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

The Smarter Balanced Field Test is under way with approximately 3 million students in 20,000 schools across the country participating. Approximately 72,000 South Dakota students will complete almost 288,000 tests (four test sections in two content areas). You can find a tally of tests completed by South Dakota students at It’s updated daily.

South Dakota is one of only three states in which all public school students are taking the new assessment. This is fortunate. In other states, some students are not getting this valuable exposure to the new system.

Because of South Dakota’s waiver, schools’ accountability scores are held steady for one year. This means that South Dakota students do not need to be double tested. The Field Test is taking the place of the Dakota-STEP in the content areas of English language arts and math, and no student scores will be reported. Some students in other states are not so fortunate—they must take their state’s former statewide assessment for purposes of score reporting in addition to the Smarter Balanced Field Test.

Finally, the results of this year’s Field Test, from across all participating states, will be used to ensure that test questions are accurate and fair for all students moving forward. This is an important process. We don’t often think about how the words we use are shaped by where we live, our cultural background and so forth. I like to use the example of the word “elevator” in a test item. A rural South Dakota student understands what a “grain elevator” is, but ask a child in New York City about one and they might envision a pile of grain getting a ride to the top of the Empire State Building.

In earlier stages of test development, it was discovered that Hutterite students don’t know what “t-shirts” are. Such variation in word use and familiarity is just one reason it is vital to have as many students as possible participate in this step of test development. By finding problems now, they can be resolved before the test is fully operational.

I know there are challenges as districts administer the test for the first time, but I promise your efforts are worthwhile. You, your teachers and students are playing an integral role in developing an assessment that will help improve education in South Dakota.
2014 Legislative
Session has ended

Click here for a summary of education bills
Click here to watch a 2014 Legislative Wrap-Up

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