South Dakota's waiver for flexibility from key provisions of No Child Left Behind has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
"This marks a new era in accountability for South Dakota schools," said Dr. Melody Schopp, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education. "This model offers a balanced and meaningful approach to measuring school performance. Rather than focusing almost exclusively on a single indicator, it encompasses multiple measures that indicate how well a school is performing. It also sets goals for continuous improvement that are lofty and yet attainable."
According to Schopp, components of the model will be phased in over time, with full implementation in the 2014-15 school year. "We wanted to be thoughtful and purposeful and take our time in order to do this right, which is why we have delayed implementation of certain pieces of the model," she said.
The model is based on a School Performance Index, or SPI, which consists of five key indicators. Each year, schools will receive an SPI score of 0 to 100, with each of the indicators worth a certain number of points. Indicators are different at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
At the elementary and middle school levels, the five indicators include: Student Achievement, which measures proficiency on statewide assessments in reading and math; Academic Growth, an indicator of student growth over a period of time; Attendance; Teacher and Principal Effectiveness; and School Climate.
At the high school level, the Academic Growth indicator is replaced by a High School Completion indicator, and the Attendance indicator is replaced by an indicator of College and Career Readiness.
"The annual SPI score is the first lens through which we can look at schools. It's designed to be a broad picture of key indicators, and it will give school leaders, teachers, parents and the public an idea of how their schools are performing against these criteria," Schopp said.
The SPI score will be reported annually and will be used to recognize schools whose scores rank among the top 5 percent (Exemplary Schools) and to identify those Title I schools that rank among the bottom 5 percent (Priority Schools) for targeted interventions and support.
"The model also incorporates a second lens that allows us to delve more deeply into what's happening with groups of students," Schopp said.
This "second lens" focuses on the Student Achievement indicator and how subgroups of students perform on assessments. Under the new model, South Dakota has set a goal of reducing by half the percentage of students who score below the proficient level on the state tests in reading and math within six years. The 2012-13 school year will be the baseline year.
Within each school, each subgroup of students will have unique annual targets to get them to that point.
"This approach continues to shine a spotlight on student groups that need extra attention and support, but it also recognizes that all of our students and student groups have different starting points," Schopp said.
South Dakota's model includes the use of what is referred to as a "Gap Group," which is an aggregate of student subgroups that have historically experienced achievement gaps. It also uses an unduplicated count of students. Under the old system, a single student may have been counted multiple times depending upon the number of subgroups he or she belonged to. The new system will count each student only once.
Schools that make their annual targets in reading and math will be able to earn additional SPI points for that accomplishment.
South Dakota also will use student achievement, attendance and graduation rate data to identify additional Title I schools (Focus Schools) for targeted assistance and support.
"This model sets high but realistic goals for continuous improvement. It relies on multiple indicators, and recognizes schools that are high performing as well as those making significant academic gains," Schopp said. "While we have much more work to do, it's a huge step in the right direction."