Jasper County schools score back-to-back 'F'

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 5, 2013 

Jasper County School superintendent Vashti Washington


Faced with dismal results on standardized tests -- the lowest of any school district in the state -- Jasper County's schools superintendent Monday said the scores "have no meaning."

Superintendent Vashti Washington -- acknowledging "the brutal facts" that fewer than half of students in most grades meet standards on state assessments -- disputed the way grades are calculated. The district also got a failing grade the previous year.

"The calculated values have no meaning and, for the second consecutive year, are being used to misinform and mislead parents, the community and decision makers about the status and growth of education in (South Carolina) -- and in (the Jasper County School District)," Washington said in a prepared statement.

Asked in an interview what plans her district had for improving performance, Washington offered few specifics.

"I don't want to go into all of the details until I've had time to speak to my staff, which would mean all teachers in our school," Washington said. "... However, they will have written, measurable objectives that will have to be met this upcoming year."

She also said parents need to get more involved in their children's education.

"We need our parents to support the initiatives that we have," she said. "Even when we offered free tutoring for our students last school year, several of our parents did not take advantage of that. ... Whatever methodology you put in place for students, there has to be a commitment from the parents, as well as finding the right teacher to be able to teach the students that have the greatest needs."

Washington said the district has hired new reading "interventionists" to provide more support to struggling students.

Her prepared statement said the school district puts "no stock in (test score) calculations or the resulting letter grades and will spend very little time talking about those."

This was the second year that letter grades were used by the state to rate progress toward goals that are part of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The S.C. Department of Education released scores for districts Thursday for the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards and the High School Assessment Program. Those tests are used to help determine the district and school letter grades on federal accountability standards, also released Thursday. Jasper County's grade was an "F."

The district scored 27.3 points on a 100-point scale -- down from 39.5 points in 2012 -- and the lowest of any district in the state. Second lowest was the Lee County School District with 33.8 points. Statewide, 77 percent of school districts and 76 percent of schools met state expectations with a grade of "C" or better.

Washington said letter grades contradict other awards and measures of progress made by students in the district and around the state.

In the past, schools either met federal standards -- known as "adequate yearly progress" -- or they failed under an all-or-nothing rating system, in which falling short on just one objective meant a failing grade and the same designation as a school missing multiple objectives.

The new system of letter grades gives schools more credit for progress made toward meeting those goals and also adds more standards based on graduation rates and several other factors.

The grades, though, emphasize growth from year to year. Federal targets for student learning were higher in 2013 than in 2012.

That combination of having to clear a higher bar and an emphasis on surpassing the previous year's gains led to drastic grade swings for some schools in the state, and brought calls for the state Education Department to rework its calculations.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais remained committed to the grading system during a press conference last week. Zais said the letter grades provide the public a "transparent and accurate reflection of current levels of student achievement and improvement," according to a news release.

Washington said lack of state and local support for education, persistently below-average reading skills and the fact that 90 percent of students come from families struggling with poverty continue to present daunting obstacles "that won't be changed overnight."

Percentage of Jasper County students with passing scores in various subjects in 2012 and 2013, compared to statewide scores in 2013

GradeJasper Co. 2013Jasper County '12State 2013
349.8 70.3
452.3 74.4
646 74.7
749.2 76.5
GradeJasper Co. 2013Jasper Co. 2012State 2013
GradeJasper Co. 2013Jasper Co. 2012State 2013
GradeJasper Co. 2013Jasper Co. 2012State 2013
Social Studies
GradeJasper Co. 2013Jasper Co. 2012State 2013

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom

Related content:

More on the letter grades from the S.C. Department of Education

More on the high school exit exam scores from the S.C. Department of Education

More on PASS scores from the S.C. Department of Education

Beaufort County students continue gains on standarized tests: Aug. 1, 2013

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