AIKEN - A higher percentage of South Carolina pupils hit target scores for the annual Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test for the 2003-2004 academic year, an upward trend echoed by most schools in Aiken and Edgefield counties, education officials said Wednesday.
The release of the latest test results showed overall increases in math, social studies, science and language arts over the previous year, a crucial improvement because PACT tallies are used as a benchmark in both the federal No Child Left Behind school accountability law and the annual "report card" issued by state education officials for every public school.
Educators were quick to attribute the overall increase over the previous year's results to greater classroom emphasis on reading and a lower pupil-to-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade.
"The improvement is just extraordinary, and we know that has a lot to do with having the science and social studies parts of the test for the second year," said Dr. Frank Roberson, the associate superintendent of instruction for Aiken County schools. "Naturally, the second year will go smoother, and scores will be better."
Instead of the straight numerical score used in other standardized tests, PACT results measure the percentage of pupils in grades three through eight who hit targets set in four subject areas.
For example, 95.8 percent of the fifth-graders in Aiken County hit the benchmark in language skills, up from 71.3 percent in 2003. A higher percentage of them - 94.4 percent - hit the math target, up from 76.4 percent in 2003.
Aiken County pupils did the best overall in English/language arts, Dr. Roberson said. But Leavelle McCampbell, Ridge Spring-Monetta and A.L. Corbett middle schools saw decreases in scores in math and English/language arts. Dr. Roberson said the district is working with these schools to beef up scores next year.
Scores at Aiken County's two charter schools - Midland Valley Preparatory School and Lloyd-Kennedy Charter School - didn't reflect the progress seen elsewhere in the county, Dr. Roberson said.
"In the charter schools, we did not see the drastic increases that we saw in other schools in all of the areas," he said. "We will be working with their staffs, particularly in the area of math."
Last spring, more than 300,000 South Carolina pupils took the test that measures competency in grades three through eight in math, English/language arts, science and social studies.
In Edgefield County, English/language arts results rose while some math results took a few dips, said Dr. David Mathis, the assistant superintendent for instructional service for Edgefield County schools.
He said the problem with this test is that the results don't show exactly what pupils or teachers need to work on to improve their test scores.
A new assessment test that Edgefield County schools are starting to use tests pupils on similar English/language arts and math skills and can be scored overnight.
"The PACT tests are given in May and pupils don't get their results until August. By then they are already in another grade," Dr. Mathis said. "With these tests, teachers have results in 24 hours, and I think we are going to be able to improve scores this way."
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