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SC blames higher goals for school grade drop

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV/AP) -- Letter grades for nearly half of South Carolina's school districts dropped during the past school year, but education officials blame more ambitious performance goals rather than poorer achievement by students.

The state Education Department released the report card data Thursday. It shows that 39 of the state's 85 districts went down at least a letter grade this school year. Just eight districts improved by at least a letter grade. Three-quarters of all school districts got a C or better, while eight districts were given an F.

Twenty-1 of the state's nearly 1,100 schools went from an A to an F in one year.

In the past school year, 77 percent of school districts and 76 percent of schools met the State's expectation, which is a grade of "C" or better.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said letter grades give the public an idea of current levels of student achievement and improvement.  

"Letter grades inform students, parents, schools, policy makers, the media, and the public how schools are performing in a clear and easily understood system," said Zais.  "Students have received letter grades on their report cards for decades; schools and school districts should be held to the same level of accountability and transparency."

In the Lowcountry, Charleston County School District went down six points from last year with an overall grade of 83.2, a "B." Berkeley County School District dipped from their 2012 grade of 90.4 to an 87.5, a "B."

"First, we are extremely proud of our students and teachers.  They have worked extremely hard over the past school year, and we are excited to welcome them back in August," stated Berkeley County School District superintendent Dr. Rodney Thompson.  "The disconnect between our improved performance as reflected by test score increases and the decrease in aggregate letter grade is disheartening when students and teachers have been working rigorously to achieve new curriculum standards."

"I am proud of Berkeley County's four Title 1 Reward schools— Berkeley Intermediate, Cross Elementary, College Park Elementary, and JK Gourdin Elementary," Thompson said. " These schools received Distinguished School of Performance designations when they received an 'A' or 'B' score and have a subsidized lunch count of 50 percent or more."

BCSD's dip wasn't as big as Dorchester District 4. They received a 77.8, a "C," which fell well below last year's grade of 91.7, an "A."


Dorchester School District Two was one of ten districts out of 84 in the state and the only local district that received an A, with a grade of 90.7. Like the other schools in the tri-county area, however, their grade falls below what they got last year, a score of 91.8.

Colleton County scored a 66.9, a "D," Georgetown a 76.6, "C," and Williamsburg County received an F score, 47.8.

"The release of results of our students' academic performance from last year will allow our teachers to plan and individualize instruction to serve every student in their classroom beginning on the first day of school," said DD2 Superintendent Joe Pye.

Results of the 2013 Palmetto Assessment of State Standards and High School Assessment Program were also released.

Larger percentages of public school students met state standards on the PASS while over four out of five high school students passed HSAP on their first try.

"Credit for these results belongs to the hard work of students, parents, and teachers across South Carolina," said Zais.  "The improvement in many grades and subject areas over the past three years is encouraging, but there is more work to be done to ensure every child is provided a personalized and customized education."

"The extreme variations – with 40 schools rated 'A' last year dropping to a 'D' or 'F' this year, indicates that the rating system is neither valid nor reliable. Dr. Zais designed the system and received approval from the federal government in Washington, D.C. despite strong objections from the education community. The calculation method is complicated and flawed," she said. "We are very disappointed that our State Superintendent would support such an unfair and inaccurate method of rating for our South Carolina schools."

Education officials say they set higher goals for the 2012-13 school year compared to the year before.

Other data released Thursday showed 82 percent of South Carolina high school students passed the exit exam on the first try. It is the fourth straight year of improvement.

The letter grades are part of the State's approved Flexibility Request from certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind.

 

Online:

2013 letter grades for South Carolina schools: http://ed.sc.gov/data/esea/2013/

2013 standardized test results for grades 3-8: http://ed.sc.gov/data/pass/2013/

2013 high school graduation exam results: http://ed.sc.gov/data/hsap/hsap.cfm?year=2013

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