Saturday, August 8, 2020

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National High School Rankings raise questions about what makes a school good or bad

The 2019 U.S. News & World Report High School Rankings assessment lists the top High Schools in each state of the Union.

One hundred and six schools were included on the list for the state of South Dakota, with Hill City listed as number one.

“Hill City High School is ranked #2,896 in the National Rankings. Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college,” the report indicates.

Hill City, with an enrollment of 153 students in grades 9-12, earned an 83.21 overall on the ranking and shows proficiency percentages in math at 67 percent, reading 96 percent, and a graduation rate of 97 percent.

Dupree High School and Timber Lake HIgh School are unranked on the list, and indicate for DHS 104 students 9-12 and for TL 89 students. Both schools show a 40 percent proficiency in math and 70 percent proficiency in reading on the U.S. News & World Report.

DHS’ graduation rate is 62 percent and TL’s rate is 89 percent.

Cheyenne-Eagle Butte shows up on the report as Eagle Butte High School with only one student.

“In coordination with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm, U.S. News ranked 17,245 public high schools out of more than 23,000 reviewed. This is the count of public high schools that had a 12th grade enrollment of 15 or greater, or otherwise had sufficient enrollment in other high school grades during the 2016-2017 school year to be analyzed,” the report says.

Local schools were not ranked because they were “with very small enrollment” or are not listed as a public school through the state.

In rural areas, the statistics needed to make rankings such as this one are not always readily available. For example, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte is a negotiated school that is run in part by District 20-1, but is housed in a Bureau of Indian Affairs building and operates under not only 20-1 and the BIE, but also under the Cheyenne-River Sioux Tribe and the CRST Title I office.

So, to determine the performance of local schools, we can go to the SD Department of Education website and look at each school’s graduation and SmarterBalanced test results, and compare them to schools ranked on the list, such as Hill City, or we can compare them to schools with similar enrollment, teacher/student ratios, poverty and minority percentages.

Often, poverty is mentioned as a factor impacting performance levels on state tests.

“In recent years, policymakers have paid increasing attention to the many ways in which factors beyond school influence a child’s educational outcomes. Indeed, recent research finds that the “poverty” achievement gap – that is, the difference in academic achievement between poor and non-poor children – has grown faster than the racial achievement gap,” wrote Brian A. Jacob Professor of Education at the University of Michigan and Joseph Ryan, Associate Professor School of Social Work, Co-Director Child and Adolescent Data Lab at the University of Michigan in their study of the ways maltreatment impacts student performance.

The study’s findings, along with the findings of the impact of poverty and race on student performance suggests that educators “cannot simply be treated like a secondary issue, but must be a central concern of school personnel.”

Some people, such as Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson, have argued that there is no direct correlation between poverty and performance, rather there are many other factors that impact performance in the classroom and on standardized scores.

Students in Ziebach and Dewey counties are considered to be living in impoverished areas. When it comes to student performance at Cheyenne-Eagle Butte or Dupree, 100 percent of the students qualify as living in poverty.

Yet, when you ask students why some students do well and others do not in school, they will typically say that the choice rests with the student.

“If the student does not want to learn, then the teacher can’t make them learn,” said one C-EB student.

The question is why does the student not want to learn? What can the teacher or the school do to motivate the student to learn?

The school’s ability to inspire students to give their all on performance tests, stay in school and graduate, and then go on to college is most often what is used to measure the quality of education any school in America is offering, and determines whether a school will make a list like the one distributed by U.S. News.

Schools develop improvement plans based on the outcomes of the state performance tests, and other district-adopted tests in an effort to measure student performance not only against the performance of other school statewide and nationwide, but to see if the students are performing better than they were earlier in the school year, or better than they were in previous schools years.

South Dakota issues a state report card each year for each school to show how public schools are performing based on student assessment results.

South Dakota Stars highlights district statistics and can be accessed through the state’s Department of Education website. To learn more details about the performance of schools on the Cheyenne RIver Reservation based on data collected from schools pertaining to information such as assessment results and graduation percentages, go to

The data collection can be a conversation-starter, giving parents and community members an idea of how local schools compare to state and national averages, how rural and urban schools differ, and the impacts of race, socioeconomic status and other factors impact students and ultimately school performance.