I have chosen to take a look at the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), which is a standardized test that we use three times per year with our students in our school. It is incredibly common, as I have found that many school boards use it to get an understanding of the reading levels of their students. The kit is made up of twenty short reading booklets, the easiest being very simple, repetitive sentences (things that are red) and moving up levels until they are short stories and biographies. Students read the selected passage out loud as the educator tracks their accuracy, and then answer questions about the reading to check for comprehension. I decided to go through every book in the kit looking for bias. The results were more complicated than I expected.
Out of the 20 books in the kit, exactly had any sort of Indigenous representation. So that is 10%. Out of those two books, both of them were just repurposed folk tales (Thin as a Stick, Turtle’s Big Race) with anthropomorphized animals as the main characters. So there was in effect, no true representation. The only way to know that these were in fact based upon Indigenous stories is that the subtitle for both books was “A Native American Folk Tale”. There is no indication as to where the stories are from, both geographically and culturally. I searched for information about both tales, and I could only discover that “Turtle’s Big Race” is based upon a Seneca folk tale. I could find nothing in my searches that correlated to any story “Thin as a Stick” could be based on. Again, there was no mention of any culture these stories were from, just that they were “Native American”. The stories were also fairly standard retellings with a simple and clear moral, with no mention of any traditional wisdom the stories could be handing down.
I looked for information regarding the authors based on the final point from oyate.org on finding authentic resources.
M) LOOK AT THE AUTHOR’S OR ILLUSTRATOR’S BACKGROUND
M.1) Is the background of the author and illustrator devoid of qualities that enable them to write about Native peoples in an accurate, respectful manner? Is there an ethnocentric bias that leads to distortions or omissions?
Select Only Books for which the author’s and illustrator’s background qualifies them to write about Native peoples. Their perspectives should strengthen the work.
The author of Thin as a Stick is Richard Lee Vaughan. I could not find out any specific information about his background, except that he grew up in the South Pacific and has written several books on Indigenous themes. There was essentially nothing about Lisa Trumbauer, who was the author of Turtle’s Big Race, except that she was born in the Bronx.
So, out of twenty books that are used three times a year with all students across the school (and several schools), there is essentially no real authentic representation. This in itself is indicative of a bias, in that it is essentially the erasure of an entire group of people.