AIKEN - About 40 percent of South Carolina pupils failed to meet the state's minimum requirements in science and social studies, according to results released Tuesday from the 2002-03 Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test.
Only about 20 percent of pupils scored proficient or advanced on both the science and social studies portions of the annual state test given to pupils in third through eighth grades.
The low test scores will become more important in 2005, when they will become part of South Carolina's school report card ratings. Public schools throughout the state made a poor showing this year on the federally mandated No Child Left Behind accountability act, and South Carolina's SAT scores and high school graduation rates are among the nation's lowest.
However, state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum said she thinks scores in science and social studies will improve, much as scores on the math and English portions of the PACT have improved since they were first given in 1999.
"Teachers are getting more comfortable teaching the new standards, and now students have had the opportunity to take the new tests for the first time," Mrs. Tenenbaum said in a statement. "There's no doubt that it's going to take some hard work, but these numbers will go up."
Kathy Holley, a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Aiken County, said she has adjusted her teaching methods to conform to the state's standards.
"We went back and reworded questions on tests that we gave throughout the year that are similar to the sample questions we see on the PACT test," she said. "That helps the children feel more comfortable. We also get them to write their answers in compete sentences because they have to on the state test," she said.
PACT results are placed in four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. Pupils who score in the basic category have met the minimum expectations based on the state's standards, which are judged as some of the toughest in the country.
Aiken County schools performed slightly better than the statewide average. The school district had 3 percent more pupils score basic or higher in science and social studies and 3 percent more pupils in the proficient and advanced categories in science.
"We're not terribly disappointed with our initial start, but we don't want to remain at this level of performance," said Frank Roberson, the associate superintendent for instructional services. "We need to continue to move students to the next level."
Edgefield County didn't fare as well. In social studies only about 15 percent of pupils scored proficient or advanced, and only 19 percent met the mark in science.
"You can never be satisfied with 30 or 40 percent of kids below the basic level because that's not meeting our goal," said David Mathis, Edgefield County assistant superintendent for instructional services. "But we're really shooting in the dark on how well we did because we can't measure it."
Here are the results of the 2002-03 Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test for science and social studies. Numbers indicate the percentage of pupils who scored basic or below:
STATEWIDE: Science, 79.3 percent; social studies, 80.9 percent
AIKEN COUNTY: Science, 76.4 percent; social studies, 79.4 percent
EDGEFIELD COUNTY: Science, 81.3 percent; social studies, 84.4 percent
BARNWELL DISTRICT 19: Science, 92 percent; social studies, 94.9 percent
BARNWELL DISTRICT 29: Science, 87.2 percent; social studies, 87.2 percent
BARNWELL DISTRICT 45: Science, 86.8 percent; social studies, 90.4 percent
MCCORMICK COUNTY: Science, 90.4 percent; social studies, 93.1 percent
Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395.