Seeking better testing results, legislators consider helping schools try different teaching methods

PIERRE--The state House of Representatives is poised to consider a new program that would help three schools attempt different ways of teaching American Indian students.

PIERRE-The state House of Representatives is poised to consider a new program that would help three schools attempt different ways of teaching American Indian students.

The House Education Committee, after some hard questions from a few legislators, gave its unanimous endorsement Wednesday to the proposal.

The idea came from the American Indian student achievement advisory council that Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed last year.

"We have struggled with achievement at our reservation schools since time began," Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said.

The three schools would need to be public schools with enrollments at least 50 percent American Indian and with scores below average on the statewide achievement tests, Heinert said.


The proposals would be submitted to the state Department of Education, where they would be reviewed. The Indian education advisory board also would review the proposals.

"This is about how we teach children. Even though they're teaching the same content, we're learning it in a different way," Heinert said.

"It's not really what they learn, it's how we're able to teach them," he continued.

Many schools have culture and language experts and teachers in their districts or there are family members within the school district, he said.

State Education Secretary Melody Schopp answered questions about accountability and the role of her office.

"We're not jumping into these schools overnight, so there's a couple years preparation process, which is what the appropriation is for," Schopp said.

A separate piece of legislation would provide $1.7 million to be spread among the three schools for planning, start-up, identifying instructors and setting curriculum.

Schopp said the schools would continue to receive their normal funding as well and they would operate within South Dakota's established structure for standards and assessments but take different teaching approaches.


The separate legislation, SB 9, appropriates $2.2 million for the American Indian achievement school grants and for paraprofessional training tuition grants. The money would come from a state workforce grant fund.

Schopp said there would be $1.7 million for the school grants and $400,000 for the paraprofessional training.

SB 9 is pending in the House of Representatives. The Senate approved it 34-1 on Feb. 24. Heinert's two policy bills for the schools and paraprofessionals are SB 82 and SB 81.

"We want to see these projects, these schools, succeed," said Mato Standing High, the state's Indian education director.

Standing High said Native students feel they are lumped together as low achievers. He said schools in New Mexico and Colorado that have tried different approaches with large non-white enrollments were "wildly successful"

"The point we all learned, I think, there is no cookie cutter," Standing High said. "We don't want it to be an experiment, right? But we do know changes need to be made."

"We're looking at customized learning," Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, said. She is the House committee chairman and a retired teacher. "That's what I understand we're talking about."

The legislation received a technical amendment and a clarifying change Wednesday. If the full House approves the bill, it would need to return to the Senate for a decision whether to agree with the House version.


The measure received Senate approval 34-1 on Feb. 3.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said her community's schools needed to adapt some of their teaching approaches because of changing demographics. She said the school district now is approximately 45 percent minority.

"I think this is a wonderful. The research has been done," Gibson said about the American Indian schools proposal. "Our Native American students need to be accepted with their diversity in our state."

Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, asked for certainty about the funding source. Schopp said it is already in workforce education funds and would be appropriated.

Sly said it was important to have the two policy bills for House consideration at the same time as the appropriation bill. She said the House would handle all three bills on the same day. That could be as early as Monday.

Rep. Thomas Holmes, R-Sioux Falls, said he learned as a teacher that students learn in different ways and teachers need to teach to fit those needs to be effective.

"It sounds wonderful. It sounds exciting. I wish I was eligible to be on your teaching staff," Holmes said.

The House committee voted 13-0. "Thank you all," Heinert said as he departed.

"We've had such a big education initiative this year, but there's still work to do," Sly said.

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