Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2007-2008 South Dakota used the Dakota State Test of Educational Progress (Dakota STEP) to test students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 in reading and math, and in grades 5, 8 and 11 in science. The Dakota STEP combines items from the Stanford 10 (SAT-10), a national norm-referenced test, and standards-based items that test South Dakota Content Standards.

How are the tests scored?

Standards-based Dakota STEP results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of four performance levels: below basic, basic, proficient or advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.

The norm-referenced portion measures performance through a percentile based on the scores of all students of the same grade level in the nation. All students receive a percentile rank, which indicates how well they performed in comparison to peers in other states. If the number is 45, for example, students scored as well or better than 45% of students who took the test across the country. The national average for all schools is 50.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level on the standards-based portions of the test are included on GreatSchools profiles.

Why do the tests matter?

South Dakota test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools with poor test results are required to enact strategies to raise the achievement level of their students.

It is important to be aware of both your child’s score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child’s learning at home.

If the school’s overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental services.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what’s happening in the classroom, they don’t tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

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