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State to hold bar steady for school progress determinations

South Dakota schools will be playing by last year’s rules when it comes to the state issuing determinations of adequate yearly progress, or AYP, later this month.

On June 29, Secretary of Education Melody Schopp announced that South Dakota will hold its goals for proficiency in reading and math at 2009-10 levels, rather than increasing those targets as previously anticipated. In addition, the state will reduce its graduation rate goal to 80 percent from the current target of 85 percent.

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Schopp wrote: “Without making these changes, we believe our accountability system, as it currently stands, would inappropriately label schools as failing. This situation would eventually trigger a number of NCLB-related sanctions that our department simply does not have the capacity to address.”

Schopp cited a number of reasons for the change – chief among them flaws in the current system for school accountability, as well as a lack of reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, also referred to as NCLB.

“Everyone recognizes that the standards imposed under NCLB become increasingly unrealistic over the next two or three years,” Schopp said. “That is why it was widely assumed that ESEA would be reauthorized and rewritten by sometime this spring. Gridlock in Congress has prevented that from happening and requires us to take this step.”

All states will be required to move to a new method of calculating graduation rate. Under this method, students who do not complete high school in four years count negatively against a school. “We know this change will have a negative impact on schools – even as they are trying to do the right thing for kids,” Schopp said. “By moving to a goal of 80 percent, we soften that blow and still maintain a respectable goal for graduation within four years. Most importantly, we don’t give up on those students who do not complete high school in four years.”

Schopp is hopeful that, because of federal delays in reauthorizing ESEA, the U.S. Department of Education will grant South Dakota a waiver to adopt these standards. She noted that the state will be moving forward with developing a new accountability system – one based on nine key principles developed in conjunction with 40 other states across the country. While sharing commonalities with other states, the new system will be one that is unique to South Dakota, and one that is “legitimate, useful and promotes continuous improvement,” according to Schopp.

“South Dakota remains committed to accountability, and I believe our track record in the area of student achievement demonstrates that commitment,” Schopp wrote. “South Dakota students routinely score above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress as well as on the ACT. Proficiency levels on our state test also remain high. Certainly, we have issues and challenges, which we recognize and are seeking to address.”

Until a new accountability system is in place, South Dakota schools will be held accountable at the 2009-10 targets for proficiency in reading and math.