South Dakota students do well on national test

By Joe Kafka
Pierre, South Dakota (AP) 9-07

For the third time, South Dakota students have scored higher than the national average on achievement tests commonly labeled as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

However, younger students in the state lost some ground in comparison to students in many other states. And American Indian students and those from low-income families in South Dakota had lower scores than other students.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests a random sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students in reading and mathematics. The test is given every two years in all 50 states, and scores range on a scale from 0-500.

At the eighth-grade level, South Dakota’s average math score was 288, compared to the national average of 280. That was up slightly from 287 in 2005.

Students in only six states scored higher than their South Dakota peers in eighth-grade math.

In reading, the state’s eighth graders had an average score of 270, compared to the national average of 261. That was up slightly from 269 in 2005.

Only three states scored higher than South Dakota in eighth-grade reading.

“Compared to their peers in other states, South Dakota’s eighth-grade students seem to be in a strong position heading into high school, which can be a challenging transition,” said Rick Melmer, state education secretary.

At the fourth-grade level, South Dakota’s average score in math was 241, compared to the national average of 239. That was down just slightly from 242 in 2005.

Twenty-three states scored higher than South Dakota in fourth-grade math.

In reading, the state’s fourth graders had an average score of 223, compared to the national average of 220. That was up slightly from 222 in 2005.

Twenty-one states scored higher than South Dakota in fourth-grade reading.

While scores at the fourth-grade level improved significantly across the nation, South Dakota’s scores were flat, Melmer said.

“Other states appear to be gaining ground at this level,” he said. “While I’m not ready to sound any alarm bells, I do think it’s an indication that we need to pay close attention to our early learning efforts.

“Programs like the new Starting Strong preschool pilot in Sioux Falls can help us make sure that all students are properly prepared as they enter kindergarten.”

Melmer also said elementary math is the focus of a $3 million federally funded improvement effort in South Dakota. “The program aims to help teachers understand how students learn math and, therefore, make them better teachers,” he said.

Tests scores of Indian students in South Dakota remained below the national average in all areas except eighth-grade reading, Melmer said.

Indians comprise 11 percent of public school enrollments in South Dakota, making them the largest minority group.

Also deserving attention are differences between the scores of students who are eligible for free school lunches and those whose family incomes are higher, Melmer said.

Students qualifying for free lunches generally scored from 15 to 22 points below other students, he said.

“The link between poverty and student achievement has been well documented,” the state education secretary said. “We need to continue to focus on strategies for assisting these students and bringing them to higher levels of achievement.”

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