Students graduating from Mitchell High School rank higher in college and career readiness than other high school graduates across the state, according to an annual report from the South Dakota Department of Education.
The report, released to the public last week, shows 64 percent of Mitchell graduates are college and career ready, while 48 percent of students in districts across South Dakota rate as such.
Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District, said that statistic is a reflection of the dedication of faculty and students in the district, as well as the programs the district is able to offer through cooperative efforts with entities like the Mitchell Technical Education and Career Academy.
“We have a great faculty in K-12, and we have a great student body. We also have MCTEA, which ties directly to and is operated by Mitchell Technical Institute,” Graves said.
Graves said the combination of programs at MCTEA and Mitchell High School, as well as changes throughout the years on how students focus on their senior year, have helped push Mitchell students ahead of the state average.
“In the old days, going into vocational education was looked down upon. It’s not anymore. We have some fantastic kids in those programs, and those programs are doing really well,” Graves said. “Additionally, it’s also college readiness. Our traditional coursework that we offer is giving every kid an opportunity to do that.”
Graves said there has been a growing trend over the years for seniors to continue to push themselves with challenging coursework instead of taking a lighter course load in their last year of high school. That has them heading into the next phase of their education with a good head of steam.
“There used to be something called the senior year slump. You tried to take the hard stuff early in high school, and that was a terrible idea for a number of reasons. You’re taking a slump right before the challenge of college,” Graves said. “It was like stopping training for a marathon two weeks before the marathon. Now, 90 percent of that slump is gone.”
The report is compiled from the results of state assessment tests taken in the subjects of English/language arts and mathematics by students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11, as well as science by students in grades 5, 8 and 11, among other factors.
Mitchell High School received an overall score of 83, which Graves said he was very pleased with. Mitchell Middle School received an overall rating of 62, which he did not feel was an accurate reflection of the work being put in by students and staff at the school.
“What bothers me about the middle school numbers -- they’re not terrible, just a little under -- is that it’s not reflecting accurately the hard work by our teachers and students. It isn’t,” Graves said.
The number is reflected in middle schools across the country, he said.
“It’s across the nation. Achievement seems to take a walk off a cliff. They recover by the time they get to high school, but that’s a long time,” Graves said. “We have the same thing, and we’re trying to figure out how to address it.”
Graves said technology issues may be feeding into the middle school numbers because there are compatibility issues with the equipment on which students take their assessment tests. Those kinds of problems can be frustrating enough for adults, but they can be especially stressful for middle school students.
“We adopted iPads at the middle school, but those don’t have a good connection with the technology that takes the tests,” he said. “We have interruptions, breakdowns. They get close to finishing the test and the test will zonk out. When you’re 12 or 13 year old, it’s a major thing.”
Graves said the district is looking at transitioning to a platform other than the iPad that should help minimize those problems.
Graves said the district is also looking to improve its program for English learners. The report indicated that 37 percent of those students are on track with their English language, compared to 45 percent statewide.
Graves said the demographic that utilizes those programs is small but growing in the Mitchell School District, and the low students numbers can skew the results.
“Mitchell has had a very small number of those students in the past. When you have a small number, the stats don’t work really well; you can get a real aberration,” Graves said.
The Mitchell School District has hired a full-time English Language Learners teacher, Graves said. Sherri Becker, curriculum director for the district, was appointed the ELL director and dollars were allocated to help boost the program. The district will continue to adjust as needed because the number of those students is expected to grow in the future.
“We’re upping our game. This is a new challenge for us, and that’s great. The public schools are the educational equivalent of the Statue of Liberty. We don’t ask who’s coming. But we’ll do our very best to get you acclimated to the American experience,” Graves said. “We’re very pleased to see a new demographic group coming into the district.
Graves said the DOE report can be an effective tool to help teachers and administrators know where to focus their efforts as they try to provide the best educational experience they can for the students. After the report is released, the district holds meetings where they break down the numbers and discuss how they can improve them.
No matter what those numbers are.
“We always want our numbers higher,” Graves said.