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SC report cards have been released. Where does your child’s school rank?

The on-time graduation rate of high school students in four of the seven school districts in Richland and Lexington counties exceeded the state’s average — 81 percent — in 2017-’18.

But not every one of those high schools received a “good” or “excellent” rating as part of the state of South Carolina’s new report cards. Those report cards, released Thursday, include data from the state’s 775,350 students and their 52,322 teachers.

For the first time since 2014, South Carolina’s report cards include scores for individual schools. Those ratings — ranging from unsatisfactory to excellent — were based on an 100-point scale that factored in academic success, student progress, graduation rates and college and career readiness, among other areas. School districts did not receive individual ratings.

The state’s Education Department had planned to release the report cards earlier this month. However, it was forced to reschedule that after vendor “errors in critical data files” left the state agency unable to complete school rankings, it said.

Those ratings have caused concerns among school district officials, who say the scores aren’t reflective of a school itself.

For instance, school quality — one grading category — “is only based on students’ responses to an engagement survey and is not a measure of overall quality,” Richland District 2 said in a statement shortly after the report cards publicly were released.

Lexington School District 1 called the report cards “far from perfect.”

State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda, said Thursday the 2018 report cards are not the “finished product.”

“It’s a good product, but there’s room for improvement,” Spearman said, standing in the media center of Forest Lake Elementary, a magnet school in Richland District 2.

“They (schools) need to take an honest look at it (report cards). I hope that we won’t become defensive but that we’ll use it as a road map for the areas that we really need to work on and admit that we can’t do it by ourselves.”

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SC school scores ignite mixed reactions

At Forest Lake Elementary Thursday, Principal Kappy Steck and Superintendent Spearman — surrounded by teachers and students wrapped in white NASA lab coats — celebrated a year of “excellent” student progress.

That progress — one of several grading requirements laid out in the new report cards — measured students’ scores in English and math and, also, the improvement shown by the lowest performing students. Out of a possible 35 points awarded for progress, the Richland 2 NASA Explorer technology school earned almost 29 points.

Overall, the school of 580 students earned 62 points — or an “excellent” rating, according to its report card.

Other Midlands area schools that performed well on the 2018 report cards included River Bluff and Lexington high schools in Lexington 1, and Chapin, Dutch Fork and Spring Hill high schools in Lexington-Richland School District 5.

But not every school fared as well on the point scale.

For instance, Forest Heights Elementary in Richland School District 1 received an overall point score of 27, or “unsatisfactory,” based, in part, on its students’ struggles on standardized tests, a “below average” rating in student progress, and surveys of some teachers, students and parents.

Nearly 92 percent of Forest Heights’ 553 students live in poverty — 20 percentage points higher than Richland 2’s Forest Lake, report cards show.

For high school, four Richland 1 schools earned less than 40 points. One Richland 2 school — Richland 2 Charter — received 25 points.

“It’s very challenging in our world today to get every student to a certain level,” Spearman said Thursday. “Our students come in at so many different levels and (have) so many different social and family issues that they’re dealing with, and ... the schools have to help in all of those areas.”

‘Fuel to the fire’

Education advocates say the latest report cards reflect, in part, one of the state’s continuing “crises” — classroom vacancies.

“When there are not enough teachers, districts have to add more students into a classroom,” said Kathy Maness, head of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. “Many of these (struggling) school districts need to have smaller class sizes because these children need individualized instruction. That’s hard to do when you have a first grade class of 25.”

Spearman said Thursday she hopes more support is coming in the form of added money from the Legislature.

When legislators return to Columbia in January, the state Education Department will push for lawmakers to budget nearly $155 million for a 5-percent teacher pay raise. That would raise teacher salaries past the Southeastern average of $50,119.

The agency also has asked legislators to spend more than $5 million to help hire temporary employees to support teachers in the classroom.

Spearman also said she is looking at ways to cut out some standardized tests, giving teachers more time to instruct their students.

“We asked again for more support (from lawmakers) because this report card is tougher, our standards are higher and our tests are harder,” she said. “We have pushed up the rigor.”

That rigor worries educators, who say the report cards could deter qualified teachers from going to struggling schools, where they’re needed most.

“These report cards are setting schools apart again,” Maness said. “I hear it from teachers and parents. It’s just fuel to the fire for these naysayers who don’t support public education.”

How Midlands K-12 districts rank

The state used a variety of factors to score S.C. K-12 schools as part of the new report cards. They include:

On-time high school graduation rates

78.1%: Richland 1

87.2%: Richland 2

89.5%: Lexington 1

77.7%: Lexington 2

83%: Lexington 3

75.8%: Lexington 4

90.6%: Lexington-Richland 5

Average teacher salary

$51,985, in Richland 1

$51,802, in Richland 2

$51,791, in Lexington 1

$48,832, in Lexington 2

$47,466, in Lexington 3

$46,456, in Lexington 4

$55,023, in Lexington-Richland 5

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.