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For Immediate Release: March 27, 2006
Contact: Mary Stadick Smith - (605) 773-7228

Math initiative seeks to boost student outcomes

The South Dakota Department of Education is launching a statewide math initiative called South Dakota Counts. The three-year, $3 million initiative targets math instruction at the elementary level and, ultimately, seeks to increase student achievement in math. It addresses one of the primary goals of the Governor’s 2010 Education Initiative, which is to ensure math and reading proficiency by third grade.

“We know that having a skilled teacher is one of the most important factors in improving student learning,” said Stephanie Weideman, director of the department’s Office of Curriculum, Technology and Assessment. “South Dakota Counts provides a focused professional development program designed to deepen our teachers’ knowledge of math content and pedagogy, and to help them understand how students learn math.”

The initiative targets kindergarten through 5th grade teachers. It uses a model based on cognitively guided instruction. This model helps teachers to understand children’s intuitive mathematical thinking and to use that knowledge in their instruction. “The emphasis is on what children can do, rather than what they cannot do, which leads to a very different approach,” Weideman said.

Since the first Dakota STEP test was given in 2003, as required by No Child Left Behind, the math proficiency levels of South Dakota students have trailed proficiency levels for reading. In 2005, for example, 82 percent of students across the state were considered proficient or advanced in reading, compared to 74 percent in math. Achievement gaps among various subgroups of students, including economically disadvantaged and American Indian students, also have been apparent.

Last year, the Department of Education brought together a group of educators to review the data from the Dakota STEP and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “That group determined that the data supports the need for a math initiative,” Weideman said.

Currently, the department is accepting grant applications from schools and education-related agencies that want to be a part of the math initiative. Up to nine sites will be chosen. From these central locations, training will be provided to K-5 teachers throughout South Dakota.