Superintendent’s remarks about SC schools’ grades draw ire

cclick@thestate.comAugust 1, 2013 

Mike Zais


State superintendent of education Mick Zais says parents should get their children out of failing schools or get involved to make them better.

Zais made the remarks at a news conference Thursday, as the state unveiled the 2013 school and district grades based upon student achievement and improvement, as well as standardized test scores for students in grades 3-8.

If a school plummets from an “A” to a “D” or “F”, Zais said, “I think it would suggest it is either time to look for another school or get involved in that school.”

The comments raised the hackles of Melanie Barton, executive director of the state’s Education Oversight Committee, the nonpartisan committee set up by the legislature to monitor education progress. The EOC has taken issue with the state’s letter grade accountability system, saying the wide variance among schools and school districts makes it impossible for parents to make informed decisions about the quality of their schools.

“I am a parent at one of those “F” schools,” she said in an email. “Richland Northeast went from a C in 2012 to an F in 2013. This is the same high school that has just implemented an International Baccalaureate Program, is home to PCA (Palmetto Center for the Arts) and was awarded the Dick and Tunky Riley award for its School Improvement Council this spring.”

The EOC also develops the criteria for the November state report cards, an accountability system that Zais would like to eliminate so there would be only one academic accountability system in the state.

Education department spokesman Jay W. Ragley said the letter grade system, part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, allows parents the opportunity to analyze their schools in August. That gives them time to enroll their children in a charter or other school that is not failing, whereas the November results means “you are stuck in that school” for another year.

Zais acknowledged that poverty and other factors have an impact on school and district grades, but he pointed to St. Helena Elementary in Beaufort as one that went from an “F” to an “A.”

“For other schools and districts, today is one for reflection,” Zais said at the news conference. “Either because they didn’t meet the goals or didn’t show much improvement. The goals were higher this year. The goals will be higher next year. No school or district, not even those that received As, can rest on their laurels.”

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