Students exceed state trends

Students exceed state trends
The district's students are not only keeping up with their peers in other school districts across the state. They are, according to test figures, outperforming them, in some cases significantly, in English, mathematics, reading and science.

The average, or composite ACT score of state students from in a period beginning with the 2000-01 school year and ending with the 2004-05 school year is 21.5.

"The average national score is 20.9," Superintendent Mark Froke said, "and our Vermillion students who took the test last year had a composite score of 23.1. I would have to say that score is going to be among the top in the state."

The ACT reflects the achievement of schools' graduates over time and serves as an indicator of the extent to which they are prepared for college-level work.

The ACT consists of curriculum-based tests of educational development designed to measure the skills needed for success in first year college coursework.

In the 2004-2005 school year, 82 Vermillion students took the test, and performed well above the state average.

Local students scored, on average, a 23 in English, compared to the 20.8 average score statewide.

Vermillion students also scored an average of 23 in math. South Dakota students' average in this subject area was 21.3.

In reading and science, local students scored 23.4 and 22.5 on average, outpacing state students who scored, on average, 21.7 and 21.6 in those two subject areas.

Froke believes the district's teachers play a significant role in the high test scores.

"In reading, the teachers concentrated more on content-area reading to include more actual reading instruction," he said. "I believe that composite score is an indicator of what all of the teachers are doing in all of the classes to improve and to increase student opportunities."

Benchmark scores determined by ACT show 72 percent of South Dakota students taking the test are considered likely to be ready for college-level work.

Education officials would like to see an improvement in that statistic, according to Rick Melmer, state education secretary.

"That can be accomplished by making sure that more of our students take courses that will prepare them for postsecondary school and that these courses are challenging," Melmer said in a news release. "We're addressing both of these issues

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through our new graduation requirements."

The Vermillion schools' challenging curriculum may, in part, explain the district's successful ACT scores.

"The scope of the ACT is achievement; it's a college-readiness test," Len Griffith, Vermillion High School counselor said. "But our curriculum is designed to be a building block in knowing what outcome should be for student success depending on what choices they make.

"ACT, we know, is part of that," he said. "We are more aware of what our curriculum design is at the high school, what the ACT's expectations are ? so we know what curriculum needs to be in place at what level."

Besides studying reading, writing and arithmetic, students must also perfect their test-taking skills.

"We recognize that you have to strategize in there on how you prepare to take that test," Griffith said. "When you go in to take the test, what steps do you take to do the best you can?"

That strategy can range from getting a good night's sleep before taking the test, to fully evaluating each question, he said.

School officials recognize that some year's classes may have students who perform better academically than others.

"That's why we look at a five year trend," Froke said. "Looking at that trend indicates a strength in our curriculum as well, because for the last five years, Vermillion has scored above the state and the nation.

"That's really an important indicator," he said. "It isn't like we spiked one year. It shows that we have a real strength for college preparation based on the long-term trends."

Griffith said the ACT test results have helped the school district identify some weaknesses.

Beginning in 2000, local students scored slightly above the state average in math. Scores in that subject area dropped in Vermillion's 2002 and 2003 school years.

"We weren't seeing what we wanted to see," Griffith said. "We went back and looked at the curriculum and we discovered our students weren't getting the geometry they needed to meet all of the challenges out there. So we redesigned our curriculum for students who plan to take the ACT to get that geometry exposure earlier."

The high ACT scores don't mean local educators will now rest on their laurels.

"We know we need to do more in letting students, parents and teachers know what kinds of things we can do to help students do their best," Griffith said.

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