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For Immediate Release: Aug. 25, 2006
Contact: Mary Stadick Smith - (605) 773-7228

Dakota STEP scores still high, growth slows

South Dakota’s 2006 Report Card, released today, shows that scores on the Dakota STEP remain high, but fewer schools made adequate yearly progress, as required under No Child Left Behind.

“As a whole, statewide test scores held fairly steady this year,” said Dr. Rick Melmer, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education. “We commend all of those schools that made progress, especially those that made it out of school improvement. But, we are also realistic and know that the closer we get to 100 percent proficiency, the more challenging it will be to reach our annual goals.”

South Dakota’s 2006 Report Card is based largely on the test scores of approximately 63,700 public school students in grades 3-8 and 11, who took the Dakota STEP last spring. The test, which covers both reading and math, is the state’s assessment tool under No Child Left Behind.

Eighty-three percent of students scored proficient or advanced in reading on the 2006 Dakota STEP. That compares to 82 percent last year. Seventy-three percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math, which featured all new test items aligned with the state’s new math content standards.

The Dakota STEP is one of three major indicators that the state uses to gauge student achievement in South Dakota. The other two indicators include the ACT, a college entrance exam, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.


“One of the really positive stories we see with these results is regarding our schools in improvement,” Melmer said. (See list below.) The number of schools in improvement has decreased from 106 in 2004 to 102 in 2005 to 88 in 2006. “That trend says to us that, in many cases, the improvement process is working.”

Schools are identified as “in improvement” if they do not meet adequate yearly progress goals in either math or reading for two consecutive years. Under the state’s accountability workbook, any school “in improvement” is required to complete a school improvement process. These schools are required to develop an improvement plan, conduct data analysis, identify needs, establish goals and determine strategies to raise student achievement.

“Schools in improvement become very focused on their data and use that information to drive their instructional goals,” Melmer said. “Everything from professional development and curriculum to parent involvement supports the goals of the improvement plan.”


At the state level, the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading increased 1 percent over last year. Each of the student subgroups for which schools are held accountable stayed steady or showed very slight increases.

A number of schools that made if off school improvement this year did so in the area of reading. “These schools have really made reading a priority, and they’re seeing the positive results of their efforts,” Melmer said. In addition, statewide initiatives such as South Dakota Reads and Reading First help to support individual district’s work in this area.


As part of the South Dakota Board of Education’s standards revision cycle, this year’s math test was a brand new test, based on the state’s new math content standards. These standards reflect the rigor of the state’s new graduation requirements, which call for more advanced math courses in high school.

Since the inception of the Dakota STEP in 2003, math scores have trailed reading scores. In 2006, the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in math was 73 percent, compared to 83 percent in reading. While elementary and middle school students held their own on the new math test, high school students seemed to have more of a challenge.

“We’ve known at the state level that math needs to become more of a focus,” Melmer said. This summer, the Department of Education kicked off South Dakota Counts, a statewide initiative that targets math instruction at the elementary level. A renewed focus on math at the high school level, as part of the state’s more rigorous graduation requirements, should also help to address math achievement in the long term.

Graduation rate stays steady South Dakota’s graduation rate for 2006 held steady at 89 percent, the same as last year. This year marked the first year that all four high school grades were included in the calculation to measure graduation rate.

With the implementation of NCLB, the Department of Education has been building a database of information that would allow calculation of a graduation rate that includes students who leave the education system anytime during 9th through 12th grade. “With the capturing of this last year of data, we feel like we have a graduation rate that accurately portrays the reality of graduation in South Dakota,” Melmer said, “and we’re very pleased with a nearly 90 percent graduation rate.”


While many schools made adequate yearly progress in 2006, the state, as a whole, did not. A number of factors contribute to this situation. For example, two important calculations that can assist schools in making AYP at the local level do not have a dramatic impact at the state level. In addition, the state is held accountable for all students in the public school system, including those who move from school to school as well as those in the state’s corrections system.


The full 2006 Report Card, including reports for individual schools and districts, is available online.

Click here.