AIKEN - The Aiken County school board became a pacesetter Tuesday in South Carolina's race for school accountability by committing to a plan designed to ensure students learn at acceptable levels.
Aiken's new School and Community Accountability Plan, a 96page outline for academic achievement, was adopted by a unanimous vote at the school board's regular meeting. The county is among the first in the state to do so.
"I see it having all of the elements that the General Assembly is looking for - improved student achievement, grade-level criteria ... It's not a soft item at all," said Frank Roberson, who oversees instruction for the county's 38 schools. "It's a realistic plan for our schools to work on."
The plan borrows some of the standards outlined by the proposed Accountability Act of 1996, which died in a House subcommittee last year because legislators and educators were at odds over the effectiveness of the legislation and how it would be implemented.
Rather than the blanket benchmarks for standardized test scores set by the quashed bill, Aiken County's plan will merge overall district standards with performances of individual schools. The result will be a more accurate picture of how the school district is performing, Dr. Roberson said.
"We're not excusing schools from reaching these educational benchmarks, but we realize different schools are at different levels as far as reaching those goals," Dr. Roberson said.
A district report card will also be submitted to the school board on Nov. 30 of each year before being released to the public.
Among the overall school district goals to be reached by 2001 are: All graduating seniors would score 30-35 points above the state average on the Scholastic Assessment Test; 50 percent of students' parents would volunteer time and services to schools; and all students would meet or exceed national averages on standardized tests like the Basic Skills Assessment Program test and the Metropolitan Achievement Test-Series 7.
Last year, South Carolina students had an average combined SAT score of 954, and Aiken County's students scored 29 points better with a composite average of 983.
Ellen Henderson, spokeswoman for the South Carolina School Boards Association, said prior to the school board meeting that many school districts are looking to adopt their own accountability plans. She said Aiken County is "definitely on the front end" of that movement.