(The Center Square) – Student performance has declined in South Dakota since the COVID-19 pandemic, a state Department of Education report found.
State assessments revealed drops in proficiency across various subjects and grades, demonstrating a widespread decline. Mary Stadick Smith, deputy secretary for the Department of Education, told members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee Monday that the state continues to remain above the national average.
“South Dakota’s K-12 education system really is in a better place compared to states across the nation,” Smith said. “That’s not to say we don’t have room to grow. As you will see we have plenty of room to grow.”
According to national ACT scores, South Dakota is performing better than neighboring states. Its average composite score was 21.5, the highest among surrounding states and above the national average of 19.8, according to the report.
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) shows South Dakota remains above the national average. However, it revealed student performance, both in South Dakota and nationally, decreased since 2019.
“Certainly, you want to see the trend going in another direction,” said Smith.
State assessments show students proficient in English language arts went from 54% during the 2018-2019 school year to 51% in 2021-2022. Similarly, math proficiency dropped from 46% to 43%.
In a more pronounced drop, students entering 9th grade proficient in math went from 45% to 28% during that same time.
Meanwhile, the report also highlighted a drop in students who were leaving the K-12 system that were prepared for college.
“While down slightly, the graduation rate held fairly steady throughout the pandemic years,” the report said.
Smith offered several solutions the Department of Education is working on, including using COVID relief funding to run a statewide attendance awareness campaign and highlighting the importance of regular school attendance using billboards, radio ads, and social media, among other things. The South Dakota Stars System also offers student attendance reports to school leaders who can identify students in their district who are at risk of becoming chronically absent, Smith said.
Aside from attendance measures, Smith said the department is starting implementation on a statewide literacy initiative that focuses on data-driven decision-making along with a math proficiency initiative.