Students in Aiken, Columbia and Richmond counties will begin Christmas break this week, and report cards will be issued in mid-January. But how have their school districts measured up to the responsibility of educating them? This fall, the three districts received reports from their respective states for the 2016-2017 school year. The Augusta Chronicle took a look at test scores, graduation rates and spoke with school system leaders to see where area schools are succeeding, what remains to be improved and how they are preparing students for life after high school.
Aiken County: Each year, the South Carolina Department of Education releases report cards for each school district and that system’s schools. For the last five years, Aiken County Public Schools has received an excellent rating from the state and seen progress each year in most areas of its grading categories.
The 2017 graduation rate rose to 90 percent from 88.6 in 2016. In 2012, the graduation rate was 75.6 percent.
However, standardized state testing show that 30.9 percent of students in 2017 did not meet expectations in English and 30.7 percent not meet expectations in math, an increase from 2016. Superintendent Sean Alford said changes to the exam for three of the last four years and the grading of the exam becoming more difficult each year is a factor in those numbers.
“It’s a combination of adjusting to a different test, and the bar being raised from three feet to six feet,” Alford said.
The Georgia Department of Education issues a College and Career Ready Performance Index score to each school to measure performance, and the school system receives an average of those scores. The CCRPI score takes in a number of factors including standardized test scores and graduation rates. The scores range from 1 to 100 with an opportunity for bonus points. Some bonus points will be eliminated in 2018 while others will become more difficult to obtain.
Columbia County: Columbia County’s 2017 CCRPI score was 81.7, a decrease from 2016’s 83.3. Similar to Aiken County, Georgia schools struggle with changes to the requirements of those scores. When the bar is raised, schools see a drop in their score whereas the year before, they would have received those points, according to superintendent Sandra Carraway. From 2015 to 2017, 23.3 percent of Columbia County schools have seen a drop in their scores each year due to those changes.
Although CCRPI scores have dropped in some schools, the 2017 high school graduation rates stayed fairly consistent with previous years at 89.5 percent. In 2011, the county’s graduation rate was 76 percent.
Carraway pointed out that those rates are based on students who graduate in four years, and for some with special needs or medical problems, an extra year or two may be necessary to meet the requirements for graduation.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t graduate. It just means that it may take them a little longer,” she said.
Richmond County: Richmond County School System has seen the word “increase” numerous times over the last year. Its system-wide graduation rate climbed from 76.7 percent to 78.5 percent according to the GADOE. The graduation rate was 54.6 in 2011.
Richmond County schools’ director of communications Kaden Jacobs said school leaders are stressing the importance of graduation to ninth grade students early to help them succeed.
The county’s CCRPI score increased by from 57.9 to 64.5. To continue to improve, Jacobs said the school district is placing an emphasis on literacy.
Despite improvements in its CCRPI scores, graduation rates and test scores, 13 of its 59 schools remain on the state’s Turnaround Eligible List which could give the state the ability to bring in a Chief Turnaround Officer and turnaround coaches to work with superintendent Angela Pringle, teachers, parents and administrators to correct the issues. Jacobs said Pringle plans to meet with the Turnaround Officer.
“They will talk about how they can partner in order for us to take full advantage of all available resources,” he said.
Leaders from each school district acknowledge preparation for life after high school is as important as test scores and graduation rates . It’s what students are prepared for after high school.
Aiken County is gearing up for its inaugural class at the Aiken Scholars Academy. This spring, 50 freshman will be selected to take college and high school courses at University of South Carolina Aiken starting in fall 2018. The school system is also revving up its Aiken Works program, placing students in apprenticeships throughout Aiken County. It is also seeking apprenticeship opportunities in Augusta.
Columbia and Richmond county schools have made a push for students to participate in Move on When Ready, which allows students to enroll in college classes for free while completing high school. The counties have also connected students with technical opportunities.
Richmond County schools have partnered with Textron Specialized Vehicles for Reaching Potential Through Manufacturing. Students in the RPM program spend part of their day in school and the rest of the day at Textron, receiving on the job training. Both counties also emphasize Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, allowing learning opportunities in multiple fields and a chance to earn certification.