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2011 Report Card: Schools show solid performance, Accountability system deserves scrutiny

Ninety-four percent of South Dakota’s public school districts, and 80 percent of schools made adequate yearly progress for 2010-11, as required under No Child Left Behind. The percentage of students proficient in math was 77 percent, up 1 percentage point from last year, while proficiency in reading was 75 percent, down 1 percentage point from last year.

“South Dakota schools have a solid track record when it comes to meeting proficiency goals. I commend the state’s educators for their ongoing efforts to ensure that our students are reaching high levels of achievement,” said Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp. “However, I also recognize that these results are based on a one-time snapshot of performance during the school year, and while that’s one indicator of how well our schools and students are doing, it should not be the sole indicator.”

Under South Dakota’s current accountability system, adequate yearly progress is determined by students’ performance on the Dakota STEP or Dakota STEP-A, an alternate version of the assessment for students who have a significant cognitive disability. The tests were administered to approximately 64,500 students in grades 3-8 and 11 in the spring of 2011. A third factor – attendance or graduation rate – is another part of the determination.

Targets for proficiency held steady

Earlier this summer, Schopp announced that South Dakota would hold its annual targets for proficiency in reading and math at the 2009-10 levels. “In the absence of reauthorization of the federal law overseeing elementary and secondary education, I felt strongly that we needed to take this stand. If we had increased our targets, as laid out in our original plan when NCLB first came into play, we would have inappropriately labeled additional schools as failing,” she said. “That’s not fair to the schools, and it’s certainly not fair to their students.”

Schopp estimates that the number of schools that would have missed making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, in math this year if the targets were not held steady would have nearly doubled. In reading, she estimates the number would have almost tripled. Down the road, this would have triggered a series of required assistance and interventions by the state Department of Education, which Schopp says her department does not have the resources to provide.

“Let me be clear: South Dakota schools are still being held accountable,” she said. “We are simply holding our targets steady at last year’s levels, until we have a better system in place.”

Schopp has had informal conversations with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, who indicated that the reading target may be held steady, and that the requested change to graduation rate should be approved. However, the math target continues to be a point of conversation. In these discussions, U.S. Ed has not articulated the consequences to holding the targets steady without approval.

Graduation rate drops as expected

According to South Dakota’s 2011 Report Card, the statewide graduation rate for 2011 was 83.39 percent, down from 89.23 percent last year. The decrease was expected, as the state moved to a new method of calculation which is soon to be required at the federal level.

The requirement allows states to count as graduates only those students who complete their high school coursework in four years. A student who leaves school for a time – for medical reasons or to work full-time to support a family – but then returns to finish his high school career, but does not finish within four years, counts against a school when determining whether it made AYP. “In essence, we are penalizing schools for doing what they are supposed to do,” Schopp said.

Accountability system will be reviewed

As the national debate regarding the merits of NCLB continues, South Dakota is moving forward to create a new state accountability system. Schopp is pulling together a group of educators, business leaders and legislators to provide the department with direction as to what the next generation of school accountability will look like in South Dakota.

“My hope is that we can develop a new system that is legitimate, useful and promotes continuous improvement within our schools,” she said. “If we can pull things from the existing system, that’s fine. But I really want us to be thoughtful about what makes a great school in South Dakota in the 21st century.”

Full results available online

The 2011 Report Card, including district- and school-level results, is available online at www.doe.sd.gov.