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Northwestern Area Superintendent Asks Noem to Take Standardized Tests to Benchmark Complaining

When South Dakota students posted another year of flat standardized test scores, ace student Kristi Noem said she was “not happy with those numbers” and vowed that “we will be having conversations about how to improve those numbers.” (Now that her kids are almost all grown up, Kristi can turn that momly ire on everyone else’s kids.)

Northwestern Area superintendent and former English teacher Ryan Bruns invites the Governor and other officials squawking about test scores to show us their numbers first:

Before lawmakers, among other government leaders, want to be unimpressed I would invite them to take one of the assessments. And I’m not even saying that has to be the high school assessment. This would be a solid opportunity for them to impress the public of South Dakota [Ryan Bruns, “Ramblings,” blog, October 2019].

More broadly, Bruns notes that when he participated in national meetings with the company that designs our tests, he was among a minority who contended the test was being made too hard and would only reflect poorly on teachers and schools:

As an educational leader I was humbled and forced to bite my tongue when my opinion was not the same as the majority of the group. Collectively the group had determined that it was their duty to ensure test legitimacy or integrity based on some “tenets” of mastery set forth by the company. I don’t decry their educational professionalism and noble-like approach to the process, but my comments were simple: “We are making it too hard, and schools are going to look bad.” I was met with blank stares and no one supported my opinion. I was interviewed by Keloland after the process and I wish it was still online, because I remember trying to be objective and giving the assessment a chance, but that the scores would be much lower and couldn’t be compared to scores from previous years [Bruns, Oct. 2019].

Secretary of Education Ben Jones himself made the same point when the numbers came out:

At least part of the reason scores haven’t increased is that South Dakota started using a newer, more difficult assessment test during the 2016-17 school year. Comparing results from the old test to the new test isn’t fair, state Education Secretary Ben Jones said. The biennially administered National Assessment of Educational Progress, which has used, essentially the same testing methods since 2003, shows flat scores for reading between 2015 and 2017, while math scores rose slightly between 2015 and 2017 [Nick Lowrey, “Only Half of S.D. Students Proficient in English; Less Than Half in Math and Science,” South Dakota News Watch, 2019.09.25].

I’m not going to spend too much time worrying about standardized test scores. The Smarter Balanced tests already waste too much of my daughter’s time, which could be better spent drawing, painting, writing, reading, exercising, and actually learning more grammar, math, science, and civics. (The standardized tests are not a formative learning experience, and I tell her as much, in hopes that she will spend less time on the test and more time reading a good book.)

But I would love to see Governor Noem and our other elected finger-waggers follow up on Superintendent Bruns’s request for benchmark data. Hand out copies of last year’s test and a pre-Smarter Balanced test, have the Governor, Secretary Jones, and the Legislature take both, and compare their scores across tests and with student performance. (And do it in Mellette, so Bruns can proctor!) Then let’s have a conversation about the numbers.


  1. Richard Schriever 2019-10-09 07:12

    I would volunteer to take those tests right along side our various elected “leaders” myself. It would make for a good comparison – as to who might be better prepared to understand what they are doing when making law – a “common” person signing a petition, or a legislator.

  2. MJK 2019-10-09 08:16

    Agree with Supt. Bruns and re-looking at the data comparisons.

  3. Donald Pay 2019-10-09 08:21

    Politicians require remediation regarding test scores. “Flat scores” year-to-year on standardized tests are the norm, unless the test changes. You can dumb down the test or make it harder, and then test scores will change. If you have, by chance, a particularly dumb or smart class year, scores will change. If you include English learner scores in the English test, that will tend to lower the average. In most years, though, given the same test and a similar population of South Dakota students, scores will bounce around a certain number and not change a lot. Simple statistics explains it, but when scores seem to improve slightly , politicians will pat themselves on the back for increasing the scores. When scores bounce down, they will blame the teachers. But neither reaction is warranted.

    Same goes with tests at schools. Rapid City and Sioux Falls test scores don’t change a lot. The student populations are large. Scores in the small schools bounce around more. It’s just statistics.

    If a test is in place for a few years, teachers will figure out how to teach to the test, and key teaching to certain concepts in the test. That’s not all bad, assuming you want students to pick up those concepts. But it usually means other things that teachers were teaching get dropped. One of the things that was dropped due to a focus on standardized testing was civics. Think about that, all you politicians out there.

  4. Donald Pay 2019-10-09 08:31

    One part of the Nick Lowry piece in South Dakota News Watch was wrong. South Dakota has used one or another standardized test before 2001. There was a big push during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton presidencies toward standardization, so this has been going on a long, long time. Before that, even, when I was in school in the 1950s and 60s we took the Iowa Basics tests, though that may have just been done in Sioux Falls.

  5. o 2019-10-09 08:52

    The test scores that Governor Noem points to are a perfect example of the use of data to pull down success. SD scores on the Smarter Balanced test are only measured against other SD schools. Back in the day, SD took great pride in doing well when compared to our neighboring states’ test scores. Even though Smarter Balanced is a multi-state test, scores are only reported city-against-city within our border. Furthermore, the whole reason for these tests – from the good old days of No Child Left Behind, was to identify the lowest achieving schools. There was never a real discussion of what a “good” score for a school would be — just in-fighting among schools for seating on the list ranked highest to lowest.

    Imagine ranking your children highest to lowest so that the lowest could be punished. The lowest HAS to be punished — there is no set standard of acceptable or even high quality — just establish the worst for punishment.

  6. jerry 2019-10-09 09:27

    Give dopey GNOem and the rest of her cabal in Pierre, the standardized test. Just for further analysis, add a civics questionnaire as well. They would all fail them both.

  7. jerry 2019-10-09 09:31

    Here is what republican lawmakers (joke here) have in common. This bozo head is from Florida, but you could take most of the republican’s in Pierre and transpose them with this idiot. Sad

    “REP. MATT GAETZ: What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court, and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.”

  8. Debbo 2019-10-09 23:30

    We took the Iowa Basic tests in Miller and St. Lawrence.

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