Aiken County slightly increased its first-time pass rate to 79.5 percent this year from 79 percent in 2009, while Edgefield County jumped from 77.6 percent in 2009 to 81.3 percent this year, according to scores released Thursday by the South Carolina Department of Education. Both counties also bested state averages, which increased from 76.4 percent to 78.6 in 2010.
The HSAP, commonly known as the exit exam, is one major hurdle high-schoolers must clear to graduate. Students get their first shot at the exam in 10th grade. The test covers English language arts and math. Subsequent tests are offered each semester to those not passing the exam the first time.
The higher pass rate doesn't necessarily mean more students are graduating from high school, said Randy Stowe, the Aiken County Area 5 associate superintendent.
"The scores are an indication that academic problems are not the only reasons why students drop out of school," he said. "These tests are typically taken during the sophomore year, but our biggest stumbling block is promoting students from ninth to 10th grade. It's an important criteria for graduation, but we've got to get them past that first year."
South Aiken and North Augusta made some of the largest gains among county students. South Aiken students improved first-time pass rates by 7.4 percentage points, to 91.3 percent. North Augusta, which boasts the largest enrollment in the county, improved from 82.1 percent to 85.4 percent passing on the first try.
Stowe said there's not one formula that works at the schools to increase performance, but an alignment of standards through the High Schools that Work program has created more consistency among all seven county high schools.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex said the scores represented a bounce back from a three-year dip. The state's highest showing was in 2001, when 81 percent of students passed on the first attempt.
"We had been seeing positive scoring trends until last year, and then up popped this sudden downturn," Rex said. "But trends are what you watch for in student testing, and these new results appear to show that last year's downturn wasn't the start of a downward trend. We hope this year's results will start us back toward the sort of improvement we were used to seeing."
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