New school year means new writing test
South Dakota will have a new writing assessment beginning 2010-11. Called WriteToLearn, it’s an online, formative assessment.

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Secretary's Column
By Tom Oster
Department of Education

Three big things

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the department’s “3 Big Things” as the new school year approaches. Please be aware of these important initiatives for 2010-11 and share with the appropriate people on your staff.

#1 – SDMyLife promotion
If your school hasn’t used yet, you’re going to want to do it NOW. The SDMyLife homepage is getting a facelift, and come Sept. 27, the department will launch a campaign inviting high school students to visit the site and to register for education-related prizes such as laptops and e-readers.

From the homepage, students can log in to access all of the site’s academic and career planning resources, including the section on building a Personal Learning Plan. (Remember, per the new graduation requirements, Personal Learning Plans are required for all students entering 9th grade, beginning this fall.)

Your school counselor is the one who provides the SDMyLife log-ins. Training will be offered for those counselors who have not yet been through the training or who need a refresher. is provided free to school districts by the Department of Education.

#2 – Reading Up
We believe this initiative has the potential to increase the state’s reading scores, which are already high but could use a boost. What we’ve done is to identify the two English Language Arts standards at each grade level that our students struggle with – based on performance on the Dakota STEP.

Using this data, we will provide focused professional development that targets these specific standards at the appropriate Bloom’s level. Participants will bring their own lesson plans and work through the process of aligning them to the appropriate Bloom’s level of difficulty.

In the classroom, this should translate to a deeper understanding for your students. In the NCLB world, it could move the needle up on statewide reading scores.

#3 – WriteToLearn
South Dakota has a new writing test beginning with the coming school year. We piloted WriteToLearn in 2009-10 and received positive feedback.

The WriteToLearn assessment is a formative, online assessment rather than the summative, paper-and-pencil test we used to use. Both teachers and students will benefit from the immediate feedback available via the online system. The new test will be administered three times throughout the school year.

The department will work with your testing coordinators on the details of test administration, but we want you to be aware of the benefits this new system offers.