Six educators from the area testified Friday morning at a public hearing in Rapid City on possible changes to statewide standards for teaching English language arts and math in South Dakota public schools.
The women testified individually. Generally they praised the recommendations. Several had worked with the state Department of Education during the past two years in helping develop the proposals.
Meanwhile, there weren’t any comments Friday on nine other sets of proposed changes to standards that are also under consideration.
The hearing was third in a series of four the Legislature requires from the state Board of Education Standards. The final hearing is March 19 in Pierre.
No one has offered anything yet, whether in writing or in person, on recommended changes for teaching marketing or for teaching about tribal cultures through the department’s Oceti Sakowin project.
The lack of Oceti Sakowin comments drew attention from Scott Herman of Mission. Herman, a board member who taught classes for 13 years and was principal four years, is the Rosebud Sioux Tribe vice president. He said the situation was “bothersome.”
There are nine tribal governments on federal Native American reservations throughout South Dakota.
Gopal Vyas of Mitchell, the board’s vice president, said it “really amazes” him “how little response” the board gets from the public regarding many of the standards. He is chairman of Tessier’s Inc., a mechanical contracting company.
“What do we do to get more comments?” Vyas asked. He added: “It just kind of blows my mind.”
Becky Nelson said the department is trying. She is director for the Division of Learning and Instruction.
“It’s something we haven’t found a bullet to figure out how to get to more engagement,” Nelson said.
The board received two written comments since the previous hearing.
On the English language-arts standards, Jennifer Macziewski, a kindergarten teacher from the Rapid City public school district, wrote 16 lines of comments. Here is an excerpt of what state department staff person Teresa Berndt read:
“I have seen first-hand that kindergarten students are fully capable of achieving the current standards.
“The powerful tweaks I notice in the new kindergarten standards keep the rigor and appropriateness. I am especially excited about the handwriting standards.
“It is completely necessary and important for kindergarten students to be able to write ALL the letters with proper formation and pencil grip.”
On the math standards, Nick McGeehon, a fifth-grade teacher from the Rapid City public school district, likewise praised the math recommendations. An excerpt said:
“I thought that the multiplication standard 5.NBT.5 brought a lot of clarification in defining what would make proficient for the standard. That students can do any sort of algorithm to be proficient and not just the ‘standard algorithm.’
“I think that 5.NBT.7 is too broad of a standard. I feel as the standard should be broken apart. Add and subtract decimals together, and multiply and divide decimals as another standard.”
The proposals would update standards the state board began adopting in 2010.
One contentious point was whether the Legislature should pass a law requiring schools to teach cursive writing. Berndt said the decision currently is up to the local school district.
“I don’t have a solution at the moment. I know it’s a concern,” Berndt said.
Board member Kay Schallenkamp of Spearfish, who is a retired president of Black Hills State University, replied: “I understand local decisions. Every once in a while, it seems, maybe there should be something more?”
“Even parents had a debate when we asked them,” Berndt responded. “I don’t have the answer.”
Nelson asked board members whether they wanted the work group to talk more about it.
“I would personally say yeah, it needs to be looked at,” Schallenkamp said.
No one else answered.
Don Kirkegaard urged caution. The former superintendent of Meade school district at Sturgis received state Senate confirmation Monday as the new state secretary of education. He said keyboarding could cause just as much of a split as cursive writing.
Vayas commented on the comparatively high interest, based on numbers of comments received throughout the three hearings, in math and English language arts.
Schallenkamp said the comments Friday were the strongest yet.
“It’s fun to listen to the passion the presenters had,” Kirkegaard said. “It truly is fun to see the passion.”