Despite minor gains, Aiken County students still fall short of state averages when it comes to passing four core subjects' final exams, according to data released by the state Education Department on Tuesday.
South Carolina's end-of-course exams in Algebra I, English I, physical science and U.S. History and Constitution are required for high school graduation. The tests count as 20 percent of a student's final grade in the corresponding courses.
The number of Aiken County pupils earning better than a C average in 2010 didn't improve more than 1 percentage point in any subject compared with 2009. Students' largest gains were in English I, with a 0.6 percentage point improvement to earn 52.9 percent of students a passing grade. Statewide, 53.4 percent of students passed the exam.
Aiken students gained 0.2 percentage points in Algebra I to earn a 55.9 percent passing rate. Physical science and U.S. history still prove to be the more difficult subjects, with only 39.1 percent and 22.4 percent of students passing, respectively.
Edgefield County students posted major improvements on English I finals with 56.4 percent of students passing, up from 49.5 percent last year. Students also made gains in Algebra I with 62.8 percent of students passing, an increase from 60.9 percent. Science and U.S. history also proved weak spots among Edgefield's test takers with only 25.3 percent of students passing science, down from 29.7 percent last year. Only 11.8 percent of students earned better than a C average in U.S. history, down from 15.6 percent in 2009.
Statewide, the biggest improvement was in Algebra I, where students earning a C or better increased from 55.3 percent in 2009 to 61.3 percent in 2010.
Only 42.6 percent of students passed physical science statewide, and 69.8 percent of students passed U.S. history.
"We're not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination, particularly with history and science scores," said state Education Superintendent Jim Rex in a news release. "But it's encouraging for our high schools to see this kind of across-the-board improvement. The key will be sustaining that improvement over the long haul. We have to keep pushing."
Concern over declining test scores, especially algebra scores, has prompted Aiken County administrators to join with University of South Carolina Aiken and Aiken Technical College to realign math standards and instruction.
With three of the four end-of-course tests given in ninth grade, Dr. Randy Stowe, the Area 5 associate superintendent, who oversees high school curriculum for Aiken County, said additional efforts to identify eighth-graders who are at risk of failing in ninth grade will allow schools to offer more support services to ensure they have better odds of passing the exams and advancing to 10th grade.
"We are placing a special emphasis on improving the success of our ninth-graders in all subjects. Our at-risk intervention teams for freshmen at each high school are new this year," he said. "In most cases, students who are promoted to the 10th grade after one year will go on to graduate from high school in four years."
Complete data for each high school can be found at ed.sc.gov/topics/assessment/scores/eocep/2010/default.cfm.