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Letter from the Secretary
SD Department of Education Oct. 2015  
Letter from the Secretary

As you know, the 2015 State Report Card has been released.

The Report Card contains a wealth of information, and one of the measures we’ve been anxiously awaiting is how South Dakota students performed on the statewide assessment, based on the new standards in English language arts and math.

Overall, our state’s students performed better than was expected. In every grade tested and in both content areas, we exceeded the predicted scores. Kudos to all of you, your staffs and your students for your hard work and commitment, which led to these results.

There were a number of particularly bright spots—including ELA scores in grades 3, 7 and 11. Third grade students also did very well in math. We attribute 3rd graders’ success, in part, to their more extensive exposure to the new standards. Our state’s current content standards are almost all these students have ever known.

Also in math, we know that our 11th grade students performed better than their peers in a number of Smarter Balanced states. Efforts such as the Opportunity Scholarship and the Board of Regents’ decision to use SBAC scores for college placement may be impacting those results.

We have already begun examining why some districts struggled and why some excelled. A couple pieces of data stand out right away. At the elementary level, we see correlation between poor student attendance and low test scores. Common sense tells us that if kids aren’t in school, they aren’t learning. We are using a new attendance measure this year that should help prevent students with chronic attendance problems from being masked by students with strong attendance. This measure is based on the number of students who achieve 94 percent attendance.

Another strong correlation is in districts where there was strong leadership and support for teachers to receive training in the new standards. Where teachers had ample opportunity and encouragement to attend training, test scores were higher.

We have a ways to go, but we are encouraged by the results we see. This is a more rigorous, more meaningful assessment that gives us clearer information on whether students are on track to be ready for college, career and life.

Thank you for all you do for South Dakota students.


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