.

As this study’s sample size is relatively small we chose to analyze teacher connectedness in Native American versus non-Native American students with a t test, a One-Way ANOVA, and Tukey’s post hoc test. However, a Newman-Kuhls post hoc test could also be appropriate, as it to uses a differing set of critical values to determine which means are significantly different. Additionally, a Multiple Linear Regression could be used because it can be used to understand the relationship between the two independent variables; in this case teacher connectedness and race.

Missing data within this study is uncommon, nonetheless, we used list-wise deletion to eliminate any participant who did not complete the entire survey. While this method addressed the issue of missing data in a concrete way, future research might think about using multiple imputation techniques to keep more of the data to be analyzed and to acquire appropriate estimates for stand error (Royston, 2004).

Additional Future Directions

Further research is needed to explore the reasons why teacher connectedness is higher in Native American students. Perhaps because of differences in Native American collectivistic culture, it is more natural to search for connection beyond family and friends. However, continued research is still needed to confirm this suggestion. Perhaps another future direction might be for researchers to analyze the significance of gender when it comes to teacher connectedness. As the experiences of boys and girls differ based on social stereotypes, one gender may feel more connected to a teacher and therefore effect their educational outcomes.

Conclusions and Implications

Taken together, the results of this study imply that teacher connectedness is linked to positive outcomes for Native American students. These findings build off previous research by focusing on one race within rural communities. To further understand the implications of teacher connectedness, future research must consider personal variables. For example, race, gender, and socioeconomic status. The present study aims to fill some gap in the literature by examining the effects of teacher connectedness within one race, Native American, as opposed to the others in this study.

By exploring the drop-out rates of only Native American students, we can gain a better sense of how teacher connectedness effects different demographics. In this case, teacher connectedness is a positive factor, however, it may not be for another race. The results of this study are important for: administrators, educators, and counselors, particularly those within a high school setting. These findings may help to implement new programs where educators can learn how their relationships with students effects more than just grades, but perhaps a sense of belonging. As communities, such as reservations, function somewhat outside the norm of high schools within the United States, educators must learn to accommodate different cultural values and learning styles. Therefore, taken together, these findings suggest that educators must learn how to build appropriate and trusting relationships with their students in order for them to excel in their educational future.


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