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As national education officials and policymakers seek ways to compare and assess student achievement between states, districts and population groups, standardized tests have taken on a greater role in recent years. 
 
The release of the statewide report card for South Dakota earlier this fall —  which indicated that just over half of students in the state were proficient in English language (54%) and fewer than half showed proficiency in math (46%) and science (40%) — drew much-publicized disappointment from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
 
At the local level, recent school board presentations made by Wessington Springs Elementary School (WSES) Principal Carrie Azure and Wessington Springs Middle/High School (WSMS/HS) Principal Jason Kolousek highlighted not only the state and school district’s scores, but also drilled down on score results from each building as well as provided information about College and Career Readiness achievement, individualized learning programs, along with extended learning opportunities for students. 
 
The most recent state report card test results for the Wessington Springs School District come in at 52% proficient in English language, 37% in math and 39% in science, which includes high school, middle school, elementary school, high school cyber school and middle school cyber school and Spring Valley Colony.
 
WSMS/HS by the numbers
At the middle/high school level, students come in at 80% proficient in English language, 47% in math and 47% in science. 
 
“As the administration and staff of Wessington Springs Middle School/High School review the data on the 2018-19 school report card, we are very aware that we have areas to improve upon,” stated Wessington Springs Middle School and High School Principal Jason Kolousek. “At the high school level, all of our student performance areas are above state average, but we will continue to work in improving those numbers. Our student performance has been steadily improving over the past four years.”
 
When it comes to College and Career Readiness, Wessington Springs scores remain high compared to the state average. 
 
“This tells me we are preparing our students for the opportunity to be successful after graduation. I feel that we grant our students a well-rounded education with many opportunities for a variety of courses and activities for a small school,” Kolousek stated. "Creating well rounded kids that can sit down and do academics but also do real world work is vital. Our high school students are currently taking 20 dual credit college courses. This opportunity gives students a great chance to begin their higher education pathway.”
 
Individualized learning 
Kolousek said that to meet the needs of each individual student, faculty and administration differentiate the middle/high school curriculum and practices, including offering a vast amount of choices and opportunity when it comes to career and technical education as well as fine arts.
 
“The Wessington Springs middle/high school staff works extremely hard to ensure all students receive an education that will meet their individual needs,” he stated. “We are fortunate to have a veteran and experienced staff that  provides continuity to the learning experience. A large number of our staff are alumni or have ties to the Wessington Springs community and school and this is certainly beneficial in preserving that positive continuity.”
 
WSES by the numbers
In the past five years, Smarter Balance elementary school English scores increased from 35% to 53%, and math from 23% to 45%. In order to continue that upward movement over the next several years, elementary school principal Carrie Azure’s goal is to achieve 85% proficiency in reading and math. To achieve this, Azure points to personalized learning, intervention and extended learning.
 
Personalized learning, intervention and extended learning
In order to personalize learning for all students in each grade, administration and faculty aim to differentiate curriculum to meet the needs of all learners.
 
“Teachers work so hard to reach everyones needs, not just the students having difficulty, but also the learners who are excelling in order to keep them challenged,” Azure said.  “We make sure our students are all exposed to grade level standards but not in a cookie cutter type of way.”
 
Azure states that standardized scores are only one way to assess kids. She points to looking at daily progress and personalized methods of teaching to reach each child’s unique needs.
 
“Teachers have the freedom to meet the state standards in the way that best fits each student’s needs,” she explained. “So learning may look different at every school in the state. Depending on the child’s needs  determines which path you travel to meet that standard. It’s about making connections for their demographic.”
 
Using math as an example, Azure explains that there isn’t just one way to do math and that learners pick up math facts and skills in different ways.
 
“In every facet of learning, we try really hard to individualize and personalize for each student.” 
 
Azure said that teachers also have the freedom to provide a “choice and voice” for kids who are excelling with extended learning. 
 
“Say a student wants to learn more about robotics. After they finish their regular work, they get to do some exploring on a topic of their choice,” Azure said. “It’s about motivating a child to have ownership in their learning. Whether it’s choosing their own book or spending one-on-one time with their teacher, their learning is deeply individualized.” 
 
English Language Learners are a piece of the puzzle 
English Language Learners, a designation that can encompass children of non-English speakers from various countries to Hutterite children who grew up speaking German dialects have historically struggled with assessment tests simply due to the language barrier.
 
“One group of students we need to do a better job of reaching their needs is English Language Learners,” said Kolousek. “With the assistance of the state and the hard work of our teachers we are progressing, but it will need to continue going forward. Providing appropriate opportunity for professional development for staff is key.” 
 
Kolousek said he is very aware that the district needs to continue looking for means to give proper support to staff and students at Spring Valley Colony school.  
 
“There are a number of English Language Learners at Spring Valley Colony that we need to continue supporting to meet their individual needs,” Kolousek said. “Staff at the colony school do a wonderful job of working hard to meet individual student needs, but there are challenges that we need to identify and take steps to work on improvement.” 
 
District report cards like those that appear in the print and e-issue for all schools across the state can be found at the South Dakota Department of Education website: https://sdschools.sd.gov/#/home