SC school report cards show improvement



COLUMBIA — More of South Carolina’s public schools and districts received “excellent” ratings again this year, due to increases in standardized test scores and the high school graduation rate.


The state Department of Education released data this morning showing 50 of the state’s 82 districts achieved the top two ratings of “excellent” or “good” on 2013 state report cards. That compares to 42 of 84 districts last year, before several districts in Marion County consolidated.


The top tiers showed only slight improvement when broken down by the state’s 1,199 schools. Five additional schools received an “excellent,” to 400, while two fewer schools — 232 — rated “good.” Results show more schools climbing out from the bottom. Fourteen fewer schools received the worst rating of “at risk.” Still, 25 of the 47 schools in that category have been stuck there for the past three years.


By student population, 59 percent of students attend the state’s best-rated schools, compared to 9 percent in the worst. Thirty-two percent attend “average” schools.


The on-time graduation rate improved for the fourth consecutive year to 77.5 percent, up 2.6 percentage points. That’s the highest showing since the state began using the rate in calculating state report grades. It represents the percentage of students graduating with a regular diploma in four years.


While the improvements are encouraging, the state has a long way to go, said Neil Robinson, chairman of the Education Oversight Committee, which oversees the state’s education accountability system.


Even among teens who graduate, far too many lack the skills needed to find a job, and 41 percent of students going on to college must take remedial courses at South Carolina’s two-year schools, Robinson said.


“We are doing a much better job of graduating students in the current system but we must ask ourselves if all students are prepared for college and careers,” he said. “Many schools have reached the top of the mountain in the current system, but a new, taller mountain awaits that will take hard work and persistence to (reach the) summit.”


He called for overhauling the state’s accountability system, saying the dual state and federal systems are confusing to parents and the public. Both use the same data but evaluate performance differently. The agency noted that five school districts that received a federal grade of “C’’ received an “excellent” on state report cards: Aiken, Calhoun, Dillon 3, Georgetown and Newberry.


Elementary and middle schools’ state report card ratings are based on third- through eighth-graders’ performance on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, as well as attendance. High school ratings are based on students’ initial scores on the exit exam, results of end-of-course tests, and graduation rates.


Next month, the Education Oversight Committee will consider a proposal that judges schools using additional measures, including students’ access to arts and other programs, and students’ on-the-job performance.


“Educators and families need clear, consistent messages about the performance of schools and students and the system should focus solely on every student having the knowledge, opportunity, and skills to be college-ready, career ready and life ready for the 21st century,” Robinson said.


The state’s five highest-performing districts are, in order: York 4 (Fort Mill), Lexington/Richland 4 (Irmo and Chapin), Spartanburg 1 (Campobello/Inman/Landrum), York 2 (Clover) and Anderson 1 (Williamston and Piedmont).


Only two districts had an overall performance so low that the entire district was rated “at risk.” Those were Jasper County and the statewide public charter school district, which includes the state’s online charter schools.




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