In figures released by the state Education Department on Tuesday, more than three out of four South Carolina students, or 76.1 percent, passed the exam on their first attempt last spring.
Aiken County students had a passing rate of 78.3 percent and Edgefield had 77.1 percent.
The exit exam, formally called the High School Assessment Program, is administered to all 10th-grade students. Students not passing both the English and math portions of the exam are retested in the fall and spring of each year until they complete the exam. Passing the exam is required to get a high school diploma.
Aiken's averages are only slightly better than the state's, but Kevin O'Gorman, Aiken County's associate superintendent of instruction, said it shows students are meeting district goals.
Last week during district accreditation, school administrators reiterated their goal to remain at least two percentage points above state averages for all standardized tests, which it met on the exit exam.
"We're about where we hope to be," Dr. O'Gorman said. "We're not satisfied with remaining there, though."
Overall, the state saw a huge dip from last year's high of 80.8 percent of first-time test takers passing.
"We've been seeing very positive scoring trends, including the highest scores ever just last year," state Education Superintendent Jim Rex said in a statement. "So these results are not what we expected. But trends are what you look for in student testing, and we'll have to wait a year and see if this is the beginning of a downward trend or just a random blip."
Dr. O'Gorman said Aiken County's rate still mirrored state trends despite staying higher, but noted that the explanation could be as simple as the change in math curriculum at the eighth grade level a few years ago.
Programs in Aiken County high schools, such as Freshman Academy, are working to ensure consistent growth on graduation and passing rates on the exam, Dr. O'Gorman said.
At Wagener-Salley High, Principal Pat Keating and his staff have implemented pull-out classes where 10th-grade students can focus on preparing for the exam.
"We group students for individual instruction by subgroups that need extra help based on test scores," he said.
When test results come out, Mr. Keating and his staff use those subgroups to place students in classes for the next year. For example, pull-out classes are offered for 11th-graders who didn't pass the exit exam the first time to offer them extra instruction. The classes are re-evaluated quarterly to adjust for student growth.
"We just want to see that we're closing the achievement gap, and our goal is to get above state averages," Mr. Keating said.
Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or firstname.lastname@example.org
EXIT EXAM PASSING PERCENTAGES
The following is the percentage of students that passed the math and English portion of the High School Assessment Program the first time. Visit ed.sc.gov for a complete list of scores.
|Aiken Performing Arts||33.3|
Percentage of students who reached each level, with Level 1 the lowest and Level 4 the highest.
|AIKEN COUNTY||EDGEFIELD COUNTY|
|English/Lang. Arts||Math||English/Lang. Arts||Math|