Tribal schools improve scores


RAPID CITY, S.D. - One year ago tribal schools were hit hard by state officials over poor performance on education benchmark scores. This year has shown a marked improvement.

The Stanford Achievement Test scores are out and state schools fared better than last year, though reading and language skills lagged behind all other categories, most of which were above the national average.

Tribal schools or schools with a large number of American Indian students and located in border towns scored below the national averages in most categories. The remainder of the state schools were above the national average.

"The results overall were very positive in that scores improved for almost all subject areas in every grade tested," said Ray Christensen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education and Cultural Affairs.

"Students, teachers, administrators and parents should feel good about these results. However, South Dakota scores in English and language arts still lag behind those in other subjects. That is a cause for concern. We need to try harder to improve student performance in reading, writing, and language arts," he said.

Topping the list of schools with a high percentage of American Indian students is Bennett County. The students showed positive results in complete battery testing for second-, fourth- and eighth-grade students. Junior high students fared less well with a drop of four points in the complete battery. Reading scores went up compared to last year in all tested grades. Bennett County scored above the national average in most categories this year and in all cases the composite battery of test scores were above the national average.

Tribal school officials criticized the scoring system with claims it did not reflect the true educational level of the American Indian student. Smee School District at Wakpala was the target of the most intense criticism after last year's scores were released. South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow met with members of the school board earlier this year to help resolve the low scores.

This year, Smee District showed marked improvement in reading skills with a seven-point jump in second grade scores. The score is close to, but still under the national and state average with 41 percentage points. Grade-four reading levels increased, however grades eight and 11 fell below last year's averages.

Smee school officials were not available for comment. Most were at workshops and other school districts, because of summer vacation, and did not respond to phone calls.

The Smee 11th grade students dropped from 36 percentage points to 15 in reading, dropped 25 points in using information and in the complete battery of tests came in with a 17 point drop overall. Social studies showed an increase of 14 points. Its eighth-grade students climbed two points in the complete battery testing, grade four increased by four points, but the second grade dropped four points.

Cheyenne-Eagle Butte 11th grade students increased complete battery scores by six points but the 38 is still below state and national averages. Eighth grade students dropped two points overall, grade four students moved up by two pints and second graders dropped by three points.

The national mean average is 50 points. The state average for second graders complete battery is 60, which an increase of two points; for fourth graders it's 62, a one-point increase; for eighth grade students the score was 67, a one-point rise, and the average 11th grade student's complete battery of scores remained the same as last year at 62 points.

Statewide second grade students improved the most, particularly in the math category.

The Smee school district summer program emphasis this year is on reading and language. There are 70 students enrolled. The second half of the summer will be taken up with bead and leatherwork taught by the elders.

Shannon County Schools on the Pine Ridge Reservation turned in scores below the national average and either went down on the complete battery or remained the same. No 11th grade scores were available.

Todd County schools on the Rosebud Reservation showed improvement in complete battery tests for the second fourth and eighth grades. The 11th grade scores went down by 4 points. None of the scores this year met the national average. Students in the lower grades turned in improved test scores, the fourth grade up by nine points, the eighth grade was plus five and the second grade up three points.

"The 11th graders averaged only a 52 in both reading and language, barely above the national average," Christensen said. "Hopefully our continuing efforts to stress writing instruction across all grades in South Dakota will help. Reading and writing skills are closely associated, and schools would do well to encourage students to both read and write more."