Midlands students slip on PASS test; largest declines in reading, science

08/06/2014 8:54 PM

08/07/2014 12:11 AM

COLUMBIA Midlands students performed worse this spring on the state’s annual student achievement test than last year – mirroring a statewide decline that has some education leaders worried.

Science and English language arts gave students statewide and in the Midlands the most trouble – with all eight Midlands districts declining in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the state’s standards.

Writing was the only subject area statewide and in all eight Midlands school districts where the percentage of students scoring at or above the state’s standards grew from last year.

The Lexington-Richland 5 school district stood out in the Midlands, the only district to rank among the Top 10 school districts statewide for overall performance across the subject areas.

Lexington 1 made it into the Top 10 districts for four of the five subject areas tested.

Students in the third-through-eighth grades take the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards yearly, testing their mastery of topics covered in English language arts, math, science, social studies and writing. Student test scores fall into three performance categories: those that meet what the state considers satisfactory performance, those that do not, and those that exceed expectations.

Reasons for the declining performance are unclear.

Education officials, though uncertain, said the decline could be tied to increased rigor in the test based in part, for the first time this year, on the state’s Common Core education standards, which outline what students should know at each grade level.

But increased rigor in the math and English tests does not explain the ground students lost in science, said Melanie Barton, executive director of the Education Oversight Committee, the state’s education accountability arm.

“We've got to refocus on teaching and learning,” she said. “What I see in those results is we had some major problems in the classroom.”

The S.C. Department of Education focused on positive news.

“While we have not made substantial gains, we have seen similar results in past years,” Republican state schools chief Mick Zais said in a statement Wednesday.

“There are several areas of high accomplishment,” Zais continued, adding the achievement gap narrowed between students with and without disabilities in 24 of the 30 testing areas — the five subject areas tested in each of the six grades.

A closer look at the data shows that the percentage of students with disabilities performing well increased in 13 of those 24 areas where the achievement gap narrowed. In the remaining 11 areas, both students with and without disabilities scored worse. However, the achievement gap narrowed because the scores by students with disabilities did not drop as much as those by other students.

In six areas, the achievement gap grew between students with and without disabilities.

Students First S.C. director Regina Hitchcock said the overall results show “far too many of our students aren’t meeting the basic standards that will help them reach their academic and professional goals later in life.”

“Great teachers make a difference,” said Hitchcock, whose group advocates tougher teacher evaluations and paying teachers based on performance.

In the Midlands

Comparing the performance of Midlands third- and eighth-graders – the first and last years that students are tested – Lexington-Richland 5 students came out on top, recording the highest percentage of students who met or exceeded the state’s standards in four of the five subject areas.

Lexington 4 third- and eighth-graders trailed in the Midlands, with the lowest percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in four of five subject areas.

Overall, Midlands districts all posted gains on the writing test. Richland 2 improved the most, showing a more than 3 percentage point increase from 2013 in third- and eighth-graders scoring satisfactory or exemplary in writing.

The percentage of Midlands students scoring satisfactory or exemplary declined the most in science and English.

Lexington 4 saw a more than five-point decline since 2013 in students meeting or exceeding expectations in English and a six-point drop in science. Lexington 3 dropped the most gradually, with students meeting or exceeding expectations in English declining only by 1.2 percentage points and by half a point in science.

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