Trends

Rather we like it or not, education is about trends. Change is typically hard in the educational arena and to be honest, that is not the fault of educators. Educators work with kids every school day, but at times are the last ones asked or listened to when a change is needed. Or, when a change is not needed!

Some points in fact. South Dakota’s graduation requirements were revised this year. Schools either have, or will, change their current requirements to meet those set by the department of education. This was a good change that followed the proper steps. Teachers were consulted and able to provide input as the process moved forward.

Civics education is another story. Teachers provided little, if any, input into the legislative hearings and subsequent process. Not because they didn’t want to, they simply were not asked. It now appears we are on our way to a “required” survey which may dictate future direction ignoring the process that should and normally takes place.

Senate Bill 52 read: The secretary of education shall survey all accredited schools in the state to determine the adequacy of instruction in civics, United States government, United States history, and South Dakota history. The secretary may include teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, content and pedagogy experts, higher education faculty, and legislators in the survey. All accredited schools shall provide responses to the survey. Even though it appears this bill is now dead. I still expect to see the survey hit Spearfish High School. A “bill” is not needed. 

The survey may include: The amount of credit required in civics, United States government, United States history, and South Dakota history to meet local graduation requirements; description of the teaching of the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings; list of course offerings in civics, United States government, United States history, and South Dakota history and the corresponding grade levels at which the courses are taught; summary of the academic credentials of the educators teaching the courses; summary of local requirements and whether the local requirements meet or exceed the state graduation requirements; summary of the application of graduation requirements for students who graduate mid-year; and other information related to instruction in civics, United States government, United States history, or South Dakota history.

All information that is readily available. All items that should follow the procedures set by the Department of Education and the State Board of Education. Not state legislators. Maybe that will happen now? Only time will tell.

Another example was/is Senate Bill 188. This was a bill to revise certain provisions regarding state assessments. It essentially would replace the Smarter Balance Assessments at the high school level with end of course exams given after Algebra I, Biology, and English III. Biology was amended in House education to “another” science class. There are only 16 states left that use the Smarter Balance test to assess student achievement. When put into place years ago 45 states signed on.

I testified in favor of this change. Other educational leaders testified in favor of this bill. No one testified in opposition. Slam dunk approval — right? Wrong. Did not pass. Half the members of the committee voted no. It was then amended and sent to the floor, and was again voted out. 

The Dept of Ed has fully vetted the proposed change/process and knows the effect that it can have on the students of South Dakota. The process used to gather input and information for this change has been solid. The process to put this change in place has been fully transparent to everyone and all needed groups have been a part of the proposed implementation process. Now schools just need statute to allow it. Which didn’t happen. 

Teachers give assessments for two main purposes. To assure student understanding and comprehension and to improve the instructional process which enhances the everyday teaching and learning process. You may see other reasons listed and discussed, but those two reasons are the crux of why schools assess.

The subject-specific exams in algebra, biology (or science) and English III will have the capability to assess thinking and doing, reasoning, creating, and problem solving, as well as basic information and routine procedural knowledge. We all know how highly needed each of those skills is in the current workforce and that we should prepare each student to be both college and career ready. We could also include performance tasks in addition to having a modest proportion of multiple-choice and short-answer items. 

The main purpose of the change is to inform efforts to improve student achievement by assessing student performance on the standards specific to each course, algebra I, biology (science) and English III. Specifically, this change is designed to provide students and their parents with critical information about the students’ achievement and, importantly, their preparedness for the next educational level. The assessment system will remain a critical informant of the state’s accountability measure, along with College and Career readiness, all while providing an important gauge about the quality of the educational services and opportunities provided throughout the state and reported on the state report card. The ultimate goal of the end of course assessment and accountability system is to ensure that all students are provided the opportunity to engage with high-quality content standards, receive high-quality instruction predicated upon those standards, and are positioned to meet high academic expectations and to be assessed when the class is completed.

All for naught. For now, South Dakota will do the “same old thing”. Maybe next year … If legislators listen to educators. Imagine that! 

On the assessment note. For now, (but hopefully not in future years) junior students will continue with the Smarter Balance Assessment to measure skills in Language Arts and Math and the Dakota Step assessment to measure science skills. Juniors are scheduled to take both tests in April. DStep science testing will take place on Monday, April 15, and Tuesday, April 16, while Smarter Balance testing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 17, and Thursday, April 18.

Since we prepare all students through day to day instruction, there is no need to study in preparation for the assessments. We do, however ask that students try their best and get plenty of rest during the testing time. We also need students in attendance on the scheduled test dates. Please do not schedule appointments, etc. on the days listed. Making up a missed test means time out of class and losing important learning time that cannot be made up. 

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” ~ Aristotle

Until next time, Steve Morford, principal, Spearfish High School

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