White House Report Shows South Dakota Posts Worst Elem/MS Achievement Gaps

The Blue Ribbon K-12 task force starts its first meeting in Pierre this morning at 9:30 Central. The Governor’s handpicked panel will be talking K-12 funding, not student achievement, because as task force co-chair Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) emphasized at the June listening meetings, the task force is taking as axiomatic that South Dakota’s students are getting a good education.

Well, most of them are. Patrick Anderson reports that South Dakota’s elementary and middle schools have the worst math and reading performance gaps in the nation. The majority of our schools post math and reading proficiency scores that beat the national average, but our lowest-performing 5% of schools lag the comparable low-performing subset nationwide.

Anderson gets his data from a new White House report, “Giving Every Child a Fair Shot,” which shows we aren’t at the very bottom in a third metric, high school graduation. Our gap there is still bad: the graduation rate at our lowest-performing schools is 37%, while the rest of our schools graduate 89% of their students. Nationally, those numbers are 40% and 87%. Our 52-point grad-rate gap matches Kansas and Texas, but beats Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Ohio, Minnesota (!), Washington, and the worst, Florida (64-point gap: 19% grad rate at the lowest-performing schools, 83% at the rest).

The following table shows how we stack up with our neighbors:

Average Math Proficiency Average English Proficiency Average Graduation Rate
Lowest 5% Other 95% Gap Lowest 5% Other 95% Gap Lowest 5% Other 95% Gap
Nation 29 65 36 36 67 31 40 87 47
South Dakota 18 76 58 29 76 47 37 89 52
North Dakota 37 80 43 31 76 45 56 91 35
Minnesota 17 64 47 16 59 43 29 90 61
Iowa 50 78 28 44 73 29 45 92 47
Nebraska 28 73 45 43 80 37 73 90 17
Wyoming 48 80 32 48 76 28 48 76 28
Montana 18 69 51 41 86 45 54 85 31

The report doesn’t talk much about funding; it mentions “targeting additional supports” to low-performing schools, investing in more pre-school programs, and “supporting teachers, principals, and paraprofessionals with better information, preparation, development, support and recognition, including additional resources, and opportunities to advance in their roles.” The White House mentions reducing testing (although the New York plan they mention, capping state-mandated testing to 2% of total classroom time, still seems like an awful lot of testing) and promoting a “balanced curriculum that includes arts, history, foreign languages, financial literacy, music, physical education, and after school enrichment”… curriculum items shoved aside by No Child Left Behind’s and Common Core’s focus on more easily testable math and English questions.

The White House is releasing this report to spur Congress to replace No Child Left Behind with something good, not to tinker with our Blue Ribbon panel’s assumptions. But if the Blue Ribboneers are after “meaningful funding,” they may need to add this White House report to the agenda and direct some meaningful funding toward our lowest-achieving schools to make sure every South Dakota student can access a strong education.

5 Responses to White House Report Shows South Dakota Posts Worst Elem/MS Achievement Gaps

  1. Donald Pay

    Cory, I’d want to check how much of what we are seeing in the “poor performing” schools is just the same statistical artifact, due to small population sizes, as we see in “high performing” schools.

  2. Nick Nemec

    I think this achievement gap is real and not simply a statistical artifact. I’m willing to bet the farm that the lowest achieving 5% of schools are largely if not entirely Native majority schools. For too long our leaders here in SD have been content to leave a significant portion of students, and adult population, behind because they are an easily shoved aside minority. Unless we, as a state, are willing to admit and address this inconvenient truth there will someday be hell to pay.

  3. Don’t expect any acknowledgement from Daugaard and company. Native American children aren’t important too them once they’re out of the womb.
    Meanwhile, at least our education Governor in MN totally acknowledges the achievement gap MN has and educators can always count on him to do the right thing and fight the good fight.

  4. Which schools are the low performing? Are the native, or rural, or small or big city? I’ve not seen a list.