Benchmarks OK'd for new S.C. test

An education subcommittee has approved benchmarks for South Carolina's new high-stakes standardized test, the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards.

The new test, which the state's third- through eighth-graders took for the first time last school year and will take annually, will be used to grade S.C. schools and districts on their progression toward state and federal education goals.

PASS replaces the old Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, or PACT, which was mothballed last year because parents and educators say it did not provide timely, detailed information about what students know.

The new PASS benchmarks are somewhat controversial because they differ from benchmarks recently recommended by a group of about 150 educators from more than 60 S.C. school districts.

The Education Oversight Committee on Monday approved changes in the benchmarks in reading, math, writing and social studies to ensure that students who scored "basic" on the state's old PACT test will score "met" on the new PASS test.

On PASS, students can score "not met," "met" or exemplary." On PACT, students could receive one of four scores including "basic."

The tweaks align the "basic" benchmark with the "met" benchmark, ensuring that both mean a student has met the state standards in a subject area, said EOC members.

School groups, including the S.C. School Boards Association and the S.C. Association of School Administrators, worried that under the PASS benchmarks set by the educators, more students would fail.

"The 'met' (benchmark) was set higher than the 'basic' (benchmark) in nearly every grade level in nearly every subject," said Debbie Elmore, spokeswoman for the S.C. School Boards Association.

Elmore and other educators stress that the altered benchmarks do not mean less is expected of students.

"We're not lowering the standards. We're not lowering the expectations of what students are expected to learn," Elmore said. "We didn't change the standards at all. We're just saying that meeting the standards on PASS means the same thing as meeting the standards on PACT."

The full Education Oversight committee still must approve the benchmarks.