Friday, August 15, 2014

3 ingredients in the recipe for success: High quality standards, instruction and assessment

Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp
Welcome to the South Dakota Department of Education’s new blog.

Across the state, classrooms and playgrounds are bustling with activity. I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.

I remember fondly my time as a teacher. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of “back to school”—making sure everything is just so, from the brightly decorated bulletin boards to the cozy reading corner and colorful name tags on desks waiting to be filled with students.

Now, part of my job is visiting schools and classrooms all over our state, meeting the administrators, teachers and staff who tirelessly dedicate themselves to South Dakota students. This part of my job never feels like work. It’s an honor.

Every day South Dakota educators prepare students for college, careers and life. This preparation starts with those wide-eyed little kindergartners and carries all the way through to high school seniors ready to take on the world.

That’s a high calling. So, how do they do it? Good teachers know that there are three components vital to providing a quality educational experience: high quality standards, high quality instruction and high quality assessment.

Standards explain what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

With new standards in English language arts and math, South Dakota teachers are going further in-depth with their instruction, helping students achieve deeper levels of understanding and make connections between classroom learning and the outside world. This is important work that takes time.

In the spring, South Dakota students will be tested on the new ELA and math standards when they take the new Smarter Balanced assessment. This new assessment provides a much more meaningful picture of student performance than our previous test.

We know that Smarter Balanced test results will look different than Dakota STEP test scores. It’s important to remember, though, that the two tests should not be compared. They measure student proficiency on two different sets of standards, and there will be a period of adjustment as students become familiar with the new standards.

The standards in ELA and math have been raised, so Smarter Balanced test scores are likely to make it appear that student proficiency has dropped. This always happens with a new test. It does not mean students are performing poorly. It means that we are challenging students and preparing them for the rigors of postsecondary and careers in today’s world. And I am confident that, given time, South Dakota students will rise to the challenge.

Assessment is just one piece of the education puzzle. All the pieces—high quality standards, instruction and assessment—fit together and play a vital role in every student’s education.