SC schools chief Zais: District on track, progress still to be made

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comMay 7, 2012 

Beaufort County schools officials got quizzed by the state's education superintendent Monday about their efforts to improve academic performance, and heard some of his thoughts about incentive pay for teachers.

S.C. Superintendent Mick Zais told a group of school staff members during a meeting at Hilton Head Island Middle School that they have made steady progress on standardized measures of student performance but still are not where they need to be.

Principal Jim Shirley told Zais his teachers regularly pore over test scores and other data to identify areas in which their students struggle. Instruction is adjusted accordingly, Shirley said. He said the school also helps students set goals for scores on Measures of Academic Progress tests, which are administered three times each school year.

The school is challenged by its high population of non-native English speakers, Shirley said. Spanish is the native tongue of many of the Latino students who make up about 35 percent of the student body.

To help them get on track, the school uses the Read 180 program, which combines small-group instruction with instant feedback from computer software about a student's reading skills and comprehension. Students also have access to Rosetta Stone, a language learning software that Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said was paid for with grant money.

Zais said the school is on track with its efforts to target struggling students with extra classroom time and individualized instruction.

Zais and school and district officials also spoke about tying teacher evaluations to student growth and the possibility of linking teachers' pay to their evaluations.

About half of the district's schools already participate in the Teacher Advancement Program, a system of teacher evaluation and professional development that awards bonuses when their school and students perform well on standardized tests. Hilton Head Middle does not participate in TAP, but the Beaufort County Board of Education in March voted unanimously to move toward a merit pay system in two years.

The S.C. Department of Education's request for a waiver from some components of the federal No Child Left Behind law includes moving toward a teacher evaluation model based on student growth. Zais said that could be in place by the end of next year. A pay-for-performance or some other bonus plan could grow out of that, he said.

Overall, Zais said, the school and the district seem to be on track.

"Changing an entire student body, you can't turn that around overnight," he said. "But they are making steady progress."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

TAP program one reason for higher student achievement, Beaufort officials say; Nov. 10, 2011

Beaufort County school board begins to talk budget; Feb. 21, 2012

School district hopes for continued growth with two new reading programs; Oct. 16, 2011

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