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Spring is a wonderful time of year for many reasons. It is generally seen as a time of new beginnings, new hopes and opportunities. In South Dakota and the mid-west, it is a time for planting and new life. For educators it is a time of reflection and assessment, a time to consider what has been accomplished and what is yet to come. Spring is a time of transition and this is particularly true for our graduating seniors, our students that move from middle school to high school and our students that move from 5th grade to the middle school. In each case, these transitions are based on having attained the skills and knowledge needed to move on to that next level.
On Tuesday, May 17th, we will recognize many of the accomplishments of our high school students. Awards will be presented to student athletes based on their accomplishments throughout the 2015-16 school year. Scholarships will be presented to seniors that have maintained the highest academic standards throughout their four years of high school. We recognize exceptional effort, commitment, and the ability to meet high standards. It is a celebration of those that have chosen to set higher personal goals and to work harder. This program and the graduation of our seniors are key measures of the focus of education and we encourage our parents and community members to attend and help us recognize their accomplishments.
What are the expectations for today’s students? We frequently see news stories stating that our students can’t compete with students from Europe and Asia. These stories are based on comparing math and reading scores and at first glance the scores would seem to support that conclusion. To draw that conclusion based on one test however leaves out many important factors. One factor is that European and Asian countries do not test as broad a cross-section of students as the United States. Another factor is that their educational systems often utilize test results to determine student access to higher education. There are also differences in the length of the school year where the United States has the fewest instructional days per year of any industrial nation.
This makes it difficult to determine how competitive American students are when compared to students from around the world. We expect our students to take a minimum of six credits more for graduation than they did 40 years ago. We have added classes in computer education, increased high school science and math requirements, and required classes in personal finance and health. Most recently many states have adopted “common core” educational standards with the intent of requiring more rigorous work in the core subjects. While these standards came from the states and not the federal department of education, some of the states in the last year or two have moved away from “Common Core”.
We certainly want to be competitive and we want our students to be prepared for entering the work world or pursuing additional education. If we are not meeting that objective, the question is what should be changed and what are we willing to change. Are we willing to require that students attend another 20 – 30 days of school per year as they do in Europe and Asia? If the current standards are not preparing students, what standards should be used? If our students don’t see assessment tests as important, should we engage in high stakes testing where they must pass to go on to the next level? Perhaps we should consider some other factors related to our students and education in the U.S. First, the U.S. high school graduation rate overall has been increasing over the last several years and has never been higher. HS students now have and take the opportunity to earn college credit while taking high school classes. Between 1975 and 2010 the percentage of students enrolling in college went from 49% to 68%. The number of students taking and successfully passing Advanced Placement courses has doubled in the last decade. Maybe one test is not enough to determine the ability or competitiveness of American students. Perhaps we need to look at a larger picture of what they have accomplished and are prepared to do as they go forward. I look forward to awards night and graduation. Congratulations to the Class of 2016.
Mr. Lynn Vlasman, Superintendent