Education

Cayce elementary school receives lowest report card score in Lexington County

Cayce Elementary, a two-year-old school in Lexington 2, was the worst-performing school in Lexington County on the 2019 school report cards, and the lowest-scoring elementary school in the Midlands. The school was the only elementary in Richland and Lexington counties to be given an unsatisfactory score, earning just 24 out of 100 possible points on the report card.

“I can assure you, no one is happy with an unsatisfactory score,” district spokesperson Dawn Kujawa wrote in an email to The State. “Obviously, it’s not where we want to be, and frankly, it’s not where we expect to be at this time next year.”

Throughout the school’s 2019 report card from the S.C. Department of Education, Cayce Elementary scored far below district and state averages on nearly every measure, from English and math scores to students’ self-reported levels of engagement. The school educates more than 1,000 students, according to education department records.

Kujawa said Cayce Elementary had a few significant challenges to work with. The 2018-2019 school year was the school’s second year in existence. The creation of the school brought together students from Davis and Taylor elementary schools, which had different ways of operating, she said. In its second year, Cayce Elementary also gained a new principal, Andrew Drozdak, and a new administrative team, according to Kujawa.

Drozdak and Lexington 2 superintendent William James were not made available for interviews. The district faced other challenges this year, reporting a higher dropout rate than in previous school years and a high school graduation rate of 76.3% — more than a 10% drop since the district’s 2017 report card.

Overall student progress at Cayce Elementary was deemed unsatisfactory in the 2019 report card. Progress is measured on the report card by comparing subgroups of students with other students like them across the state and benchmarking their improvement against S.C. standards.

Fifty percent of students are not meeting expectations in SC READY standardized test scores for English Language Arts. That’s almost twice the rate of failure as the state average (26.5%). And 42% of students at the school aren’t meeting expectations in mathematics.

In science, just 20.5% of students met or exceeded performance goals set by the state while 46.5% of students met or exceeded those goals in social studies.

Kindergarten students graded on their “readiness to learn,” or how equipped they were to receive kindergarten instruction, skewed toward being less prepared. Cayce Elementary kindergarteners also scored lower than district and state averages overall in readiness, social foundation, language and literacy, mathematics and physical well-being.

Almost three-fourths of English learners at Cayce Elementary did not move closer to the statewide proficiency goal: to become “proficient in English within at least five years of enrollment in public schools.” Just 30 out of the 119 Cayce Elementary students included in report card assessments had made progress toward that goal.

The school also scored below average (earning two out of 10 points) in student engagement.

The 2018-2019 school year was a time of transition for the school, Kujawa said, but Cayce Elementary’s leadership has launched efforts recently to increase students’ achievement levels.

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The school has adopted Edmentum curriculum, which provides students with 30 minutes of “intensive remediation” tailored to their individual academic needs. The school also redesigned its intervention structure to allow for small group learning as well as individual instruction to supplement regular class time for students who are behind.

Cayce Elementary teachers are also using data to analyze student progress and identify which students are achieving proficiency or not. The teachers meet and have weekly discussions about what strategies they can use to reach students better, Kujawa said.

Students whose standardized test scores decreased between the 2017-2018 school year and the 2018-2019 school year are placed on “individualized plans” to get them back on track. And Cayce Elementary’s fourth and fifth grade teachers have adopted “team teaching models” focused on math or reading, to play on teachers’ strengths and give students a more holistic education in those subjects.

The school also introduced “Leader in Me,” a goal-setting and leadership development program for students.

In addition to these programs, Cayce Elementary has also brought in a University of South Carolina professor who offers professional development courses to teachers and staff, and the school has launched twice-monthly breakfasts for parents and administrators to discuss home-school relationships.

“We are confident that these customized learning programs for students, with supporting programs for teachers and families, will help strengthen Cayce’s student achievement,” Kujawa said.

Two Richland County high schools, C.A. Johnson and Richland Two Charter, also received unsatisfactory report cards.

Are you a parent of a Cayce Elementary student? Email us at icueto@thestate.com.

Correction, 5:38 p.m., Oct. 3: A previous version of this article and its headline misstated how many schools in Richland and Lexington counties were named unsatisfactory in the 2019 report card. Cayce Elementary was the worst-graded elementary school, and two Richland County high schools were also labeled as unsatisfactory.

Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.
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