About one in three Richland 1 students failed to meet or come close to meeting South Carolina’s math, English, science and social studies learning standards last year, according to recent test results, and district leaders say they’re prepared to do more to help students succeed.
Meanwhile, neighboring Richland 2, which deals with significantly less poverty, fared better overall on the state tests. But still, anywhere from 17 percent to 38 percent of the district’s third- through eighth-graders failed to meet or come close to meeting standards in math, English, science and social studies.
Nearly four in five Richland 1 students are considered impoverished, which district leaders say is not an excuse for test performance but has an undeniable influence. In Richland 2, just more than half of students are considered impoverished.
Richland 1 spent more than $13,000 per student last year, compared to similar districts’ $9,569, according to the state Department of Education. For at least the past eight years, Richland 1 outspent its peer districts in the state by 34-44 percent and each year performed generally worse than those districts by slight margins on state standardized tests.
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For school board member Beatrice King, the district’s high spending per student compared to its low test scores shows that money hasn’t consistently been spent in the most meaningful ways. “It’s not that we haven’t done it, but we didn’t do enough of it, and it hasn’t been effective enough,” King said.
If poverty is “a driving force” behind low student performance, then the district should find a way to address poverty in its budget, school board member Dwayne Smiling said at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“We need to ... get with parents and see what those issues are in a home that would affect how a child may score on a test,” he said.
What the stats show
Richland 1 students have made some gains in test performance over the past several years. But the district continues to lag behind the state as well as districts with similarly high poverty rates.
And, compared to similar districts of its own, Richland 2’s performance on state standardized tests has slipped in recent years. Whereas Richland 2 students used to perform nearly equal to or better than students in districts with similar poverty levels, they now perform worse.
Last year was the first year South Carolina students took the SC READY tests, which are meant to measure elementary and middle school students’ future readiness for college and careers based on their current learning in math and English. SC READY was the third new set of standards that students and teachers had to prepare for in as many years.
Roughly 70 percent of Richland 1 third- and eighth-graders – the youngest and oldest students who took the test – approached, met or exceeded math and English expectations on SC READY exams. But only about a third of students overall actually met or exceeded the standards.
On SC PASS exams measuring science and social studies learning, half of Richland 1 fourth-graders – the youngest test takers – met or exceeded science expectations, while three-quarters passed the social studies exam. Among eighth graders, performance hit right around two-thirds passing for both science and social studies.
The achievement gap between white and minority students is obvious in the test results.
White Richland 1 students performed better on SC READY and SC PASS than other white students in the state, while black students performed worse than other black students in the state, except on the science exams, according to statistics presented at this week’s school board meeting.
“We take this national trend seriously in Richland 1, and we are focusing on ways to close this gap,” superintendent Craig Witherspoon said.
“We certainly have a lot of work to do,” school board chairman Cheryl Harris said during the meeting. “Let’s make a hard push to move this district. We know we can do it. It’s been done before.”
In Richland 2, where standardized test scores have neither significantly improved nor worsened for several years, roughly three-quarters of students approached, met or exceeded expectations on the math, English and social studies exams. The largest proportion fell into the “approaches” category. Fewer students fared as well on the science test, with passing percentages ranging from 57 to 69 across the five grade levels.
“Our goal is to make sure all of our students are where they’re supposed to be or better,” Richland 2 superintendent-elect Baron Davis said, noting that even if a student doesn’t meet standards, it’s a positive sign if they show growth.
Eyes on improvement
Richland 1 leaders say they have some plans for improving student success. Among the strategies outlined at this week’s board meeting:
▪ Focus on literacy, which affects performance in all subject areas, not just English and language arts.
▪ A new strategy for analyzing mid-year benchmark testing, which measures how prepared students are to pass the end-of-year state tests and highlights specific areas they need support in to show improvement.
▪ Revamped training for teachers and staff.
Richland 2’s Davis echoed an emphasis on reading and writing skills in the district.
He also said the district is working to ensure that typical classroom assignments and tests align with standards that appear on state tests and developing specific strategies for individual schools to focus on their own areas needing improvement.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
Percent of students who “approach, meet or exceed” expectations on 2016 SC READY tests
SC READY tests were given to third- through eighth-graders to measure future college and career readiness based on current English and math learning.
Richland 1 third grade – 69% English and language arts, 68% math
Richland 1 eighth grade – 72% English and language arts, 67% math
Richland 2 third grade – 78% English and language arts, 80% math
Richland 2 eighth grade – 74% English and language arts, 64% math
Statewide third grade – 78% English and language arts, 79% math
Statewide eighth grade – 78% English and language arts, 71% math
Source: S.C. Department of Education
Percent of students who scored “met” or “exemplary” on 2016 SC PASS tests
SC PASS tests were given to fourth- through eighth-graders to measure performance based on grade-level standards for science and social studies.
Richland 1 fourth grade – 53% science, 75% social studies
Richland 1 eighth grade – 61% science, 67% social studies
Richland 2 fourth grade – 63% science, 83% social studies
Richland 2 eighth grade – 63% science, 66% social studies
Statewide fourth grade – 65% science, 70% social studies
Statewide eighth grade – 70% science, 66% social studies
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Education
District spending per student in 2014-15
Richland 1 – $13,090 (comparison to districts with “students like ours”: $9,569)
Richland 2 – $10,598 ($8,153)
Lexington 1 – $10,087 ($10,087)
Lexington 2 – $9,645 ($9,292)
Lexington-Richland 5 – $11,410 ($11,232)
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Education
See your district’s scores
For more information on test scores by district and specific schools, as well as annual report cards for districts across the state, visit http://ed.sc.gov and look under the “Data” tab.