File - Classroom

(The Center Square) - The Nation's Report Card shows that South Dakota's reading and math scores have dipped slightly for fourth and eighth-grade students but remain above the national average.

Still, education officials are concerned with the downward trajectory in state scores and are developing initiatives to increase student literacy for the future.

According to a National Assessment of Education Progress report released this week, South Dakota's fourth-grade reading and math scores were 218 and 239, respectively. The national average for the grade level was reported as being lower than South Dakota's scores, with 216 in reading and 235 in math.

South Dakota's eighth-grade test results also followed the trend of being higher than the national average. The average score for eighth grade in South Dakota for reading was 262, compared to the national average of 259, and in math was 281, compared to 273 for the national average.

When compared to pre-Covid scores from 2019, South Dakota's scores are down slightly. According to the NAEP data, fourth- and eighth-grade math scores have dropped two and six points, respectively. Reading scores have also followed the trend by dropping four points for fourth grade and one point for eighth.

South Dakota Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson said the state uses the data from the NAEP, along with other sources, to help make decisions about how to best support education in the state.

"NAEP is one of those sources that can help us understand how our students are performing and areas that may need attention," Sanderson said. "While I'm glad to see that our students have held their own compared to other states, South Dakota has room for improvement. Our scores have slipped over time, and we need to ensure our students are receiving the best instruction and learning opportunities available."

The South Dakota DOE is already working to combat the learning challenges students have been faced with post-COVID. A statewide literacy initiative, focusing on research-backed teacher training and promoting family participation in teaching youngsters how to read, write, speak and listen, is currently in development, according to a news release.

"Up until fourth grade, students are mostly learning to read," Sanderson said. "It's at that point students start reading to learn. It's critical to have strong literacy skills in place by the end of third grade, as that lays the foundation for future learning."