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Federal Education Dept. Labels SD High Risk

South Dakota schools have a waiver from No Child Left Behind but it lasts for just one year, and federal officials have put the state on high risk status.

South Dakota’s first waiver from NCLB lasted for three years. The latest exemption applies for only one year – and it’s happening because of teacher evaluations.

South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp says teachers and administrators helped develop the state’s latest evaluation method. She says it uses standardized tests as a guide, but results are not a direct calculation in evaluating teachers. Schopp says the federal government wants the state to tie teacher evaluations directly to student assessment.

“And for us to make that change at this point when we have invested the last couple years in training teachers on the current system that we have and when we’ve promised the field that this is the direction we’re going, in good faith, we just don’t feel it’s right for us to back down,” Schopp says.

Schopp says federal authorities put the state on high risk status because they say it has serious problems with the evaluation system. She says South Dakota education leaders kept the US Department of Education updated as they developed the new system over the last three years. Schopp says the DOE supported South Dakota until now.

“We’re supposed to be putting together a plan of how we’re going to address their concerns. Basically, in their mind, I think it’s how are we going to agree? We’d need to do something different, and at this point in time we’ll have the calls but I don’t see how our plan is going to change unless they can see that we are using test scores to have conversations but we are doing it in a way that is more reliable I think than what they’re asking. So, um, yeah. I guess if you want to call it negotiations, negotiations in my mind is that they see the light,” Schopp says.

Schopp says the federal government could transition South Dakota back to No Child Left Behind if the state and national leaders don’t agree. Negotiations continue through January.

Schopp says she wouldn’t hesitate if she was concerned the state would lose federal funding or if the change could improve student achievement. But the education secretary says stakeholders know this is the best way to evaluate educators.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).