Nov. 11-17 is American Education Week
American Education Week is coming up this month. This special week recognizes the contributions of the various people who make up the public education system, from teachers to food service workers and counselors to bus drivers, and everyone in between. Thanks for all you do to make sure our stateís children are receiving the best education!

New DOE directors in place
Colleen OíNeil recently began as director of the departmentís Division of Curriculum and Career and Technical Education, and Ann Larsen took over as the new director of the Division of Educational Services and Support. A recent transplant from Greeley, Colo., Colleen is a lifelong educator, having served in numerous positions, including teacher, chief learning officer, assistant principal and chief human resource officer. Ann has been with the department for more than 10 years, most recently serving as special education director.

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Secretary's Column
By Dr. Melody Schopp
Department of Education

Preparing for a new assessment

For most leaders, there are one or two important issues that keep them up at night. For me, assessment is one of those issues. Come the 2014-15 school year, we will not only be assessing our students on a new set of standards, the Common Core, but we will also be assessing our students via a new format: online. These are major changes, and ultimately, what I believe will be very positive changes. Of course, with change always comes challenge.

As we work to prepare for the new assessment in spring of 2015, we will need to be addressing the challenges from various fronts. First, we will need to make sure our technology systems are capable of handling online assessment (in terms of devices, bandwidth, etc.). Secondly, it will be important that our students have some exposure to, or experience with, online testing. And, finally, we will need to ensure that our students have a deep understanding of the new standards in ELA and math.

Iíve been taking some time over the last few weeks to look at the sample performance items and tasks posted for review by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I encourage you, and your teachers, to do the same. (Click here to access.) The samples include nearly 50 assessment items and performance tasks, including examples of technology-enhanced items that take advantage of computer-based administration to assess a deeper understanding of content and skills than would otherwise be possible with traditional item types.

Beyond summative assessment, if we truly want to improve teaching and learning, we need to be looking at benchmark and formative assessments as well. This year, we have about 20 districts that are participating in a benchmark assessment pilot that will give us some experience, as a state, in doing just that. Pilot schools will be testing their students during four different testing windows throughout the school year, with immediate feedback provided through the South Dakota Assessment Portal.

Certainly, summative assessment plays a role in the educational process. However, with immediate feedback gathered from benchmark assessment, teachers can use that data to assess student learning and modify instruction, if necessary, to ensure that learning is occurring. It is this type of assessment that can drive instruction and improve student outcomes.

There is no doubt that the move to Common Core and online assessment will require a shift in thinking. The transition will be challenging and complex, but in the end, I believe it will be a move that benefits our education system, our educators, and most importantly, the students of South Dakota.