COLUMBIA, SC — The graduation rates for S.C. high school students and the report card ratings of the state’s schools both improved in 2012 in spite of rising poverty rates.
Almost three quarters of all S.C. high school students – 74.9 percent – graduated on time in 2012, up from 73.6 percent in 2011. “On time” means a student graduated within four years.
While it is the highest graduation rate since 2008, it is still was below 2003’s 78 percent graduation rate.
“Students, parents and teachers deserve the credit for the gains made in graduation rates,” said state schools Superintendent Mick Zais. “The prospects for long-term economic growth and job creation improve as more students graduate from high school with the skills necessary to compete for jobs in the workforce, enlist in the military or enroll in an institution of higher education.”
Graduation rates for African-American, Hispanic and poor students – those receiving subsidized meals – are at their highest levels since the state began releasing data on those student groups in 2004.
Seven in 10 children attending public schools in South Carolina are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch and/or Medicaid health-care programs for the poor. That is up 1 percentage point from 2011.
Poverty is pervasive in S.C. schools. Only 40 schools statewide have fewer than 30 percent of their students living in poverty.
Zais said there is room for improvement. For example, the graduation rate at 86 of the state’s 219 high schools fell below the statewide average.
“The fact remains one out of every four high school students won’t graduate on time or, eventually, drop out of school,” Zais said. “We can do far better as a state and past experience proves we can.”
Report card grades improve
Separately, the 2012 school and school district report cards released Tuesday also showed improvement as more schools and districts received a performance rating of “average” or higher.
Of the state’s 84 school districts, 72 received a rating of at least “average,” an increase of four districts over 2011.
• The number of schools found “at risk” because of poor academic performance – the lowest category possible – declined to 61, the lowest level since 2009.
• 42 school districts were rated “excellent” or “good” in 2012 – the two highest categories in the state’s five-category scale. That is up from 33 in 2011, a 27 percent increase.
• 629 schools were rated “excellent” or “good,” up from 529 in 2011, a 19 percent increase.
• 61 percent of S.C. students attended schools rated “excellent” or “good” in the 2011-12 school year.
As with the graduation rates, some high-poverty schools and districts are beating the odds and succeeding. Of the 61 school districts, where more than 70 percent of students live in poverty, 21 were rated “excellent” or “good.”
“This performance is evidence that high academic standards, quality teaching, parental involvement and community support can mitigate the negative impact of poverty on students and their successes,” said Neil C. Robinson, Jr., chairman of the Education Oversight Committee, the state’s education watchdog group.
Robinson points to Darlington County as proof.
Darlington is the third-highest performing school district in South Carolina, rated “excellent,” despite the fact that 82 percent of its students live in poverty. The Calhoun, Barnwell 29 and Saluda school districts also were rated “excellent” despite more than 80 percent of their students living in poverty.
The school and district report-card ratings are based on student performance on the state’s standardized test, the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards; the high school exit exam; end-of-course tests; on-time and five-year high school graduation rates and other factors.
Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.