Education dept. will work to close Indian students’ academic gap in SDPIERRE — State Education Secretary Melody Schopp delivered a presentation Thursday on how her department is planning to address the academic achievement gap in South Dakota between white students and American Indian students.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — State Education Secretary Melody Schopp delivered a presentation Thursday on how her department is planning to address the academic achievement gap in South Dakota between white students and American Indian students.
Her data and conclusions left the Legislature’ planning committee stunned, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings, said afterward.
Her department’s aspiration is that students be ready for post-high school careers and education, Schopp said. She described three key findings that will be addressed as the department’s new emphasis:
• If students can’t read at grade level in third grade, they are four times more likely to not graduate high school. Students who live in poverty and can’t read at grade level are six times more likely to fall short of graduation.
• In eighth grade, the students furthest behind are most likely to fall further behind. This is the critical time for math skills.
• Diagnostic tests administered in grade 11 can be used to position students in remedial courses in grade 12 so that they are less likely to be forced to take remedial classes in math and reading in college.
Schopp said her department wants to develop partnerships with schools and with their students and parents so that all understand the importance of those three thresholds. “It seems like common sense, but it’s so critical,” she said. “It’s not to criticize what’s happening in our schools. It’s the facts.”
Three sets of statistics showed the point.
• Only 11 percent of American Indian students in South Dakota are on track on reading in fourth grade, based on National Assessment of Education Progress data.
• South Dakota assessments showed only 52 percent of American Indian students in grades three through five were proficient or advanced, while 83 percent of white students were.
• Less than 50 percent of American Indian students were proficient or advanced in math in grades six through eight, while more than 80 percent of white students were.
“The fact is, if they can’t read and they can’t do math, they’re not going to graduate,” Schopp said.
She said pilot programs are being tried, such as providing students as young as grade eight with job experiences.
“Wagner has been like the star child for this program,” she said. It’s also being tried in Todd County and Andes Central school districts.
Another pilot called NCRC measures students’ skills that are critical to holding jobs. Various others are being tried, including diagnostic assessments in high school to show students and their parents the subject areas where they aren’t college-ready academically.
Schopp said the achievement gap needs to be eliminated. She called it “abysmal” and said, “We need to raise the red flag.”
Schopp said there are bright spots in South Dakota and across the nation that need to be studied and their successful approaches should be considered for wider use.
“We know the problem. We know the issue,” she said. “That’s where we need to go next.”