Vermillion schools need to improve, according to 2004 report card

Vermillion schools need to improve, according to 2004 report card by David Lias There's good news and bad news.

First, the bad news.

An analysis of a dizzying array of data released this week by the South Dakota Department of Education shows the Vermillion School District as "needing improvement" according to standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The good news?

Data shows that most categories of students attending Vermillion schools who took the Dakota STEP tests last spring are making strong improvement in reading and mathematics.

So why is Vermillion on the list?

There may be some parts of the testing system that aren't particularly fair, according to Liz Hogen, the district's director of instruction.

There are 48 different areas, or subgroups of students, that are identified in the STEP tests. They are identified by race, sex, nationality and family income.

"It only takes one subgroup in one school to be put on school improvement," she said, "and so we knew that was going to happen to us."

For example, Vermillion's special education students took the same test as students enrolled in normal classes.

District-wide, these students scored significantly lower in reading than their peers in both Vermillion and in all of South Dakota.

"Most students are required to take the test at their own grade level regardless of their ability level," Hogen said. "Because our district is big enough, and we have enough students to count in that category, we knew we weren't going to make it in that category.

"General results for our district � we're quite happy with the ways things turned out because we've shown improvement in our areas, overall as a district and in our individual schools," she said. "We were not surprised at our subgroups that did not make adequate yearly progress. They are the same subgroups (that didn't progress adequately) the previous year."

The other subgroup of students that didn't meet required standards are Native American.

The challenge facing the Vermillion School District is to find the proper way to identify and address problems students may be experiencing.

It won't be an easy task. Special education and Native American students have performed at different levels at Jolley Elementary, Vermillion Middle School and Vermillion High School. And test scores indicate that Native American students in Vermillion are performing at approximately the same level of Native Americans across the state.

"It's not across the board � not in both reading and math, and not in every school," Hogen said. "Our job will be to look at the individual students. There are a lot of questions there. The more I look at the scores, the more questions I can think of, not answers."

Of the 66,159 public school students in the state who took Dakota STEP tests in the spring, 71 percent were competent or advanced in math, compared to 59 percent last year; 77 percent also were capable in reading, compared to 71 percent in 2003.

State goals for this year were 52 percent competency in math and 69 percent in reading.

Rick Melmer, state education secretary, said 79 percent of public schools met their adequate year progress goals.

The state report card also shows that 92.7 percent of South Dakota teachers met the highly qualified teacher requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The comparable figure from last year was 88.7 percent.

However, 109 schools, including Jolley Elementary School, Vermillion Middle School, and Austin Elementary School, were listed as needing improvement, compared to 32 last year.

"Both of the areas that we are talking about � students with disabilities and Native American students � are two of

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the areas that we see we need to improve on," Len Griffith, Vermillion school guidance counselor, said. "We need to go back and look at that particular group ? most of those students are all unique and we need to determine how exactly we can help each of those students."

The Vermillion School District will try to identify whether the Native American subgroup that is scoring lower is the same group of students that took the test a year earlier.

"We'll also try to see if there is a cultural or ethic issue that is unique that we need to work with, to try to find some resources, to try to help those students with our parent group and with our Native American coordinator," Griffith said. "It's going to take some analysis."

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