Assessment of learning does not turn on a dime

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 16, 2013 

St. Helena Elementary School needed some good news, and it got it with an "A" on a recent state evaluation of test data.

Just last year, the school got an "F" on meeting federal educational standards.

But no one should think that a magic wand has been waved. It's not that simple.

The "A" means St. Helena Elementary is going in the right direction in its progress toward federal standards, which is fantastic. But it did not meet those standards.

The letter grades are important, but they're not everything.

St. Helena's positive swing from an "F" to an "A" is mirrored by the opposite at Shanklin Elementary School in Burton, which went from an "A" to an "F." Statewide, 40 schools went from an "A" last year to a "D" or "F" this year, leading some educators to call this relatively new grading system an unfair and inaccurate labeling of schools.

The "A" grade was heavily influenced by strong improvement from one year to the next. That's encouraging. But that also makes it harder to produce an "A," or even a "C," the next year. On top of that, the bar rises each year on what it takes to meet federal standards.

The Beaufort County School District maintained its overall "B" average, meaning it exceeded expectations. However, six district schools failed to meet expectations, receiving "D" and "F" grades. That number was up from four schools last year.

Ten schools earned A's, four fewer than last year. Twenty-three of the district's 30 schools met or exceeded state expectations. Last year, 26 of the 30 schools met federal goals, up from 16 the year before. Statewide, 77 percent of school districts and 76 percent of schools met state expectations with a grade of "C" or better.

But at St. Helena, where 97 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch based on family income, the real story is the increased zeal to improve that the "F" grade put into the school and community.

It led to a 14-point plan to turn around the school, which included:

  • Capping class sizes at 20 students by adding two teachers.

  • Hiring a dean of students to address discipline problems.

  • Offering more pre-kindergarten classes.

  • Partnering with United Way of the Lowcountry and other groups to provide after-school tutoring.

  • Adding a "math interventionist" and encouraging all students to attend extra school days for math instruction.

  • Other initiatives were aimed at increasing parental involvement, with parent leaders saying they have seen progress. That is the good news, and that is what all schools need for the long haul.

    Celebrate the "A" at St. Helena. A battle has been won, but the war is not over.

    The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

    Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service