Eighteen Beaufort County schools have received state awards for student achievement, down 27 schools from last year, probably because of tougher requirements for winning.
The S.C. Department of Education announced today the state's Palmetto Gold and Palmetto Silver awards for overall school performance and for progress in closing achievement gaps during the 2011-12 school year.
Beaufort County schools won 22 awards overall, and two schools -- Lady's Island Elementary School and Okatie Elementary School -- won gold awards in both categories.
Only eight of the state's 84 school districts had more than 18 schools win awards. All of those districts are larger than Beaufort County.
Last year, a record-setting 27 Beaufort County schools earned 34 awards in all.
But the criteria for the awards, based on standardized test scores, were changed by the state's Education Oversight Committee following a substantial increase in the number of winning schools.
Last year, 852 schools -- 72 percent of all schools in the state -- received either a gold or silver award, according to Dana Yow, the committee's director of communications and community involvement. That was up from 551 schools in 2011.
Yow said the dramatic increase could be attributed mostly to a single factor -- steady growth in student-achievement scores that earned many schools an "average" or better growth rating on state report cards for three consecutive years.
Now, schools must have a growth rating of "good" or better for two years to receive a Palmetto Silver award.
Despite the decline in the number of awards for the district, interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said in a news release the overall trend is positive.
"Five years ago, we had seven state award winners, compared to this year's 18," she said. "That kind of increase demonstrates a strong commitment on the part of our district's educators, and it's also evidence of a lot of hard work, not only from students but also from parents."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.