AIKEN - Pupils often don't score well the first time they see a test.
For this reason, South Carolina Department of Education officials said to expect low test scores Tuesday when the state issues results from the science and social studies portions of the 2002-03 Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test.
The poor scores predicted by educators would be another black mark on South Carolina's educational record. The state has preformed poorly on past math and English portions of the PACT, an annual test given to third- through eighth- graders that is a key component of the federal No Child Left Behind accountability act, and SAT scores that are the third lowest in the nation.
Local administrators fear pupils won't score well because they are unfamiliar with the tests and because teachers are still learning what they need to teach to prepare pupils for the new exams. They also fear pupils are suffering from test fatigue because all four portions of the PACT are taken in a two-week period.
Last spring marked the debut of the social studies and science disciplines, adding a test burden to third- through eighth-graders whose academic skills are annually measured under the mandates of the South Carolina Accountability Act. Math and English portions of the test were first given in 1999.
Pupils did not score well that year. But in the two years since, pupils have shown a slight improvement in math and English. There is no baseline for the science and social studies portions of the PACT.
"We don't have anything to compare these scores to, but we can look at the first year math and English were taken, and the numbers should look very similar," said Jim Foster, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "It's not going to look good, but I think we'll see a ton of improvement next year. That's what happened with math and English."
PACT results are divided into four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. Pupils who score in the basic category have met the minimum expectations for performance based on the state's strict standards.
Mr. Foster said he expects the state to have a little more than 50 percent of pupils scoring basic or higher on the tests.
"The numbers may not look good because both teachers and students need time to get comfortable with it," he said. "The first time you give a new test there is always an adjustment period, and we'll have to adjust."
Administrators say comparing math and English scores with the new segments of the test would be a mistake.
"There will be no correlation because they are two different tests," said Frank Roberson, the associate superintendent for instructional services in Aiken County. "The only thing you can see is that the second-year results will be higher than the first-year results, as they were with the English and math tests."
Dr. Roberson said he doesn't know how Aiken County will score on the new tests, but he said the district should fall somewhere above the state average.
"That's based on our historical performance," he said.
David Mathis, Edgefield County's assistant superintendent for instructional services, said there is no way to compare the results.
"We don't have anything to measure it against, so we will just look at where we fall with others, and next year we can look at how we did," he said. "I think we'll have about 60 percent of our students scoring basic or above, and that's where I hoped we would be."
WHAT'S NEXT: The South Carolina Department of Education will release scores from the science and social studies portions of the 2002-03 Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test on Tuesday.
Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395.