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.