South Dakota high school students as a group consistently post better-than-average standardized test scores. But, like the Governor who appoints them, the members of the South Dakota Board of Regents aren't satisfied with those increasing scores. At their Vermillion meeting last week, they said too many South Dakota high schoolers are coming to the Regental campuses not fully prepared to learn:
The trend has been gradual improvement during the past decade, but as recently as 2011, once again less than 30 percent of South Dakota high school graduates who took the ACT met all four of the test's college-readiness benchmarks.
...Students performed best in English. In 2003, 71 percent reached the benchmark. The percentages gradually climbed, reaching as high as 75 percent in 2007 and 2008. The past three years have been lower, dropping to 72 percent in 2011.
Reading has hovered in the range of 55 to 60 percent through the nine-year span, with 58 percent in 2011. Mathematics has improved slightly, from 47 percent in 2003 to 52 percent in 2011. Science likewise came up, from 30 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2011.
The percentage of students reaching the benchmark in all four categories likewise has gone up, from 23 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2011 [Bob Mercer, "Regents Lament Low SD ACT Scores," Aberdeen American News, October 11, 2012].
Regent Harvey Jewett wonders if the solution is to pay for every high school junior to take the ACT. That's a bad idea: lots of students are already taking the ACT for practice during junior year, and there are already programs to help kids pay for the test of they can't afford it.
Rather than paying kids for more test prep, we should focus on Regent Terry Baloun's suggestion that we return some rigor to the Regents Scholarship standards. Keep the kids focused on getting good grades in class, where they'll acquire the skills they need to smoke the ACT. Raise the grade requirement from C to B in all classes. Restore the foreign language requirement. Make kids study for their high school classes, and they'll gain much more college readiness than they will be taking the ACT one more time.