Special Report

South Dakota

January 04, 2005 3 min read
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Standards and Accountability: South Dakota is still missing key pieces of a strong accountability system. The state has clear and specific standards in mathematics and science for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

But it lacks clear and specific standards at the elementary school level for English and at the middle school level for social studies/history.

South Dakota is one of 12 states offering standards-based tests in every core subject—English, math, science, and social studies—at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. But the state relies heavily on multiple-choice items to gauge student performance. South Dakota uses extended-response questions on English exams at the elementary and high school levels.

The state includes test results on school report cards and assigns ratings to schools based, in part, on test data. But South Dakota does not help or impose sanctions on both Title I and non-Title I schools that are consistently rated as low-performing or failing.

The state also lacks cash rewards for high-performing or improving schools.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: South Dakota continues to score poorly in this category, partly because it is one of only six states that do not test teachers at all before they earn their licenses. The state will, however, require high school teachers to pass subject-matter tests beginning in the 2005-06 school year, as part of the licensing process. The state also lacks performance assessments, such as classroom observations or portfolios, to evaluate new teachers already in the classroom.

South Dakota stipulates that prospective teachers must have a subject-area endorsement in each subject they plan to teach. Secondary teachers must complete academic majors for their initial endorsements; additional endorsements may be obtained through completion of a subject-area minor.

Middle school teachers need only a minor for a subject-area endorsement.

The state also loses points because it does not require and pay for mentoring for all new teachers. And while South Dakota regulates an alternative route into the profession, participants need not demonstrate subject-area expertise—by passing a test or completing a minimum amount of coursework—before taking charge of a classroom.

The state includes teacher-qualification information on its school report cards. But it does not hold teacher-preparation programs accountable for the performance of their graduates in the classroom.

School Climate: South Dakota’s grade falls in the middle of states for school climate.

The state stands out as having among the fewest problems nationally with classroom behavior and physical conflicts between 8th graders, based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey.

But this strong local-control state doesn’t have many of the state policies tracked by Education Week that influence school climate. Exceptions include a statewide open-enrollment policy that permits families to choose among public schools and a program designed to deter school bullying.

The state is one of only 10 that lack charter school laws. South Dakota also does not provide funds for school construction and renovation.

Data used to measure school and class size, however, place the state among the best on those indicators.

Equity: The state ranks sixth out of the 50 states for its wealth-neutrality score. It is one of only 10 states with negative wealth-neutrality scores. A negative score means that, on average, students in property-poor districts actually receive more state and local funding per pupil than students in more affluent areas do.

Education spending still varies widely across districts, though, as South Dakota has a high coefficient of variation, at 18 percent. That score shows that there are wide disparities in funding across districts. South Dakota ranks 44th out of 50 states on that indicator.

Spending: South Dakota devotes less of its total taxable resources to education than do most other states, at 3.3 percent. The state also falls below the national average of $7,734 in per-pupil spending. The $7,519 per pupil that South Dakota spent in the 2001-02 school year represented a 3.8 percent increase from the previous year.

Just 4 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts that spend at least the national average per student.

South Dakota ranks 40th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the spending index, which takes into account both the percentage of students in districts spending at or above the national average and the distance by which the rest fall below that average.


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