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Department of Education Fundamentally Misleads the Public with ACT Scores

The Department of Education reported to the Government Operations and Audit Committee yesterday that while South Dakota’s average ACT score has slid from 21.9 for the 2018 graduating class to 21.5 for the class of 2022, we’re still posting a better average ACT score than our neighbors:

SDDOE, report to GOAC, 2022.12.05.
SDDOE, slideshow presented to GOAC, 2022.12.05.

Wow, South Dakota actually does better than Minnesota on something? That’s news!

Except educator and statistically proficient Senator Reynold Nesiba pointed our that it isn’t:

Another appropriations member, Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, noted that ACT numbers aren’t an apples to apples comparison because South Dakota had 58% participation while Wyoming was 100% and Nebraska 94%. Stadick Smith said there’s conversation about using ACT as a replacement for the grade 11 statewide assessment [Bob Mercer, “South Dakota Students’ Academics Suffered Amid Covid-19,” KELO-TV, 2022.12.05].

(Academic Nesiba may read Mercer’s headline and point out to Mercer that academics always suffer in South Dakota.)

The state’s slide fails to point out the differences in ACT participation rates. The participation effect is severe enough that one author says, “any state rankings fundamentally mislead the public when presented as measures of education quality within that state,” as the Department of Education did in its October 12 press release.

If participation rates mean we shouldn’t compare South Dakota apples to Minnesota oranges, we should probably be careful about comparing fruits to nuts in state. But the DOE’s slide notes that while South Dakota’s average ACT score is 21.5, South Dakota’s public schools averaged 21.6. Hmmm… that means South Dakota’s private schools must be bringing down the average. Anyone want to put that in a headline?


  1. O 2022-12-06 07:43

    Private and/or homeschools?

  2. sx123 2022-12-06 08:08

    They don’t ask a lot of God questions on the ACT…

  3. Donald Pay 2022-12-06 10:04

    I have never been able to figure out if it is statistical ignorance or statistical bamboozling that causes folks to ignore the basics of these standardized test data. You would think that the folks at SDDOE would understand the statistics behind educational testing, but every year the same mistakes are made, and pointed out. Participation rate has long been known to affect these sorts of state by state comparisons, so why they continue to tout a statistical artifact as real makes me lean toward bamboozling.

  4. P. Aitch 2022-12-06 10:12

    It’s not a competition ‘twixt states but Colorado’s score is 23.7. I may often come across as negative about SD but I’m proud of my undergraduate education within your state. I find no group I’ve met that I don’t feel intellectually equal to. That’s a boost to anyone’s self-esteem.

  5. All Mammal 2022-12-06 11:26

    P. Aitch- I get your disappointment. You can only be disappointed in something you care about (love). It is different when a total outsider disses SD. That’s when I become all defensive, like, “What you say bout my mama?” Or when those late night talk show hosts are foreigners, I can’t stand when they bad mouth the US. It is ok when they’re American because I know she’s their mom too. If that makes sense.

  6. grudznick 2022-12-06 18:51

    While we are all blogging about education and writing and ‘rithmatic and such, grudznick will go only marginally off-topic to pat myownself on the back. It turns out that grudznick is a finalist to be the next Poet Laureate of South Dakota. Submissions are closed at this point, but you can read more about it at the blue link below. Keep your 3 fingers and 6 toes crossed!!!!

    I think my good friend Bob’s well written letters of recommendation have a chance to push me across the finish line, although there are some other good fellows out there in the running with even stouter backers than Bob.

  7. Mark Anderson 2022-12-06 19:04

    I remember the ACT scores. My first college roommate was number one from Highmore and I was number two and I hadn’t taken math since Algebra. Basically because I ignored the fact that I needed to sit in the front of the row to see what was on the board until my sophomore year. When my father was teaching me to drive I almost ran into a group of sheep. I got glasses then. ACT scores are a bogus way of looking at the world anyway. Sx123 you misspelled good, and I don’t remember the questions they asked anyway.
    You know P. Aitch, I feel the same way. When my son was about to be born my wife said she was going to shower him with classical music right away. So when we got home from the hospital I made sure the first music he heard was the Clash. Later on he bought me a book about and by Mick Jones, even though I preferred Joe Strummer. When I read it I realized all his influences I had read at about he same time. So growing up in London and Highmore weren’t all together so different. That was a long time ago and now it’s even more similar around the world.

  8. Frank J Kloucek 2022-12-06 19:25

    What was Grudz ACT score the first time he took the test?

  9. Mark Anderson 2022-12-06 19:29

    Jeez Grudz, how can I vote for something unseen. I’d have to read the poetry. One of my good friends is Dennis Sampson originally from Pierre and he’s a great poet. We traveled across South Dakota on the backroads one time and he made me buy a portable chair. Every now and then we’d stop walk out into the field, set up our chairs, have a beer and talk. One of my best vacations. I was actually offered a scholarship to Northern for a poem I’d written in high school, but I went to the U in art. The poem was way to Rimbaud anyway since I’d just read his work, you can refer to my other comment.

  10. grudznick 2022-12-06 20:15

    grudznick, that old goat, took the ACT
    and then Mr. Frank questioned thee
    “what was your score, you old fat gnar?”
    said the ineffectivest fellow ever, thar.
    “I cheated on that there test”
    said ol’ grudznick, one of the best
    “And I am your next Poet, Laureate”

  11. grudznick 2022-12-06 20:32

    Then, the crowd showered grudznick with goats, and the committee’s hand was forced.

    Or at least, that’s the way my good friend Bob’s letter paints it all. I’m not expecting it, but I’m hopeful and wouldn’t turn it down. I’d even invite Mr. H and a few of you other fellows to the dinner I’m sure they must host for the speeches and such.

  12. Arlo Blundt 2022-12-06 21:30

    Grudznick…so what does the Poet Laureate position pay?? As I understand it, the Poet Laureate is occasionally called upon to compose an ode to celebrate a certain State accomplishment, anniversary or event. I believe in the past, the Laureate has delivered an address at the Governor’s swearing in ceremony. I don’t know if they cut the Laureate a check for this duty, but I would imagine there is some cash changing hands. Your challenge will be to compose a poem without mentioning goats.

  13. Richard Schriever 2022-12-06 22:31


    there lay your lines
    far behind the times
    a frosty farm house window haiku
    put me far ahead of you
    SD state poetry contest winner as a high school sophomore in 1967.

  14. grudznick 2022-12-06 23:24

    Mr. Blundt, as I understand it the main benefit is not a wage but some free breakfasts, maybe lunches and such where you act as a perfunctory fellow. I’m a good perfunctory fellow, with a fair amount of experience in that realm. You gentlemen will enjoy Poet Laureate grudznick, even if I have to pay for young ladies to read the poems for me.

  15. M 2022-12-07 06:26

    One has to have concentration, practice, and a good reward to do well on standardized tests, however comparing apples to oranges with the data is a sin. Of course, the scores will be higher when those who took the exam were all willing participants. When everyone tests out, it’s a different story.

    The yearly high states test measures improvement in an apple to orange comparison as well. For example, the baseline scores are 2/3 grade and from there, improvement is measured by comparing this year’s 4th grade scores to this year’s 3rd grade scores. These are the published results however teachers use the individuals scores from year to year to determine interventions.

  16. P. Aitch 2022-12-07 07:20

    It was the ACT scores that got me into the pool of applicants for Vermillion freshman class of 1971. But it was the essays I wrote that convinced the panel that I was just the liberal teenager they needed. #grins

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