South Dakota Assessment Letter

November 22, 2006

The Honorable Rick Melmer
Secretary of Education
South Dakota Department of Education
700 Governors Drive
Pierre, South Dakota 57501-2291

Dear Secretary Melmer:

I am writing to follow up on my letter, dated June 29, 2006, inviting you to show cause why the U.S. Department of Education (Department) should not withhold 10 percent of the fiscal year 2006 funds the South Dakota Department of Education reserved for State administration under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). In a letter of July 28, 2006, you responded to this invitation to show cause on behalf of the South Dakota Department of Education.

As indicated in my June 29, 2006 letter, based on two peer reviews, the status of the South Dakota standards and assessment system was Approval Pending with three fundamental components missing or not meeting requirements. In my letter, I listed the components where the evidence provided did not demonstrate that South Dakota’s assessments met the ESEA requirements. Specifically, the Department could not approve South Dakota’s assessment system due to outstanding concerns with technical quality including the validity and reliability of the assessment system and insufficient items to distinguish between various academic achievement levels. Concerns were also raised regarding the insufficient documentation pertaining to the process used to establish rigor for South Dakota’s academic content standards and gaps in the alignment of South Dakota’s assessments with the State’s academic content and achievement standards. Accordingly, South Dakota’s standards and assessment system was assigned the status of Approval Pending. Based on the number of fundamental components that were missing or did not meet the ESEA requirements, I indicated the Department’s intent to withhold a portion of South Dakota’s Title I, Part A State administrative funds.

On July 28, 2006, South Dakota requested reconsideration of the approval status of its standards and assessment system and provided evidence to show cause why the Department should not withhold funds. I applaud the work you have already done to improve the South Dakota assessment system and the timeline you have established for completing the remaining work. While the evidence South Dakota provided was not sufficient to address the fundamental issues of technical quality and alignment, South Dakota was able to demonstrate that the process used to establish rigor for its academic content standards met the NCLB requirements.

Due to the fact that South Dakota has reduced the number of fundamental components that are not in compliance with NCLB, the Department will no longer withhold 10 percent of South Dakota’s fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds. South Dakota’s system will remain Approval Pending, but with two fundamental components that are missing or not meeting requirements. Specifically, the Department cannot approve South Dakota’s standards and assessment system due to outstanding concerns with the technical quality of the assessments and achievement standards and the alignment of the assessments with South Dakota’s academic content and achievement levels. Please refer to the enclosure for a list of the evidence South Dakota must submit to meet the requirements for an approved standards and assessment system.

South Dakota has already submitted a plan and timeline for how it will complete its system by the end of the 2006-07 school year. In addition, South Dakota has joined the Department’s LEP Partnership. Because South Dakota’s standards and assessment system is still Approval Pending, South Dakota remains under Mandatory Oversight, pursuant to 34 C.F.R. §80.12. Under this status, specific conditions were placed on South Dakota’s fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A grant award. Beginning in November 2006, South Dakota must also provide bi-monthly reports on its progress implementing the plan. If, at any time, South Dakota does not meet the timelines set forth in its plan, the Department will initiate proceedings, pursuant to Section 1111(g)(2) of the ESEA, to withhold 15 percent of South Dakota’s fiscal year 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, which will then revert to local educational agencies in South Dakota.

I know you are anxious to receive full approval of your standards and assessment system and we are committed to helping you get there. Toward that end, let me reiterate my earlier offer of technical assistance and my offer of meeting with you in person. We remain available to assist you however necessary to ensure you administer a fully approved system. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to call me at 202-260-2777.


Henry L. Johnson


cc: Governor Mike Rounds
Diane Lowery



  1. Evidence of Board adoption of the cut scores for the alternate assessments when this is completed in spring 2006.
  2. Involvement of a broad range of stakeholders including more teachers representing all grades.
  3. Steps taken to ensure that the same set of achievement standards are used to measure the subject mastery of limited English proficient (LEP) students in reading, mathematics, and science;
  4. June 2005 Buros final report regarding setting the revised reading cut scores.


  1. Reliability studies for the scores of student subgroups.
  2. Results of studies of student accommodations that examine the degree to which the individualized educational program (IEP) and the student accommodations are congruent, or a concrete plan and timeline for examining the extent to which the IEP and other student accommodations on assessments are congruent.
  3. Plan to develop aligned, parallel forms of the South Dakota assessments.
  4. Detailed report of the bias committee findings.


  1. A plan with timelines to resolve all identified deficiencies related to alignment of the State’s assessments with its academic content and student achievement standards.
  2. Interpretative analyses/comments and use of results of alignment studies related to the new alternate assessments.


  1. Steps taken to ensure the participation of all students in statewide assessments.
  2. Review of data reports and steps taken to ensure the highest level of data consistency and accuracy.

Return to state-by-state listing