Rapid City Area Schools want all students to reach their full potential — it’s stated in their vision. But potential looks different for all students, and the authorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act plans to hold all U.S. school districts accountable to fulfill that potential.
For Rapid City, those students include high numbers of rural, Native American and military children, all of whom have been factored into district-specific initiatives set to take effect this fall.
The South Dakota Department of Education released a draft of its state plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act on May 30, which strives to ensure equal opportunity for all students.
All states were required to develop a plan for compliance after then-President Barack Obama signed the re-authorization of the act Dec. 10, 2015. The ESSA is a new version of the No Child Left Behind Act, which was established in 2002. After a year of development, the state draft is available for public comment until June 30.
"South Dakota has an aspiration that all students leave the K-12 education system college, career and life ready," the plan states. "Attaining this aspiration is dependent upon strong partnerships with, and alignment of goals and strategies among, the higher education system and the workforce."
The plan also lists four pillars for measuring students' progress including reading proficiency by fourth grade, math proficiency by ninth grade, higher academic success for Native American students and workforce-ready high school graduates.
Pam Lange, a technical assistant for federal programs in the Rapid City district, has attended state meetings regarding the plan. Lange said any changes from the plan won't really go into effect until the next school year, but the district has already implemented some of the aspirations in the plan, such as the addition of foster children to the school, tracking military children and introducing literary specialists for younger grades.
Results from this change and other changes implemented by the ESSA will be reported to the public in the yearly DOE report card for school districts.
Robin Gillispie, who will be the district’s new federal programs director July 1, said that Rapid City schools Superintendent Lori Simon has been developing a job description for the literacy specialists, whose job will be to ensure that students in kindergarten through second grade are proficient in reading by third grade, rather than the state’s fourth grade goal.
Gillispie also said teachers track students' performance in math and recommend struggling students to be put in math tutoring programs so they are proficient in math by ninth grade.
Rapid City Area Schools served about 13,600 students in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the South Dakota Department of Education. About 16 percent of those students are Native American.
Lange said Gillespie and Simon will be meeting to finalize action steps toward increasing Native American student success in the district this summer.
“For South Dakota, that’s a group of students that we need to be focused on. That’s an area where we will continue to be focused," DOE communications director Mary Stadick Smith said.
Before Obama reauthorized the ESSA, South Dakota had received a flexibility waiver from the federal government, which exempted the state from specific requirements of the NCLBA in exchange for state-developed plans.
Deputy Director of the Division of Accountability Systems Laura Sheibe said the ESSA allows more freedom for individual states to design what accountability to the federal requirements would look like. Part of developing the state plan included DOE members traveling around the state to speak to shareholders such as teachers, administrators and parents.
Scheibe does not expect the public comment time to prompt any big changes to the plan because of the early work DOE members did to see what stakeholders wanted from the plan.
According to Scheibe, the four pillars of the plan aren't new — they're aspirations the state has had and been working on for years. The state plan simply implements federal regulations in a South Dakota context.
“One of the big things we’ve heard over all is that people wanted to understand it," Sheibe said. "They really wanted it to be something that’s useful and meaningful.”
A form to provide public comment is available at ed.gov under Every Student Succeeds Act.