South Carolina student test scores fall in all grades, Horry County mirrors state drop but tops state averages

08/07/2014 12:09 AM

08/07/2014 12:10 AM

South Carolina’s elementary and middle school students posted worse overall scores on state-standardized tests last spring across all grades compared to 2013.

The Education Oversight Committee says students’ scores are disappointing, but drops in math and reading were expected as teachers transitioned to new benchmarks for what students must learn in the subjects.

Horry County mirrored the state’s results, but still performed better than districts across the state, said Teal Harding, spokeswoman for Horry County Schools.

“In summary, the scores dipped all over the state and we experienced drops in the same areas the state at-large did,” Harding said. “However, our students surpass the state in every grade level across the state.”

Passing rates on the state’s Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, known as PASS tests, range between 63.5 percent in third-grade science to 83.7 percent in fourth-grade social studies statewide. The tests are taken by third- through eighth-graders in five subjects: writing; reading; math; science; and social studies.

The end-of-year, high-stakes tests help determine how well students are progressing toward state and federal education goals.

The percentage of students passing statewide fell in 22 of the 30 tests taken. The worst drops occurred in sixth- and seventh-grade reading, to 69.3 percent and 68.1 percent passing, respectively. Both declined by 5.1 percentage points from 2013 rates.

The biggest increase came in third-grade writing, which jumped 7.8 percentage points to 78.1 percent passing. This is only the second year students have taken a PASS writing test.

This is the last year the state will use PASS, and Harding said it will take about three years to get an accurate assessment of where students are once a new testing format is implemented.

“We look at this test and take it in context with all the other tests,” Harding said. “This doesn’t hold a lead role in our assessments of individual students. This helps us understand the success of grade levels and the curriculum at-large.”

Superintendent Mick Zais highlighted that the percentage of students earning “exemplary” scores increased across all five subjects.

“There are several areas of high accomplishment,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement came days after the agency quietly posted the data on its website without informing educators or media, marking a first since South Carolina students began taking high-stakes tests in 1999. The state School Boards Association said the lack of notification or explanation on what the scores mean amounted to a public disservice.

Last school year, all schools were transitioning to Common Core math and reading standards. Full implementation is occurring this school year, and students will take new tests aligned to those standards next spring.

That will likely result in big drops, as has occurred in other states that have already fully implemented the standards, Dana Yow, the spokeswoman for the Education Oversight Committee, said Wednesday.

“The standards and assessments require a higher depth of understanding by the student,” the independent oversight agency said in a two-page statement on the scores. “It is important to remember that the academic skills and knowledge required of these standards and assessments are to ensure that students will be ready for college, careers and life in the 21st century.”

Clearly, too many South Carolina students are not college or career ready when they graduate, the statement said. According to the EOC, 41 percent of students who graduate from a public high school require math and reading remediation in South Carolina’s two-year colleges.

A breakdown of the data puts a spotlight “on the persistence of the achievement gap in our schools,” the statement continued, as schools with large percentages of poor and minority students posted the biggest declines.

“As we move to more rigorous, relevant standards and we change the way teachers deliver content and students consume it, we must make certain that these students have access to the high-quality teaching and technology they need,” the oversight agency said.

The bridge year for math and reading doesn’t explain the drop in science and social studies scores. The oversight agency questions whether those subjects were considered a lower priority.

Next spring, all students in grades four through eight will be tested in science and social studies. Previously, the scores reflected a sampling of students for grades three, five, six and eight.

Harding said Horry County Schools will continue to work on improving the performance of students as a whole, and won’t rest its success or failure on one test alone.

“We experienced declines that we don’t think are indicative of our overall performance,” Harding said.

Writer Jason M. Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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