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School science standards will be offered in August; hearings start this fall

PIERRE — Students throughout South Dakota's public schools would be tested on their science knowledge starting in spring 2018 with a new set of statewide assessments, an official told the state Board of Education on Monday.

The standardized testing would be the culmination of a five-year process that began in January to develop new standards for science that teachers can use in their classrooms. The current standards were developed in 2005.

The proposed revisions will be rolled out this summer and a series of four public hearings will begin this fall. "We will release those standards in August," said Becky Nelson, director of learning and instruction for the state Department of Education.

There will be field-testing of the new science assessments in 2017. The three years between the state board's expected adoption of new standards in early 2015 and the first round of assessments in all schools in 2018 will give teachers and school systems time to prepare.

"Science education is very important for our students as they transition to the workforce," she said. "Science is becoming very critical in our economy today and in South Dakota in preparing the workforce."

Whether the assessments will be conducted online isn't decided, according to Nelson. She said that is the preferred approach but there are considerations such as cost and alignment of South Dakota's standards to testing used in other states.

Don Kirkegaard, the state board's president and the superintendent at Sturgis, asked for a side-by-side analysis of current standards and proposed standards.

"You bet," Nelson replied.

Kirkegaard said the first reading of the science standards would occur at the board's Sept. 15 meeting in Rapid City.

Nelson said the state department would be working on revising standards for science, K-12 technology, fine arts and social studies.