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Secretary's Column
By Tom Oster
Department of Education

Taking time to refocus

Recently, our management team spent a day brainstorming and refocusing efforts for the coming year. I want to share some of the bigger items that will be on our radar in the months ahead.

--Common Core
The Common Core State Standards were released on June 2, and they will continue to be a topic of discussion here in South Dakota. After an initial review of the draft standards a few months ago, we are convinced that the Common Core Standards are rigorous and well-informed. We are also pleased that they align well with our existing standards in reading and the new standards we were working on for math.

While I believe that eventually we will recommend adoption to the Board of Education, I have some questions, particularly related to assessment and the implementation timeline, that need to be answered first.

--Teacher evaluation
This summer, a work group will begin the process of helping us to develop standards for teaching and a model evaluation tool that schools may choose to use. This past session, the Legislature reinstated a requirement that schools evaluate their teachers. The groupís work will result in a consistent set of standards by which we can be assessing teacher performance. This work may lay the groundwork for future discussions about teacher quality issues.

--Reading standards
South Dakota has high proficiency levels in reading (75 percent in 2009). However, there is always room for growth. In an effort to impact achievement and improve test scores, the department is planning focused professional development related to the stateís reading standards. Using statewide data, we will be identifying those standards where students are consistently performing poorly, and we will be developing pd around those areas. The end result, we hope, will be to increase student comprehension in those particular areas and, ultimately, to raise test scores.

--New approach to teacher prep
The department is working with the University of South Dakota, which is one of several entities to receive a Bush Foundation grant to revamp teacher preparation. With a focus on project-based learning and early exposure to the classroom, we are excited about this opportunity to change the model for preparing teachers for the 21st century.

Let me end by saying congratulations on completing another school year. We, at the department, recognize how hard you work to help our students achieve their highest potential. Thank you for your dedication, and we hope you get a bit of time to relax and enjoy the summer.