Adequate yearly progress scores from federal No Child Left Behind standards have become the uncomfortable elephant in the room. On the surface, schools are failing. But teachers and administrators say there's more going on in the classroom.
A closer look at scores reveal that even though students aren't keeping B+ averages, they're still making the grade and passing requirements.
The goal is to have all students, regardless of disabilities, proficient by 2014. Proficient according to South Carolina standards is a B+ average. Missing the mark for one group of students means a school or a district fails.
At least 40 percent of students in the subgroups that continue to struggle are meeting their grade-level standards in the basic category.
Groups that consistently miss the proficiency mark include African-Americans, students with disabilities and those in the free and reduced lunch programs. Administrators use basic as an encouragement instead of a crutch, though.
"Our goal is proficiency, but it's all about making progress toward that," said David Mathis, associate superintendent for administration. "When we're not there, we do look back and see that we have a number of students that are doing grade-level work. Then we need to see how we're going to challenge them to do proficient."
Deciphering scores can be difficult for parents and teachers because meeting basic can mean a variety of things, Dr. Mathis said.
"We have multiple levels where it can be a kid that doesn't struggle and gets the information on their own or it can be kids that do need extra help and we provide remediation for them. But they are still performing," he said.
Closing the gap among those subgroups only meeting basic has become a challenge not only to local schools but also to the state.
Inconsistencies in testing include making every student test on his or her grade-level. This means a fifth-grader that is on the same level as a third-grader will have to test with the fifth-graders.
"(No Child Left Behind) doesn't take into adequate consideration that in some cases special-needs kids are being asked to take 'inappropriate' tests," said Jim Rex, state education superintendent.
"It's not a cohesive system in terms of what it's expecting and the criteria that it's using," Dr. Rex said. "The system itself has some serious flaws in it. "
While the state can't change what it sees as flaws, its goal is to continue to improve students the best they can.
Within subgroups that under-perform, teachers can now use diagnostic testing to pinpoint learning pitfalls for the individual student in Aiken County. The MAP test, or Measure of Academic Progress, tracks students from second-grade to eighth-grade showing specifically if they don't do well in areas such as multiplication or reading comprehension, not just general subjects like math or language arts.
By this time next year, students will have a year of data following them to help teachers meet the individual's needs. The idea is to help students meeting basic and below to improve.
Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org