South Carolina public school students made gains this year on the states standardized test and other assessments, according to the state Department of Education.
Data released Thursday by the department showed:
• Eighty-four percent of schools earned a grade of C or better. This year marks the first time schools and districts received letter grades based on their students achievement.
• Larger percentages of students met state standards on the 2012 Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, or PASS, the states annual standardized test given to third- through eighth-graders to test their knowledge in writing, English language arts, math, science and social studies.
• Four out of five high school students passed the states high school exit examination on their first try. All students must pass the exam to earn a high school diploma. Most student groups increased proficiency in mathematics but every student group declined in English.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais praised the results Thursday.
Credit for these results belongs to the hard work of students, teachers and parents across South Carolina, he said.
Making the grade
Educators and others have long criticized the way schools and school districts were graded.
Each year, each school and district was rated as either making or not making Adequate Yearly Progress, depending on how its students performed on the states standardized test and other criteria, such as student attendance.
The all-or-nothing approach system meant schools that missed just one education objective were categorized as failing the same as schools that missed multiple objectives.
A school that met 36 out of 37 performance objectives was considered a failing school, Zais said. No one with any common sense thinks that is either accurate or fair.
Last year, only 23.5 percent of schools met AYP, many because they missed only one or two performance objectives. Only one school district made AYP.
Zais agency requested and received approval from the U.S. Department of Education this month to throw out the old system and instead give schools letter grades.
Grades for elementary and middle schools are based on student performance on the states standardized test, and high schools are judged on graduation rates, exit exam scores and end-of-course tests.
This nuanced system means more schools are meeting the state standard. Eighty-four percent of schools earned a C or better under the new federal system.
More work needed
Students average score on PASS, the states standardized test, improved in each subject. And average scores improved for students in most grade levels, too.
In English language arts, scores increased in every grade and the percentage of students demonstrating Exemplary proficiency, the highest possible score, increased in all grades except one.
But theres much work to be done, education officials say.
Nearly 20 percent of the states third graders, for example, did not meet the state standard in English language arts. Twenty percent did not meet it last year.
Zais has made reading proficiency among elementary students a priority.
It is good news that the number of students demonstrating reading proficiency in third grade has increased. But the fact remains that nearly 20 percent of students leave third grade not reading on grade level. Promoting students whom have not mastered basic reading skills by third grade doesnt help them; it hinders their education, he said.
Zais said he is reviewing legislation adopted in other states that ends social promotion of students who do not show third-grade reading proficiency. Instead, these students receive intensive reading instruction.
Because only South Carolina students take PASS, results cannot be compared to other states.
Big picture discrepancies
Long-term, Zais is pushing to create one education accountability system.
Currently, South Carolina has federal and state systems that, in some areas, overlap. In other areas, the two systems send seemingly contradictory signals about the states schools.
For example, under the federal system, 72 percent of the states school districts receive A and B ratings. But under the state system, only 48 percent of districts are rated currently as excellent or good. Its a similar situation on the school level with 73 percent receiving an A or B at the federal level but only 45 percent rated excellent or good by the state.
Next month, members of the Education Oversight Committee, the states education watchdog group, will begin discussions on whether it should be done, said Melanie Barton, the EOCs interim director.
EOC members will make a recommendation to the General Assembly who have the final say.
Reach Smith at (803) 414-1340.