PIERRE, S.D. — Lawmakers are concerned about using the same standardized test to evaluate the performance of a diverse student population, particularly the population of students who are learning English as a second language.

South Dakota lawmakers traded suggestions on how to improve the state's Department of Education performance evaluations and results while discussing an interim committee report.

District 28 state Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, provided a report of the Government and Audit Committee to the Legislature's Executive Board during a meeting in Pierre on Monday, Nov. 18.

Maher explained that the GOAC didn't approve the South Dakota Department of Education's performance metrics, which have been evaluated in the same way the past several years with the results getting "worse and worse and worse."

Because of that, the GOAC has taken partial control over the state's Department of Education through a subcommittee, which is headed by District 13 state Rep. Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls.

The action to create the subcommittee to look into finding the causes of the poor performance results was taken during the GOAC's last meeting Oct. 30. The subcommittee will provide a report to legislators before the 2020 session.

"Hopefully the first week of session we can reconvene and go over that with the Department of Education and see what our subcommittee has been able to find," Maher said.

District 22 state Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, said there needs to be a balance to establish the capabilities of students who are taking the test, especially for English as a second language students.

"In Huron, 60 percent of our student body is New American children," White said.

District 10 state Rep. Steven Haugaard, who also serves as chairman of the Executive Board, echoed White's comments, saying, "We've got a diverse population that you can't score the same as an analogous population."

District 16 state Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, said in his opinion the student has "no direct relationship with this test" or real incentive to take the test seriously.

Bolin said the standardized tests offer limited value and that because there was no relationship between the test scores and a student's admission to college or impact on their grade, using it as a performance evaluation is a very poor idea.

Peterson noted that the subcommittee will be focusing on the needs of the Native American student population, whose results were separated in the Department of Education's report.

To that, Haugaard said, "Maybe the ESL needs to be another category separated out so we can get an accurate evaluation."