Local schools not on state list

Local schools not on state list by David Lias Vermillion Public Schools received passing grades Friday in meeting the state's requirements in reading and mathematics.

The state's first report card under the federal No Child Left Behind Act shows that while most schools are meeting standards for educating a majority of their students, many have special-education students who have not scored high enough on the statewide test, said Rick Melmer, state education secretary.

"Overall, we're pleased with our results because as a district, when we roll all of our students' test results together we are above the state baseline in all but just a couple categories," said Liz Hogen, Vermillion School District's curriculum director. "In most cases, we are well above the state baseline. "That tells us that our instruction is aligned with our standards, and we have a dedicated staff that's following those standards," she said.

The results come from a new test called Dakota STEP that was administered in all public school districts in South Dakota last year.

The test is designed to measure students' achievement and progress as it is aligned with the state standards.

"It's called a criterion-referenced test, because it's developed for that particular criterion," she said. "Another part of the test is the norm-referenced test, which is what we have always taken, and what we're used to."

Thirty-two South Dakota schools have failed to meet the state's requirements in reading and math, and more than half of the state's districts have been put on alert that they could be next.

On Friday, the state released its report card and the list of schools needing improvement. Schools must meet goals in reading and math to stay off the list. In addition, each elementary and middle school must maintain an attendance rate of at least 94 percent, and each high school must have a minimum graduation rate of 90 percent.

Schools and districts not meeting these goals are put on alert. If they don't meet the goals two years in a row, they are identified as needing improvement. Schools that do not improve risk losing federal money and have to provide students with additional services, such as tutoring or transportation to another school.

The Vermillion School District's students' performance exceeded state standards. The district wasn't included on the list of schools that need improvement, nor was it put on alert.

"The first year that you fail to make adequate yearly progress, you're put into an alert status," Hogen said. "That just means you have another year to correct those particular areas. If not, you go into what's called Level 1 of school improvement."

Hogen said there are five school improvement levels. The higher the level, the more severe are the consequences for school districts.

"You lose control locally over your funds, such as title money, as you go up in those school improvement levels," Hogen said. "Basically, the state will come in and take over school districts that reach the high levels."

Despite Vermillion's strong showing, local educators and administrators in the school district aren't content, Hogen said.

"We certainly know that we have some areas that we want to look at," she said. "It reinforced some of the things that we have been doing."

In the last two years, the Vermillion School District has been concentrating on improving its math curriculum.

"But our subscores for the Native American and the special education population, we did not make AYP (adequate yearly progress) so we're certainly not happy with that, and we will focus on working specifically on those subgroups this school year."

Of the 67,000 students in grades three through eight and 11 who took the Dakota STEP test, 71 percent were proficient or advanced in reading and 59 percent were proficient or advanced in math.

The goal of No Child Left Behind is to have all students proficient or advanced in both subjects by 2014.

Most schools on alert tend to be medium-sized or large because they have a more diverse population that is broken into subgroups and measured under the federal requirements.

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