Friday, November 6, 2015

Mathematics: A Path to Great Careers, by Dr. Kurt Cogswell, South Dakota State University

As head of the SDSU Department of Mathematics and Statistics, I’ve had countless opportunities to speak with young people about careers in mathematics.  Many of those conversations have started like this:  “I like math and I’m good at it, but I never thought about majoring in math in college.”  We’re hearing about a shortage of qualified math teachers, and I personally believe that the teaching profession is one of the most rewarding careers imaginable, so I’d be remiss not to encourage that career path, but I’m also aware that it’s not for everybody.  The good news is that the non-teaching careers available to mathematics majors are also extraordinary!

People with bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees in the mathematical sciences, which include mathematics, statistics, data science, and computational science, are in high demand.  They’re being hired in virtually every sector of the economy.  Finance and business, agriculture, health care, tourism and hospitality, government, research – employers in all of these areas and more are looking for employees with high levels of training in the mathematical sciences.  Let’s look at two examples of particular importance to South Dakota’s economy.

Finance and Business:  The financial and business worlds are awash in data.  Debit cards, credit cards, online banking and shopping, and other modern financial practices generate enormous volumes of complex data.  Making sense of all this data in order to help financial organizations and businesses make better decisions, better serve customers, increase profits, and create jobs can require the highest levels of mathematical sciences training.  People with this training are employed as actuaries, financial engineers, business analysts, financial product developers, risk managers, marketing analysts, fraud detection analysts, portfolio managers, forecasters, operations research specialists, and in many other capacities. 

Agriculture:  As the world’s population grows, so does the need to increase food production.  Precision agriculture is one exciting way in which this is being accomplished.  Precision agriculture practices applied to millions of acres of cropland generate vast amounts of data, all the way from satellite data down to the level of individual rows of crops.  Data is gathered on seeds planted, pesticides employed, yields produced, soil characteristics, temperatures, rainfall, and many others factors.  Interpreting this vast amount of data can require the highest levels of mathematical sciences training.  The results are used by farmers, agronomists, and others throughout the agriculture industry to help make better decisions, increase profitability, and feed an ever-growing population.

The same theme that appears in finance, business, and agriculture is present in health care, tourism, government and elsewhere – in order to make the best decisions, organizations need people with high levels of mathematical sciences training to interpret large, complex data sets.  The jobs these people hold are consistently rated among the very best jobs in the nation by career specialists like CareerCast in 2015, and for many years prior to that.  These jobs offer high pay, great advancement potential, and the opportunity to make important, meaningful impacts in many ways.  If you or someone you know likes math and is good at it, a career in the mathematical sciences is a great choice!

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 State Report Card: How are we doing?

Abby Javurek-Humig
The 2015 State Report Card is available and lets educators, parents and other stakeholders know how South Dakota schools are doing. Schools are given a classification based on key indicators, including attendance, college and career readiness, high school completion and student achievement.

Student achievement
Student achievement is probably the area of the report card that gets the most attention statewide. Measurements are based on student performance on the statewide assessment in English language arts and math. Last spring, students took a new test, based on new, more rigorous standards in these areas. This test measures skills we couldn’t measure with previous tests that only included multiple choice items—skills like critical thinking, problem solving, writing, listening and research.

Overall, student performance was better than expected. At every grade level tested (grades 3-8 and 11), and in both subject areas, more South Dakota students achieved at Levels 3 and 4 than expected—significantly at some grade levels (see chart below). Level 3 is considered the benchmark for proficiency.

Across all grade levels tested, the percent of students at or above Level 3 in English language arts was 49.5 percent. In math, the percent of students in all grade levels at or above Level 3 was 41.3 percent. While these numbers might seem low, these results are in line with South Dakota’s performance on a similar assessment called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called “the Nation’s Report Card.”

We speculate that the difference between English language arts and math results may reflect the increased demand for applying math knowledge. As students become more familiar with these new standards, we fully expect scores to increase.

I’d also like to draw your attention to 11th grade scores. For the first time, South Dakota’s public universities will allow students to use their state assessment scores as evidence they’re ready for college-level courses, similar to how they can already use ACT scores. Universities will accept scores in Levels 3 and 4 on the state assessment as proof that a student doesn’t need to take remedial courses in English language arts and math. This makes the state assessment more meaningful than ever before for our 11th graders.

Other important indicators
As I mentioned, there’s more to the report card than student achievement. At the elementary and middle school levels, we also measure attendance. Our intuition tells us, and the research backs it up—attendance is crucial for student success. Students can’t learn if they’re not in school. This year, we are using a more accurate measure to help ensure students with chronic attendance problems aren’t being overlooked.

At the high school level, we also measure college and career readiness and high school completion. College and career readiness is based on the percent of students who met the requirements based on their ACT scores to enroll in for-credit courses in English and math at our public universities. For several years, these numbers have hovered around 67-68 percent in math and 75-76 percent in English. It’s important to note that not all students take the ACT. In the future, this measure will become more accurate as we add additional opportunities for students to indicate readiness, including the results of their 11th grade assessment, the Accuplacer exam and the National Career Readiness Certificate.

High school completion is measured in two ways. The four-year graduation rate indicates how many students within a cohort graduate in four years. The completer rate is the percent of students in the most recently completed school year who attained a diploma or GED, whether or not they did so within four years. Both of these numbers are gradually rising. Particularly exciting this year, are a couple of gains among our state’s Native American students—around 2 percent increases in both four-year graduation and completer rates.

We have reasons to celebrate at the same time we know much work lies ahead. Going forward, we will examine what it is that our state’s highest-performing schools are doing to help students succeed and how those practices might be shared and replicated to help our struggling schools improve.

Abby Javurek-Humig is the director of assessment and accountability for the South Dakota Department of Education.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Welcome Back message from Secretary Schopp

I’m energized for the new school year. Many South Dakota schools are back in session, and others soon will be.

We are asking folks to share their back to school photos with the hashtag #SDBackToSchool. You can find us on Twitter @sddoe. I hope you’ll join in the fun!

I would also like to make you aware of a new publication developed by the Department of Education, entitled “Celebrating South Dakota Teachers.” This magazine highlights some of the great things teachers are doing across our state. Our goal with this publication is to elevate and raise awareness about the importance of the teaching profession and to highlight the positive things happening in South Dakota classrooms. The magazine features many of our state’s award-winning teachers.

An electronic version of "Celebrating South Dakota Teachers" is also available.

There is much to celebrate in South Dakota public education. 

Have a great school year!

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Value of Dual Credit Courses, a column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Like other young South Dakotans, Kelcie Hauf of Dell Rapids is getting ready to head back to school. As a high school senior, Kelcie is trying to decide which field to study when she graduates. Rather than wait until she gets to college to explore career options, Kelcie is participating in the dual credit program. Because she is considering a career in counseling, Kelcie took a dual credit introductory speech course last spring. This fall she will be utilizing the dual credit program to take Psychology 101 to explore that career path further.

Dual credit courses allow students like Kelcie to simultaneously earn high school and college credit. At only $40 per credit hour, these courses provide students and their families significant cost savings. These are the cheapest university or technical school credits a student will ever take, and they can save hundreds of dollars by taking just one course. Last year, South Dakota students saved more than $2.5 million by using this program – averaging more than $1,000 per student in savings.

At a time when the cost of college is a great concern, dual credit courses are a great way to save money. They also save time, making it more likely that students will graduate on time. Every dual credit course taken in high school is a course that need not be taken in college.

In its first year, this program has been a tremendous success. Last year, 1,946 public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, tribal and homeschool students participated, with a pass rate of 92.76 percent. Thirty-nine districts had at least one quarter of their juniors and seniors complete courses.

Many students take dual credit courses online, which provides greater flexibility in scheduling.  These courses also make dual credit available to students who are not near a university or technical institute.

Just as Kelcie is doing, students can explore their interests with dual credit.  A student who might want to study robotics or medical lab technology after high school could take an introductory course from one of the state’s technical institutes to try out the program before making a final decision. If the student then decides to pursue that career, he or she has a jump start on a degree. Or perhaps a student wants to take a college algebra course not available at the local district. He or she could take that course from a state university.

With dual credit, students take college-level courses while still having the support of their local high school educators who can help them develop the skills they will need, like stronger time management and study skills. In fact, data shows that students who take dual credit do better when they go on to college or a technical institute – even after adjusting for grade point average, ACT scores and other performance indicators.

Today, more than ever before, it’s important for young people to continue their education beyond high school. The escalating number of people earning degrees and the increasingly competitive global economy require today’s workforce to have greater skill sets and more education. Dual credit can help prepare our students for that next step.

Visit to learn more.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Message to the Graduating Classes of 2015, a column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Congratulations to the class of 2015! To all high school, college and technical school students now approaching graduation in South Dakota, I commend you for reaching this milestone. After years of studying, taking tests and writing essays, you’ve finally made it. Congratulations on all you have achieved!

Most of you probably already have a good idea of what you’ll be doing next – what additional education you’ll seek or what career you’ll pursue. Whether you’ve decided to stay in South Dakota or pursue a career or education elsewhere, I hope you’ll ultimately consider a future here in our state. There are a number of reasons to consider living and working here.

First, we have the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.5 percent, compared to the national rate of 5.5 percent. Job opportunities are better here than in most places.

Secondly, the tax burden in South Dakota is low. We are among only a few states without an income tax, meaning you can keep more of the money you earn. Money that can repay student debt, buy a house someday or replace that car you drove into the ground in school.

Third, not only do people keep more of the money they earn in South Dakota, but that money will buy more here than in other places. According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, South Dakotans experience a very low cost of living in the United States. We don’t spend as much money on housing, insurance, food and the other everyday needs. In fact, we have some of the lowest costs in the nation.  In New York, California, Washington, D.C., or many other places, you will find costs that are 10 percent, 12 percent, even 18 percent higher than the national average.  In South Dakota those costs are only 88 percent of the national average.

Now some people will say, “There may be a low tax burden and low cost of living, but I won’t get paid as much if I live in South Dakota.” Actually, when it comes to per capita personal income, we fare pretty well. Nationally, we rank in the top half. And, if you adjust the per capita personal income for the low cost of living, we are the fifth best in the nation. If you adjust for lack of income taxes, we rank third in the nation.

Beyond the financial reasons, though, South Dakota is a great place to live because we have a good quality of life here. Our communities are safe, our public schools are high-quality and our people are friendly. We also have clean air, clean water and beautiful scenery.  And you can’t put a price tag on the love and support of your family, here in South Dakota.

My hope is not that you will never venture outside of our state, but rather that you would consider a more permanent future in South Dakota. Your dreams can come true – right here at home.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week May 4-8: A message from South Dakota Education Secretary Dr. Melody Schopp

When you were little, did your jaw drop whenever you ran into one of your teachers outside of school? As children, it doesn’t seem to occur to us that teachers have lives beyond the classroom. Seeing a teacher out in the community can feel like a celebrity encounter.

We don’t lose that sense of awe when we grow up either. Think of the first time you talked to a former teacher after you graduated high school. Did you get tongue-tied wondering if you dare use his or her first name?

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8. I hope you take time to celebrate all teachers during this special week—those in our schools today, and those in your life, past and present. There’s a reason we grow up admiring our teachers. It’s not because they’re really celebrities (though I think the world would be a better place if they were). It’s because they encourage us, mold us and inspire us. Teaching is an honorable profession.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Librarian wants students to be lifelong learners, readers and library lovers

Laura Allard is the librarian at Memorial Middle School in Sioux Falls. The South Dakota State Library recognizes this library as an Exemplary 21st Century School Library.

How long have you been a school librarian?
I’ve been a librarian since 1997 and have worked in school libraries for seven years.


 Why did you decide to become a school librarian?
I’ve known I wanted to be a librarian since I was 16. I first thought of being a school librarian when I was getting my master’s in library science. I love young adult literature, and one of my favorite parts of working at a public library was helping kids and teens find books and helping them with research projects.

What makes your school’s library an Exemplary 21st Century School Library?
I think what is foundational to Memorial gaining the Exemplary status is that our library has a lot of support from teachers and administrators.

(Click here for more information on the 21st Century School Library program.)

What kind of programming do you offer?
On an ongoing basis, we have grade-level lunch book clubs. We have also hosted a special coding class for Teen Tech Week, author Skype sessions, a winter reading festival, a spring book swap and The Reading Olympics.

Do you have special programming over the summer?
Our library is open during the summer, which is a great way for our students to enjoy the library informally and have a familiar source for reading materials during the long summer months. We especially get a lot of incoming sixth graders, which is a great way for them to feel comfortable in the building, and it’s great for me because I get to meet them first!

How are today’s school libraries different from when you were in school?
I don’t even remember my junior high library. Free reading was not emphasized in school as much when I was in junior high. One thing I hope I accomplish with the students at Memorial is that they have positive memories of the library, which hopefully translates into their being lifelong learners, readers and library lovers!

What books are popular right now?
Right now it’s all about Minecraft! Our students also love reading the YARP (Young Adult Reading Program) Teen Choice Book Award-nominated books, and of course, series like Michael Vey, Divergent and Maze Runner.

What do you like most about being a librarian?
I love that the fundamental goal of libraries and librarians is to facilitate learning in their community. This is also the biggest challenge, because a librarian’s purpose is often misunderstood. Many still see us as only “the book people” when libraries and librarians are so much more. The challenge of being a librarian today is changing perceptions.

What do you like about being the librarian at Memorial Middle School?
I love our students, and I love our teachers!

How do you keep learning?
I read the School Library Journal, Teacher Librarian and Knowledge Quest. I follow a lot of Twitter feeds and have set up several Google alerts for topics I am particularly interested in. I am looking forward to summer to catch up on some of my professional reading. I also enjoy taking online classes from the American Library Association and other professional organizations.