The COVID-19 pandemic has changed not only the way schools are educating children but also the way they are assessing their performance. With no assessment tests administered in the spring, the annual school report cards are focusing on college and career readiness rates.

In a press release last week, the state Department of Education announced that college and career readiness rates have improved. Seventy-three percent of students hit the "coursework readiness" mark, compared to 68% last year.

"Our mission is to prepare South Dakota's students to succeed in their lives following high school graduation," Secretary of Education Ben Jones said in the press release. "We are improving students' opportunities, whether they choose to go to college, pursue career and technical education or immediately enter the workforce."

Jones went on to describe one of the opportunities available to South Dakota high school students.

"Effective tools like the state-sponsored dual credit program are encouraging students to take advantage of rigorous, college-level courses while still in high school," he said.

In determining college and career readiness, that is just one of the factors considered, according to the press release. In addition to considering whether students have completed at least one course through the state's dual credit program, the college and career readiness scores consider whether students passed an Advanced Placement exam or successfully completed at least two credits of career and technical education in at least one subject area.

Area schools did well in showing readiness in all three areas.

Madison High School scored higher than the state average with 88% of graduates demonstrating course readiness. This shows a slight decline from 2018-19, when the school scored 90%.

In other areas assessed on the school report card, Madison both scored higher than the state average and showed an increase over last year. In the area of assessment readiness, the school scored 78%, an increase from last year's score of 70%, and higher than the state average of 61%. In the area of college and career readiness, the school scored 73%, an increase from last year's score of 67%, and higher than the state average of 52%.

The average ACT score for Madison graduates matched the state average of 22 both years.

Chester High School also scored higher than the state average with 92% of graduates demonstrating coursework readiness. This shows a significant increase over 2018-19, when the school scored 79%.

In other areas assessed, Chester scored 76% in assessment readiness, which exceeded the state average of 61%, and 68% in college and career readiness, which exceeded the state average of 52%. Both showed gains over last year, when the school scored 71% in assessment readiness and 58% in college and career readiness.

In 2019-20, the school's average ACT score matched the state average of 22. This is an improvement over last year when the average was 21.

Due to small class sizes, less information is available about Rutland High School. However, the report card shows that in 2019-20, the school scored higher than state averages in coursework readiness with 80%; assessment readiness with 70%; and college and career readiness with 60%.

No scores are available for 2018-19, and no ACT scores are available for either year.

Due to small class sizes, no information is available on the Oldham-Ramona High School for either year.

The school report cards for 2019-20 did not include information on student performance because state assessments were not administered in the spring. In March, the DOE reported the U.S. Department of Education informally approved a waiver of assessment requirements, accountability and school identification requirements for the school year.

"With the extended school closures in South Dakota related to COVID-19 concerns, our schools are suddenly facing an unprecedented challenge to meet their students' needs in new, innovative ways," Jones said in a press release at the time. "They are meeting this challenge with unwavering fortitude, and I'm glad we can at least take the statewide assessment off their plates to help ease the burden."

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