Schools in Horry and Georgetown counties can be happy with improvement in 2010 Adequate Yearly Progress results, along with the state school system, but they know next year's battle will be tougher as goals continue to increase in difficulty.
Horry County Schools met one more AYP objective, going from 34 in 2009 to 35 of 37 this year. Twenty-two of 46 schools met AYP this year; only 17 schools met requirements in 2009.
Each school must meet a number of federal goals, which varies by school. Scoring is an all-or-nothing proposition; missing one goal means a school does not meet AYP.
For the past two years, no Horry County high school or middle school made AYP. This year, Green Sea Floyds High School did, and others came close. Aynor High School met 12 of 13 objectives, Ocean Bay Middle School met 28 of 29 and St. James Middle School met 22 of 23.
In Georgetown County, 14 of 18 schools made AYP, compared with 2009 when only 11 met requirements. The Georgetown County School District met 29 of 31 objectives this year, compared with 27 of 29 objectives last year.
AYP evaluations are required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for public schools, districts and states. They measure reading/language arts, mathematics and either high school graduation or elementary/middle school attendance rates.
State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex acknowledged the state's AYP improvement in a statement, but said that even if test scores improve dramatically, AYP results will be worse because achievement goals are going to be much more difficult for students in elementary and middle schools in 2011.
"No one argues with the basic idea that no child should be left behind," Rex said, "but people are starting to understand how fundamentally dysfunctional the federal rating system is. Unless Congress takes a more common-sense approach, these ratings will become a joke to parents and the public."
Horry County Schools spokeswoman Teal Britton said AYP results are important, but they don't show the whole picture because just one subgroup, or even one student within a group, can make the difference for an entire school.
"We're pleased that the district's performance improved on the federal grading system," said Britton, pointing out gains by Daisy and Waccamaw elementary schools. "That is absolutely thrilling for that staff, and of the six schools that are in school improvement status, three of six actually made AYP ... with the stakes increasing at the elementary and middle school level."
Schools that receive Title I funding must meet special requirements if they don't meet AYP. Title I funds are given when a large number of students come from economically disadvantaged families. After missing AYP for two consecutive years, the school receives "Needs Improvement" status. To have that designation removed, the school must then meet AYP for two consecutive years.
If a school is designated as "Needs Improvement," parents must be offered the choice of sending their children to another district school that does not have that designation. If a school reaches a third year of not meeting AYP, supplemental services, such as tutoring, must be offered by the school.
Daisy met all its objectives this year after missing AYP last year. Waccamaw met AYP for the second consecutive year.
Loris Elementary School, Myrtle Beach Primary School and South Conway Elementary School made AYP this year after not making it last year, but they are still in school improvement status, Britton said. They will have to make AYP next year to remove the designation.
Loris Middle School, Pee Dee Elementary and Whittemore Park Elementary have not made AYP for more than two years and are planning for school improvement with whatever intervention the school district can offer, Britton said.
Britton said the valuable part of AYP is finding patterns in the information; like for example, if there are large groups of students who don't perform in certain subject areas or subgroups. She said teachers can find power in identifying patterns to pinpoint what they must do to help students achieve proficiency.
In Georgetown County, Superintendent Randy Dozier is pleased his schools are making progress.
"[It's] the best we've done," Dozier said. "It reflects a lot of hard work."
Andrews High School, Georgetown High School, Georgetown Middle School and Maryville Elementary School were the four schools in Georgetown County that did not meet AYP, but Georgetown Middle met 19 of its 21 objectives and Maryville Elementary met 20 of its 21 objectives.
Andrews and Georgetown high schools had 17 objectives to meet: Andrews met eight, and Georgetown met 13.
But Andrews met the academic growth targets, said Patti Hammel, executive director for student performance and federal programs for the GCSD. She said because the graduation rate remained constant, the school was "not eligible for the other categories in which they met the goals."
Georgetown High School met the graduation rate but did not meet student performance objectives.
Hammel said Carvers Bay Middle School's "Needs Improvement" status was removed because it met AYP for the second consecutive year. She said all other Title I schools previously identified for improvement - including Andrews Elementary, McDonald Elementary, Rosemary Middle and Carvers Bay High schools - have been placed in "delay" status.
Hammel said the schools implemented a balanced literacy approach and, in the sixth grade, had longer periods of reading instruction.
She said the biggest help to teachers were professional learning teams, where teachers worked together to come up with strategies and plan lessons and that work will continue.
"We haven't arrived yet," she said. "We'll just continue our focus like we have this past year."
Dozier said he expects the district to continue to make improvements.
"I anticipate a good year this year," he said. "It's a challenge each year to meet those goals. ... We're doing the best we can."