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Only half of S.D. students proficient in English; less than half in math and science

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said she is disappointed in recent statewide standardized test scores indicating that just over half of students were proficient in English language and fewer than half showed proficiency in math and science.

The results of the South Dakota Department of Education 2019 Report Card, based on standardized tests, showed that about 54% of students tested in grades three through eight and in 11th grade showed proficiency in reading and writing. Only about 47% of those same students were proficient in math for their respective grade levels, and roughly 40% of students were proficient in science.

Gov. Noem told South Dakota News Watch that she was unimpressed with the results during an interview two days after the statewide report card was released to the public on Sept. 17.

“I’m not happy with those numbers and we are having that conversation as we speak,” Noem said. “We just got those numbers and we will be having conversations about how to improve those numbers for our students.”

Despite a half-cent sales tax increase passed in 2016 that generated new revenue to boost pay for South Dakota’s roughly 9,700 teachers, student test scores have not increased since then. Over the last three academic years, statewide proficiency scores for math, reading and writing have remained essentially flat. The scores for science proficiency actually fell from the 2017-18 school year, when the science test was first administered, to the 2018-19 school year.

At least part of the reason scores haven’t increased is that South Dakota started using a newer, more difficult assessment test during the 2016-17 school year. Comparing results from the old test to the new test isn’t fair, state Education Secretary Ben Jones said. The biennially administered National Assessment of Educational Progress, which has used, essentially the same testing methods since 2003, shows flat scores for reading between 2015 and 2017, while math scores rose slightly between 2015 and 2017.

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