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Despite initiatives which have been introduced by Commonwealth and State/Territory governments in the last 20 years to improve participation

in and outcomes from, education among indigenous students, they continue to be the most educationally disadvantaged student group in Australia, with consistently lower levels of academic achievement and higher rates of absenteeism than among non-Indigenous students. The persistence of high rates of absenteeism is a major concern, as it is believed by educators that consistent school attendance is essential for educational success, with low standards of academic achievement, including low levels of English language and literacy skills, almost universally attributed by teaching staff to high levels of absenteeism among Indigenous students. This view, however, is challenged by some writers and researchers, who see it as a classic case of blaming the victim, and indicative of a reluctance on the part of school authorities to accept that the fault may lie within the education system itself. These authors, in pointing to the fact that the area of English language and literacy learning is a major stumbling block for Indigenous students, highlight the need for the nature of the cause/effect relationship between poor attendance and poor achievement in English language, literacy and other school skills to be established. This, it is believed, will assist in determining what strategies are most appropriate to overcome the problem of poor attendance. According to Altman and Fogarty (2010), while formal educational outcomes in remote Indigenous education in Australia are consistently poor, the discourse in public debate has frequently overlooked the critiques of standardised benchmarking and the complexities of remote educational delivery (p.121). For example, the National Assessment in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results have been instrumental in arguing that middle years Indigenous students (particularly in remote areas) are performing markedly worse than their non-Indigenous peers in the rest of Australia in each of the key areas assessed. More specifically, the NAPLAN National Report claims that over 90 percent of non-indigenous middle years students are performing at or above the national minimum standard, while approximately only 14% of Year 7 and 13% of Year 9 Indigenous students in very remote areas of the Northern Territory met the national standards (Gillard, 2008). There is, however, some question as to what such benchmarks are actually testing. Since Thorndike invented formal achievement tests in the early 20th century, they have been heavily critiqued, particularly in their application to minority populations. As McKenna (1977) noted over 30 years ago, such tests use vocabularies and illustrations unfamiliar to those who are not of white middle class cultures or for whom English is a second language (p.8). In other words, the tests are culturally and linguistically biased. Similarly, for over four decades, statistics show the poor attendance at school by Indigenous students in Australia, particularly in remote areas. Research in the Northern Territory has shown that in some areas, as few as a quarter of the potential school-aged cohort are actually attending school (Taylor and Stanley 2005). It is also clear, however, that low levels of attainment and attendance are linked to poverty, poor health, inadequate housing, inequitable access to government services (including schools) and low socioeconomic status (MCEETYA 1999, 21). Whilst the link between the aforementioned barriers and attendance are well documented, the dominant narrative of policy debate has instead cast the disengagement of Indigenous students as a function of the economic failure or unsustainability of remote Indigenous communities, welfare dependence and irresponsible parenting (Pearson, 2009; Hughes 2007).