The Custer School District tests students throughout the year to measure their academic progress and success.
The students not only take the yearly Smarter Balanced test, but they also take the Northwestern Education Association (NWEA) test three times a year and have the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) test available for juniors and seniors.
The Custer Smarter Balanced test is given once a year in the spring and gives South Dakota an idea of how schools are progressing. There are four ratings the state gives schools depending on how their students do on the test. Those are exemplary, status, progressing and needs work.
Custer falls in the progressing category, as do most schools in South Dakota, with 68 percent being labeled with that rating.
“If you compare it to last year, for the most part, we did slightly better, but it is always hard to compare because you aren’t really comparing apples and apples — juniors aren’t the same group as last year. We always want to do better, though, and that is the goal of our board and school district,” said superintendent Mark Naugle.
To prepare students, the district has them do the pre-test, which familiarizes them with navigating the test online. But Naugle said it still comes down to what the students know that day.
The Smarter Balanced test is given to third through eighth graders and juniors and includes a mathematics portion, English/language arts and science.
Another test which involves all Custer students is the NWEA, which is referred to as the Measurement of Academic Progress, or MAP test. It is given in the fall, winter and spring, which makes it easier to chart progress throughout the year.
“What we are looking for is academic growth. There are national norms of growth we want to meet or exceed and normally our classes show the right amount,” said Naugle. “The NWEA provides more information to our teachers so we can help our kids improve.”
The juniors and seniors have the opportunity to take the NCRC test, which is part of the ACT program. This test is oriented toward the career side and asks job-related questions such as applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information.
“It’s used by a lot of entities, which is why we put such a premium on it. Employers notice it and it puts our students out in front,” said Custer Jr./Sr. High School principal Orion Thompson.
The test has four levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. For reference, an individual who scores at the silver level would qualify for 65 percent of jobs in the database, while a gold level would qualify for 90 percent.
“A few years ago we incentivized it and tied it to senior privileges. It got our juniors to take it and actually try on it,” said Thompson. “We told them if they scored silver or higher, they would qualify for senior open campus privileges at the beginning of the year instead of halfway through the year, and each year we have done better and better on the test by doing that.”
The NCRC is one of the assessments taken into consideration for the state report card that the school receives.
In 2017, the Custer High School juniors had 11 gold levels, 38 silver and five bronze.
“We have kids who want to retake the test so they can do better and it’s something rarely experienced because kids don’t especially like tests. Seniors sometimes come back and want to retest to see if they can do better because NCRC is what job services use for a frame of categorizing,” Thompson said.